Saturday, January 29, 2005

Two LANL Disks Never Existed; Lab Shut Down In Search Last Year

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Two LANL Disks Never Existed; Lab Shut Down In Search Last Year

By Leslie HoffmanThe Associated Press

Two computer disks that supposedly went missing last summer, prompting a virtual shutdown at Los Alamos National Laboratory, in fact never existed, according to report released Friday.

In its harshly worded review that described severe security weaknesses at the nuclear lab, the U.S. Department of Energy concluded that bar codes were recorded for the disks, but the disks themselves were never created.

A separate FBI investigation supported that finding, according to the report.

"Although the FBI has validated our conclusions that the 'unaccounted for pieces of (classified removable electronic media) at the center of this investigation never were created and, therefore, (are) not missing from inventory,' the weaknesses revealed by this incident are severe and must be corrected," the report stated.

Because of the problems, the NNSA announced it would slash the University of California's management fee, imposing the largest fee reduction ever on a national laboratory. UC will get only a third of the total fee it was eligible for as lab manager during the last fiscal year ending in September.

Out of a possible $8.7 million, UC will get only $2.9 million.

In slashing the fee, National Nuclear Security Agency chief Linton Brooks said he was concerned about "major weaknesses in controlling classified material."

Those weaknesses "are absolutely unacceptable, and the University of California must be held accountable for them," he said.

UC officials on Friday accepted responsibility for the problems but pointed to the months of work they and lab officials have done reviewing Los Alamos' safety and security procedures since the initial shutdown.

"We got walloped. Unfortunately, we deserve this," UC spokesman Chris Harrington said. "But what we have done is correct the problems and put the right system in place so that we don't have to take this type of hit again."

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., criticized the funding cut, saying the school has worked to make changes under difficult circumstances.

"The NNSA has responded to the bad headlines by cutting the university's award fee unreasonably," he said. "That willingness to succumb to political pressure reveals to me that the university is doing a better job of standing up to criticism that is the NNSA. I had expected better from the NNSA."

Lab watchdogs who have long criticized UC's management of the lab hailed the cut.

"It's certainly a step in the right direction," said Pete Stockton of the Washington, D.C.-based Project on Government Oversight.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said he understood the rationale behind the cut but noted that the most important issue should be making sure the safety and security challenges raised in the report released Friday are dealt with.

The report highlighted areas in which DOE and NNSA officials believe corrective action was needed. They include enforcing accountability, improving overall handling of classified material and improving oversight of security at the lab.

One of the report's recommendations called for holding the university accountable through the management fee.

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