Friday, January 21, 2005

A "normal day at the lab"

A "normal day at the lab".


- the staff who have left because of the shutdown;
- the customers who have left because of the shutdown;
- any morale, absent because of the shutdown, and how LANL staff have been treated by LANL management.

Otherwise, Monday, January 31 will be a perfectly normal day at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Santa Fe New Mexican…Diana Heil

January 21, 2005

In less than two weeks, it should “look like a normal day” at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

That’s what lab Director Pete Nanos told employees Wednesday.

Since July, normal work activities have taken a back seat to safety and security concerns. Some workers have been affected for a longer time than others, depending on the risk level of their activities. Nanos directed a stand down of normal operations in nearly every corner of the laboratory with the aim of creating a more reliable work environment, where violations and near misses aren’t happening on a frequent basis.

The arduous journey is about to end.

By Jan. 31, the goal is to resume a sense of normalcy, which Nanos described as “productive work proceeding without impediment.”

Meanwhile, the lab has a long list of shortcomings it must continue to address.

Nanos told the workforce of 12,000 Wednesday he was proud of the lab’s progress.

“I’m not going to give up the progress we made ... ,” he said. “It’s been a long six months, and we’ve all paid the price in one way or another.”

During this period of selfstudy, the laboratory found approximately 3,000 specific issues in need of fixing. Prior to resumption, 300 actions have been taken to address some of those specific issues, according to lab spokesman Kevin Roark.

But Los Alamos has a poor track record of fixing problems, according to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a governmentfunded advisory group.

“Over the years, LANL has often identified valid issues, prepared corrective-action plans that appeared credible, and then failed to execute,” according to a Dec. 31 board memo written by the board’s two technicians stationed at Los Alamos .

In the coming year, following through with the latest changes will be a major challenge that requires a commitment from managers, according to the board.

Nanos addressed that concern briefly in his talk.

“We want a continually improving state where we don’t slip backwards,” Nanos said.

The new processes developed during the six months must now become part of the fabric and structure of the lab, he said. Training from top to bottom is part of the plan.

The lab has a new way of storing and tracking computer disks containing top-secret information in centralized libraries. And it is starting a behavior-based safety program, where individuals take responsibility for their actions.

“This will be a tough year,” he said, “but I feel that fundamentally we are moving in the right direction and laying the groundwork to ensure this institution’s future and your future.”

Employee morale is low — a fact Nanos acknowledged.

In letters to newspapers and in meetings with Washington officials, employees and retirees questioned why the lab took such a long-lasting approach to beefing up security.

Plus, the General Accounting Office and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, are demanding to know the cost.

Ron Moses, a lab physicist, told U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, DN.M., on Monday that the lab should have conducted a brief stand down of operations and punished workers involved in safety and security infractions.

“It dragged on for months,” Moses said. “In some places, it’s still dragging on.”

He said it felt like an “antiseptic bath of bureaucracy.”

Worse yet, Moses said, agencies other than the U.S. Department of Energy aren’t extending lab grants, and top scientists are thinking about taking their work elsewhere.

Charles Mansfield, a retiree involved in two research projects at the lab, said the stand down caused delays that affect scientists who are trying to meet a March deadline.

He said the director’s use of name-calling — Nanos once called employees “cowboys and buttheads” — coupled with months of slowed work, hurt morale.

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