Wednesday, February 02, 2005

LANL in the News

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Headline News
Lab's deficiencies cost UC $5.8 million

ROGER SNODGRASS,, Monitor Assistant Editor

The missing CREM didn't exist.

Federal nuclear chief Linton Brooks announced late Friday afternoon that several investigations of an incident at Los Alamos National Laboratory last July have concluded that the supposedly lost Classified Removable Electronic Material never existed.

"There was no evidence of criminal activity," said Kevin Roark, a laboratory spokesperson. "There was an inventory discrepancy that occurred because two bar code slips were generated but were never actually attached or signed to any physical CREM item."

Brooks' statement mentioned the resolution of the CREM problem in passing, while handing out what the announcement called, "the largest fee reduction imposed on a national laboratory in history."

"Although multiple investigations have confirmed that the 'missing' disks never existed, the major weaknesses in controlling classified material revealed by this incident are absolutely unacceptable, and the University of California must be held accountable for them," said National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Brooks in a prepared statement.

"Of even greater concerns are significant safety weaknesses which came to light at approximately the same time."

Brooks explained how he calculated the fine, charging $2.1 million for the safety deficiencies and an additional amount for the gravity of "the weaknesses uncovered."

Brooks continued, "I consider this an appropriate indication of the severity and systematic nature of the problems uncovered at Los Alamos, problems which have already resulted in substantial loss to the government."

In the same announcement, Brooks gave the laboratory a "good" rating for achieving its mission objectives last year, including non-proliferation activities and establishing a strong science base. "Good" represents a "three" out of a possible "four" rating.

After the non-existent CREM was thought to be missing, a laser accident caused serious injury to a student intern.

After that, laboratory Director G. Peter Nanos announced a total suspension of activities at the laboratory. Most activities have gradually resumed over the last six months, while laboratory officials have said they identified thousands of safety-related corrective actions.

As a result of the CREM incident and the laser incident, 23 employees were placed on administrative leave; four were eventually fired; one resigned and seven were penalized.

Suspicions about the existence of the CREM were raised when Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, said after a lab briefing in August that there might not be any missing materials.

Domenici responded by criticizing NNSA for giving in to negative publicity.

"That willingness to succumb to political pressure reveals to me that the University is doing a better job of standing up to criticism than is the NNSA," he said, in a statement on Friday.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a statement that he understood the rationale behind the financial penalties.

"I have talked with Director Nanos several times during the past few months, and I know he has taken many steps toward meeting these challenges," he said.

The hefty fines come at a time when the contract to manage the laboratory has been opened to competition due to business and financial management scandals that came to light two years ago.

A Request for Proposal is scheduled to be issued by the middle of February.

The Board of Regents of the University of California has not yet made a formal decision on whether to bid or not.

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