Friday, January 07, 2005

Linton Brooks, NNSA

One thing I have not mentioned yet is that I was one of the 30 or so people selected to meet with Linton Brooks, head of the NNSA on December 17, 2004. The purported reason for his trip was to meet with selected staff to discuss issues of concern pertaining to staff retention and morale problems at LANL. The following is a summary of my impressions after the meeting:

On Dec 17, 2004, at 4:17 PM, Douglas Roberts wrote:

Well, I'm sure you are on pins and needles to hear about how today's
meeting with L. Brooks is going to cause this laboratory to be turned
around, and will solve all the problems that have resulted under the
Nanos reign.

I hope those are comfortable pins and needles. Bottom line: it was,
in all likelihood a complete waste of time. While Brooks was a good
listener, jovial, sincere, obviously intelligent, etc., it became
increasingly clear that the party line started with him. He "fully
supported Nanos" in his decision to shut the lab down. He was,
although, "concerned" about staff retention issues. He sympathized
with our difficult situation. The only time I saw him appear to be
even a little taken aback during the meeting was while I was reciting
the saga of how the shutdown destroyed my group and large fragments of
its customer base. His response, once I was finished telling the
story, was basically, "Do you have any suggestions on how to fix it?" I
did not, as much as I wanted to, suggest that he fire Nanos.

Towards the end of the meeting, when he was asking if there were any
more questions, I slid Brad's Physics Today article across the table to
him, suggesting it as reading material for the plane trip back home.
He was, as it turns out, already intimately familiar with it, and
proceeded to rebut its findings with a set of findings (cited, but not
presented) of his own selection that showed that safety and security
problems at LANL were orders of magnitude worse than at any other place
in the DOE complex, irrespective of what Brad's findings

The collection of staff members present seemed to possess similar
opinions to mine, i.e., that Nanos overreacted in shutting the entire
lab down, and caused immense damage in the process. However in light
of the fact that Brooks outed himself at the very beginning of the
soiree as firmly backing the party line, everybody pretty much just
skirted the issue. That fact alone, I suppose, can pretty much put you
in tune with how the meeting went.

I'm not sure I'd credit Brooks with sincerity of opinion. He is a politician, after all, and for him to admit that "his man" shut the Lab down unnecessarily for 6 months, at a cost to the taxpayer of almost $1 billion, would tend to be a career limiting move. Better for him to claim that it was necessary and hope the whole thing blows over without too much permanent damage, or at least none that appears during his tenure. Politics isn't about doing the right thing for the nation. It's about putting off catastrophe long enough to move on to a better job.
Look, I mean Linton Brooks is a politician, and will move on. He is not a career person there, he could care less.
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