Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Can Dingell Make LANL Go Away?
By ANDY LENDERMAN | Santa Fe New Mexican, February 21, 2007
A congressional committee wants to formally study whether classified work at Los Alamos National Laboratory should be taken away and moved to other weapons labs because of security lapses at Los Alamos in recent years.
The Democratic-controlled committee, which is seeking a General Accounting Office investigation, also wants to look at ways to make LANL's classified work area smaller and more consolidated.
"The repeated failures to protect national security assets have cast doubt on whether Los Alamos National Security, LLC ... and the National Nuclear Security Administration are capable of assuring adequate safety, security and sound business management practices," U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., wrote to the GAO. "More dramatic steps are necessary, and we intend to develop and implement a range of options to solve the problems at LANL."
New Mexico's senators quickly stuck up for the lab and the private company that has managed it since June 1.
"The new contractor has been managing the lab for less than a year and already it has taken some aggressive steps toward tightening security -- and I'm sure more steps will follow," U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a statement. "LANL scientists are committed to producing world-class science in our nation's best interest, and I believe they deserve our strong support."
U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., called Dingell's move "a dubious response to an issue that deserves productive responses. The lab and the Energy Department are working to implement reforms now at Los Alamos. This newest House push against LANL amounts to unnecessary and counter-productive piling-on."
He also said more needs to be done regarding security at Los Alamos and other labs, which face increasing cyber-security threats.
A lab spokesman had not seen the letter and was not prepared to comment Tuesday evening.
Dingell, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, noted that in the past eight years, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has held 12 hearings on security, safety and management problems at Los Alamos.
Dingell asked the GAO to do three things. First, to come up with an inventory of all the programs at the lab and their cost.
Second, to evaluate how to "reduce and consolidate the volume of classified material and the size of the security footprint at LANL, as a means to make it more manageable, and whether it is feasible to move classified activities to other weapons labs where there is a better track record with respect to security."
And third, Dingell requested the GAO look at how NNSA evaluates a facility's security track record as it makes plans to reorganize the nuclear-weapons complex.
Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, which advocates nuclear disarmament, said he recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. "The Energy and Commerce Committee is serious about looking at the mission of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and so are a lot of other people in Washington," he said. He also said the committee is looking at the scale of the lab.
Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauded Dingell's move and said Congress should also look at how NNSA provides oversight at Los Alamos.
A veteran Los Alamos scientist questioned the idea of moving classified work out of Los Alamos. "The contribution that we make to classified programs would be lost," scientist David Carroll said. "The quality of the work, the continuity of the work and that kind of thing should not be taken lightly, given the overwhelming 60-year history of the contributions that Los Alamos has made to national security."
1. The FBI briefing that Stupak requested regarding the LANL security investigations. If more findings were reported by the FBI to Stupak than have been released to the news media, this could explain the timing on Dingell's new push.
2. The announcement of the winner of the RRW competition. If, for example, it is soon to be announced that LLNL won the competition, this would give Dingell and his bunch more traction in their efforts to reduce LANL's footprint.
It's time for remaining staff to start working on escape plans. As of today, the FY08 budget looks very ominous and layoffs are probably only 12 months away. Once they finally hit, it's going to be much tougher to sell your house even if you live off the Hill in Santa Fe or the Valley. Northern New Mexico may be getting ready to see a regional recession within the next year or so.
Of course, if you're a LANS executive you have nothing to fear. Go out and buy that 2nd BMW you've been wanting to get for your wife. A vacation home in Telluride also sounds like a wonderful idea. Consider creating new positions on your executive staff to hire old friends and reward your buddies. UC and Bechtel are watching your back, so don't worry. Happy days are here again!
It should become a simple matter to compare the LANL productivity with other research institutions. I suggest that revenues from patents, normalized by the unclassified research budget, be used to compare labs.
By the way, what is the return on research at LANL?
Is the annual income from licensing patents unclassified?
I fear that the LANL productivity, measured this way, will be very negative.
So now all I have to do is wait, then I can get out of my trailer and move into one of the mansions on the Hill? Wow! Talk about a windfall for us welfare-types of northern New Mexico! Do you think Donald Trump got his start this way...picking through the ruins of other people's lives? Hmm....
It would appear that Congressmen Dingell (D-Michigan) and Stupak (D-Michigan) are interested in spreading some of the "economic success" they've helped bring to Michigan into other states of the union. No thanks, boys, we'll pass on that offer.
The very core of LANL's work is addressing the very defense threats that, short of biological warefare, scare the daylights out of decent people everywhere.
So, these fools would like to make it go away...leaving the United States dramatically weaker in the face of monstrous threats from many corners of the globe, and they want to do this for the purposes of political grand-standing, power and control.
It's not about security...it's about power.
If it was about security, we'd see the FBI before Congress for the tens of laptops they lose each year, which they can't account for holding classified information or not.
We'd have seen equally public thrashing of Sandia for apparently attempting to cover up the successful hack of their network by hostile foreign powers.
We'd have seen the FBI thrashed over the Hansen spy incident.
Or the CIA over the Adrich Ames incident.
Or the navy over the Jonathan Pollard spy incident.
Instead, what we've got is a continuous piling on, punishing time and again LANL personnel who struggle in the face of byzantine, incomprehensible policies, procedures and rules to work safely and securely.
When an individual chooses to violate their oath, everyone pays except the one individual at the root of the deceit.
The follow-on is more byzantine rules, policies and procedures, layered heavily on top of the already confusing, contradictory and vulnerable morass of existing rules.
And the Congressionally demanded public floggings of the staff who continue to struggle under the crushing weight of management and policies that does not work.
Those among the LANL staff who want to know who got fired or disciplined over the incident need to understand that while it must feel really good and righteous to demand indiscriminant punitive actions, it also means that they themselves could be next.
Oh, never they might cry! Well, never say never. Because in the system we have that is ready to collapse under its own weight, a well intentioned, hard working, detail oriented LANL employee can try as hard as they can to cover every angle and still be buried alive if something goes wrong with safety or security.
You may ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
Experts in human performance improvement can certainly see the ongoing disaster the LANL management-by-appeasement-to-politicians approach has precipitated. The response to this and past security and safety incidents has effectively taught LANL personnel to adopt a siege mentality, which leaves management standing alone in the face of solving the real problems.
The Director's proud and frequent statements about how he's disciplined 24 people should be a shameful admission that he is destroying the incentive for staff to bring security or safety incidents or problems to management's attention.
When it's widely known that anyone within sight of a problem will be subject to a witch hunt by HR-ER on the behalf of the Director and devastated by the results, why in the world would anyone trust them with the knowledge that a problem exists.
Congress simply feeds this fire of incompetence by stimulating this defective and destructive cycle of failure.
If LANL is to improve and perform, it has to make it easy, automatic and rewarding to work safely and securely, and it must tap the real-world understanding the personnel have of the vulnerabilities and solutions to our safety and security problems. It must make it safe for individuals to admit mistakes and help the institution learn how to prevent them in the future.
As it is, we have bureaucrats write the new layers of confusion to lay down on top of the rotting old layers of confusion, while they try hard, have no idea what the real high-probability, high-consequence vulnerabilities really are. They only make the situation worse by giving management the false belief that they've really got the problem fixed this time.
It's not going to stop until LANL management, and Congress, stop circling the wagons and firing inward at the lab personnel.
The Laboratory is living in abject fear, which is driving many many people to shut up and keep their head down, depriving the institution of the very experts who could actually be part of the solution.
It's done this for years, and its doing this again, expecting a different outcome.
To remove classified work from the lab is to kill the lab, and probably most of our nuclear knowledge.
The capabilities of the Laboratory are totally embodied in the people and the history of our work which lives there. It cannot be transplanted like a Tulip bulb. Once it's wiped out, it's gone forever. Whatever might be reconstituted elsewhere will be a different place, starting from scratch.
I'm sure Iran, North Korea, and other proliferant threats to our world would greatly benefit from the set back.
Unfortunately, I'm ready to call it quits, as I don't see any way out of this mess. Congress is eagerly awaiting "just one more screw-up" so they can ass-whip LANL for a final time. With about 10,000 LANL employees and sub-contractors, it's only a matter of time till Congress gets their wish. Add in the growing budget problems all around us and things look even bleaker. Finally, put in a mix of upper management that instills no faith by the troops below then and you have a very toxic brew.
LANL is in a very sick situation which appears to have no cure for staff other than to get the hell out of this place and find a saner place to work. Sadly, this is also the scenario that LANS is hoping to engender in the LANL staff.
Can we call this irony if, as one result of all their hard-earned, malicious, and vicious behavior, they get a pure pit lab here in Los Alamos, that will be relatively immune to their nonsense? So they don't get "no nukes", they get "nothing but nukes".
It does seem only fair, somehow. I can enjoy their discomfort.
You have it right. It is time to go. I started in 1977 as a postdoc, when "LASL" was a much different place, just in the transition between AEC and ERDA, with Harold still firmly in command. Collaboration was easy - all you needed was a mutual interest, not a charge code. People didn't feel "shared fate" just "shared mission." No one feared security, but understood we were in a cold war that could turn "hot" if we screwed up. Harold fearlessly went to battle for us, no "deafening silence" if Congress balked or complained. Sure, times have changed, and everyone here has had to change in turn, but the atmosphere is now so toxic, and the upper management support of the workers so minimal, that no one who wants a long, fulfilling career should consider LANL a viable choice any longer.