Monday, February 12, 2007

 

Anastasio's Task: To Punish Labbies or Defend Them?

We have a report on the All Hands Meeting today, conducted by LANL Director Mike Anastasio, from an Anonymous contributor:

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Mike is a very good politician. He's not smooth in the usual blow-dried sense, but he can dance around a question with the best of them. He began his report on the grilling he and LANL endured at the House Committee hearing by playing a video of the beatings and whippings by Congressmen and one Congresswoman, and followed it with a verbal report of DOE Secretary Bodman's assessment that all the security problems at LANL are due to the "culture" of "arrogant" scientists and engineers down through the years. (I guess you could say it goes all the way back to the Manhattan Project, when Feynman thumbed his nose at the guards, by sneaking out through a hole in the fence and coming back in so many times that even the thickheaded guards got suspicious, and when he made a mockery of rules about safes by cracking an ungodly number of them.) Mike's take on the culture of Los Alamos, as opposed to his experience upon becoming a manager at the explosive test site at Livermore, is that the Livermore people care for each other, because if they didn't, somebody might die, including oneself; he left me with the impression that, by implication, he feels that the folks at LANL's explosive test site don't care as much for each other, and that there is a greater level of incaution in the way LANL people do things. Whether or not this is true, he said that the world believes this about Los Alamos, and that changing that perception is going to be a tough task.

One can conclude from the video clip of Mike's rather tepid defense of the Lab during his answer to a question from a Congressman, and his playing of those clips of the Congressionally administered whippings mean that punishment of the Lab is probably a higher priority to him than defense of it. To be fair, Mike is in a no-win situation: Labbies may want to be defended from the whippings by Washington, but Washington "pays the bills," and so he implied that there will now be a period of tense calm until LANL's inevitable next big screwup, whereupon the whippings will be resumed with a vengeance. This leaves LANL staff in a position of helplessness, since any safety or security infraction of any significance will bring down the wrath of Congress, DOE, LANS, and LANL management on the entire Lab, regardless of who screws up. There are 10,000 people who are the candidates for the honor of sacrificial goat. It is just a matter of time.

Most of the burning issues raised by a handful of questioners were sidestepped. Left hanging and twisting slowly in the wind is whether or not one of the nine people who have so far been fired by Anastasio (some of whom had committed security violations, according to him) included his former deputy, John Mitchell. He was willing to state that none of the managers of the woman contractor, whom Mike said he wished he could have had the pleasure of firing, were fired, though 24 people involved received some level of punishment. As to the drug testing that will begin soon, Anastasio said that upper Lab management was still working out just which suggestions would be implemented. However, it is clear that the number of people now being routinely tested for drugs (approximately 2000) will expand to the entire Lab population in short order. Minor details may change, but not the general outline. He said that about 1/3rd of the comments were in the "you gotta be CRAZY!" category, 1/3rd were "positive" (I guess that means not "false" positive), and 1/3rd proposed some changes to the policy.

At the end, one got a rather mixed feeling about the whole meeting. The level of fiscal uncertainty and resulting RIFs seemed to be slightly diminished: In response to one bold young questioner, Mike talked more about wished-for attrition than the need for RIFs. But hanging over the whole Laboratory will be a sword of Damocles: One more screwup, and God only knows what they in Washington will do to us. Our fate will be out of our hands. Now let us wring them.

-Anonymous Observer

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[This same Congress that gets its knickers all in a twist about the mote or two in LANL's eye (namely, security violations by a lowly worker and by a top manager), has a log in its own eye (namely, its failure to oversee and investigate the myriad of really serious screwups by the Bush Administration). But these Congresspeople have never read the Bible, just thumped it.
--Pat]

Comments:
Sounds to me like the bottom line is continue the cutbacks which will affect safety and security and assume that the only reason there are problems is because folks use drugs. And for this he gets paid $1.3 million/year?
 
Wait...I thought the only reason there are problems is because folks are ... arrogant. Didn't I hear that? Or was I losing consciousness during the whippings?
 
How can drug testing help if LANL employees are arrogant? And what's the deal with the explosives test site? Did someone get blown up there lately? Since I didn't attend the whipping, I am only basing my comments on the synopsis.
 
Excellent post, "Anonymous Observer". I think you nailed it. With 10,000 staff and contractors around here, it's only a matter a time before yet another screw-up starts us down the path to a final Congressional whipping and public execution. It doesn't even matter if the person is a LANL employee or not. Even the improper actions of a LANL janitor could sink the lab at this rate.

You can stay around here till the bloody end, or pack up and leave now before the next set of hearings begin. If you stay, be aware that LANL is not going to be a very pleasant place to work while we await our execution date. Expect more inane policies, stingy pay raises, and lots of job insecurity. Oh, and save up your money to hire a defense lawyer, just in case.

Staff have plenty of data at this point in time and should have a good idea what's eventually headed our way. If you can, it would be best to bail out now. At least that will make Mike happy, as it will help with LANL's attrition rate. LANS is apparently hoping lots of people will now leave.
 
Managing the attrition - that was stated multiple times. That's the LANS motto - "We're here to help you find the exit."
 
Net loss of 95 people FY07 through the end of January - 61 LANS, 34 Staff Augmentation. Net loss estimate early in the year was 500 LANS, 250 Staff Aug for FY07.
 
Haven't they, our new Managemnt created a "wonderfull place to work? Everyone now is on "pins and needles" walking around on "egg shells" and you know, someone is going to screw up, and then it's "curtins" Either way LANL has eroded to the lowest point in history....If it goes any lower we should publicly expose the managers for what they are .....
 
No new Layoffs, because we (MANAGEMENT) is going to make life so difficult that you will want to leave! What has happened to this place, our new and improved management team is worthless and they should be held accounable, both to the employess and the nation...enough already....why didn't Mikey announce any changers in his administration, they along with Georgw W are on the wrong path....I guess according to Mikey
everything is just fine upstairs...
 
I don't understand the net loss numbers from anonymous at 6:02 am. I have heard over 1000 so far since late summer/fall 2007 - contractors (were these considered staff augmentation?), students, and limited term. Except for limited term, these were not LANL staff. What's happening with LANL associates who can get paid for up to 40% of their time? What's happening with the LANL staff who retired from UC prior to May 1, 2007? How many new employees have actually been hired since Oct 1, 2007?
 
Mikey's talk told me all I needed to know. The fact that Mitchell was not mentioned, coupled with the fact that Congress has clearly 'factored in' the Mitchell business tells me that against all hopes LANS is going to be allowed to keep the contract.

Too bad, but no great surprise. Glad I retired in 2005, sorry for the rest of you who still work there. If you thought LANS had already turned LANL into an unpleasant place to work, just wait a while -- it's about to get much worse.
 
Here's the OFFICIAL version of the summary of Mike's talk:

Lab Boss Urges Forward Thinking
By John Arnold, Journal Staff Writer, ABQ Journal North, Tuesday, February 13, 2007

LOS ALAMOS—Los Alamos National Laboratory employees shouldn't dwell on Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman's recent remarks blaming the lab's security problems on the "arrogance" of its workers, according to lab director Michael Anastasio. Instead, lab employees should work to improve lab security and change negative perceptions in Washington, D.C., he said.

Anastasio met with employees on Monday to discuss last month's congressional hearings, which focused on recent security problems at LANL. "My message to (employees) was, let's not get into a debate about what does 'arrogance' mean and what did the secretary mean. Let's move forward," Anastasio told reporters following the employee meeting. Bodman enraged some workers when he told members of a House subcommittee that LANL's security problems lie with scientists and engineers "who think they're above it all."

"Right now we're at a place where there's a set of perceptions, and we've got to change those perceptions," Anastasio said. Angry lawmakers grilled Anastasio and DOE officials on Jan. 30 about the lab's most recent security breach, in which classified documents turned up during a drug investigation in the home of former lab archivist Jessica Quintana. Quintana claims she took the materials, including some stored on a computer flash drive, to her Los Alamos trailer home to catch up on work. She is at the center of a federal criminal investigation, but has not been charged with a crime.

Anastasio said he met with employees Monday to convey lawmakers' frustration, which "was high enough that they felt if they don't see improvements and change at the laboratory, they may need to take (security problems) in their own hands to make some more dramatic change themselves." Some members of Congress have recently suggested shutting down LANL, the storied nuclear weapons lab that developed the first atomic bomb during World War II and has been a leader in scientific research for decades. Lawmakers are fed up with repeated high-profile security problems that have plagued the lab in recent years.

Anastasio didn't want to speculate on what Congress may or may not do if the lab can't fix security problems, but he said he's confident his employees can right the ship. "It's a big opportunity for us, because this is a chance for us to come together, work as an integrated team and really build the future that we want this laboratory to be," he said.

Anastasio told lawmakers that he disciplined two dozen employees for the October breach and has taken a number of actions to beef up cybersecurity. Meanwhile, Anastasio said he also discussed budget issues with employees, many of whom worry about possible layoffs in the face of reduced federal spending and a budget shortfall at the lab. While the lab has cut hundreds of contract positions and is reducing the size of its workforce through attrition, lab managers don't anticipate staff layoffs, according to Anastasio. "Unless there's some real significant change in the budget picture out in the future ... we think we're on the right path," he said.
 
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Message: Right the ship! Don't look back! Forward thinking! We're on the right path...(you arrogant butthead cowboy druggies).
 
And another OFFICIAL view, an excerpt by:
ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
February 13, 2007
...
Anastasio is operating with a new deputy director, Jan Van Prooyen, after former deputy John Mitchell retired last fall. John Mitchell left the laboratory for his own very personal reasons after 40 years of national service,” Anastasio said. “ ... It was time for him to retire, to sped time with his family ... And there is nothing more to it than that.”
...

[So that takes care of THAT. --Pat]
 
Time to exit dreamland, folks. Are you getting it yet?

Mike is the ONLY friend you have in DC. You don't like it? Tough. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to make another screwup impossible, even given the fact that the folks making the decisions (e.g. the CIO) are not competent to do their job.

LANS is not going to lose the contract, and (reality check!) if you thought they were going to lose it, you can now realize how out of touch you really are. You guys just amaze me -- this whole blog is 90% fantasy.

Perception is all in DC. The perception is that we are a bunch of security-flouting, arrogant screwups. Nobody in the House reads Physics journals, so nobody cares about what's really going on.

So, you either work with the hand you have been dealt, or drop out of the game. But you're not going to get the White Knight; that's for Disney movies, not life here at LANL.

Nobody ever said life was fair.
 
I think 7:48 just coined a new term, ABCDs (Arrogant Butthead Cowboy Druggies).
 
Looks like "managed attrition" has become the latest codeword in LANL-speak. Add it to the other recent LANL codeword, "right-sizing" the Lab.

You don't suppose we could have some "managed attrition" applied to our bloated top management, do you? Can we "right-size" our executive staff?

Watch for the "managed attrition" and "right-sizing" themes to be pushed down to the lowest levels of LANL management. GLs and Team Leaders will soon be actively encouraging people to leave, if they haven't done so already.

LANS needs to get a large segment of the workforce to walk out the exits. One way to do this is with drug testing, encouraging low morale, non-existent pay raises, reduced benefits, a bunch of egregious new lab policies, treating staff with suspicion, nickel-and-diming workers, etc. You get the picture?

My God, this has become a depressing place at which to work. It really is getting down to the paycheck, and not much else.
 
And you're telling me that the paycheck just doesn't cut it? You'd like to have a real mission? Surrounded by bright, young, eager students?

We at Los Alamos have come so far from the days of the Manhattan Project that I can't even believe it, but Stir Colgate himself, once a student at the Los Alamos Boys' School, seems to have lost sight of that fact. (He's the 75-year-old who gave Mikey an air-kiss from the back of the room.)

The "path forward" to the door is clear. Get thee to Academia, where the campus-like atmosphere of intellectual adventure is genuine. The old farts can sit here and reminisce, if they'd like.

Dad would've puked if he'd've lived to see this.

-Son of Oppy
 
Don't know what would constitute an "oldtimer" these days. I'd guess more than half the current LANL regular employees were hired since 1/1/2000.
 
6:02 has the figures too low. The unmanaged attrition numbers by TSMs (both permanent and limited term), and postdocs (who in years past were supposed to be the next generation of lab leaders) are in the low thousands, and they've been leaving since 1999, although more rapidly in the last 3 years. The lab spin machine won't release this information, but scores of people have thrown in the towel on their UC retirement and left for academia.
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
I'm glad that "the nasy stuff [will} be removed from the premises." Since Anonymous 7:46's crude and rude attack on Stir passed the sniff test, I shudder to think what might fail the test. Apparently his years of service and deep roots in Los Alamos, don't warrant his ability to express his own opinions - if they are contrary to the opinion of others. The days are truly getting dark at LANL.
 
A dog's nose sometimes pokes its way into the crotch, where a cold, wet nose causes surprise, especially for female human beings. The comment about Stirling Colgate's kissing the Director's butt will indeed be expunged for excessive crudity (crudity from the human perspective, that is).

Still, in spite of Stirling's long service to the Lab, and Mike's extremely SHORT length of "service," one at first might have thought Stirling was just being obscurely sarcastic. For those who've known him for years, such pointed humor on his part is perfectly in character. Except that he usually gives it away in the last sentence, and he didn't this time. Hence, the puzzled applause, coming mostly from managers, who made up nearly half the audience. (They were the malingerers that milled around in the auditorium following the All Hands Meeting.)

But on the other hand, maybe Stirling's heart has softened up with age. Only he can answer that, but he probably never visits these pages anyway.

--Pat
 
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