Saturday, February 26, 2005

LANL Worries Aired; DOE Chief Vows Fair Treatment

Albuquerque Journal
Saturday, February 26, 2005

LANL Worries Aired; DOE Chief Vows Fair Treatment

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer

LOS ALAMOS— In his first visit to Los Alamos National Laboratory, U.S.
Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman reaffirmed his commitment to
protecting lab worker benefits through the pending competition to run the
nuclear weapons facility.
"The people here are going to be treated fairly," he said. "We are very
much aware... of the concerns of the employees here, the rightful concerns."
Bodman, who visited LANL on Friday and Sandia National Laboratories in
Albuquerque on Thursday, spoke to Los Alamos employees with U.S. Sen. Pete
Domenici, R-N.M., during an all-hands meeting and answered their questions.
Bodman replaced Spencer Abraham as energy secretary on Jan. 31,
following Abraham's resignation in December.
Following the meeting, Bodman told reporters that he came to Los Alamos
"in awe of the history of the place" and is now in awe of all that is done
there. He said he is committed to advancing the laboratory's core scientific
mission, which he said he "views as a sacred trust."
During a question-and-answer period, one 30-year LANL veteran told
Bodman that many of his colleagues in their 50s and 60s are planning to
leave LANL "at the peak of their careers."
"It is going to hurt us as a country, as a laboratory, and it all has to
do with bad management," he said.
LANL director Pete Nanos has been the target of some employee and
scientist criticism for the way he addressed concerns last summer over
safety and security failures by shutting the laboratory down for months at a
high cost to taxpayers.
Reviews of the total shutdown cost are ongoing, and Domenici said
employees and the public will get a full accounting of what happened and
why.
"This has to end up with lessons learned," Domenici said. "It wasn't a
trivial matter or a series of trivial situations."
Asked if Bodman had confidence in Nanos' leadership, Bodman said he only
just met Nanos but was impressed by his earnestness, commitment and
willingness to criticize himself.
At the close of the all-hands meeting, Domenici told LANL workers that
it is time for them to move beyond feelings of discontent.
"I am trying to tell you that we have got to get over this stuff and get
on with the new contract," he said. "Nobody intends to hurt any of you, and,
for God's sake, you know we don't intend to hurt what you're doing."
Domenici praised President Bush's selection of Bodman as the new energy
secretary. Bodman served as deputy secretary of the treasury beginning in
2003 and deputy secretary of commerce from 2001 to 2003.
Domenici said Bodman, an engineer who once taught at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, is the most experienced energy secretary since he's
been in Congress and will make LANL and America's future brighter.
Bodman told reporters that it is natural for there to be some unease
during a contract competition for the largest nuclear weapons research
laboratory, "but that everything is going to be fine, I am convinced of
that."


Comments:
"Asked if Bodman had confidence in Nanos' leadership, Bodman said he only
just met Nanos but was impressed by his earnestness, commitment and
willingness to criticize himself."

The praise for Nanos certainly was not flowing freely from Bodeman, nor Domenici, and Nanos' Admiral-buddy, Brooks sat up on stage the entire time without even whispering a single peep.
 
Bodman saw a side of Nanos that no one I know since Nanos was a cadet at the Academy has ever seen, a willingness to criticize himself. Now criticizing others is another story. We have seen and heard a lot of that.
 
Adam Rankin's piece left out one additional detail. I asked the following question: "Mr. Secretary, last July an assertion was made that there is a 'culture of arrogance' at Los Alamos. Could you give us your thoughts on that?" The Secretary gave a long answer dealing with administration of national labs by universities. He concluded with a statement that was approximately, "No, I don't think there is arrogance in the culture here; it is a culture I revere."
I remind readers that the source of the phrase "culture of arrogance" was lab Director Pete Nanos, speaking in a press conference with reporters. The phrase has been reiterated by newspaper editorials across the country, and in congressional hearings.
[If anyone noted the exact wording of Sec. Bodman's conclusion, please notify me.]

-- Bernard Foy
 
I took some notes during the presentation. I haven't reviewed the media
archives yet, but my notes go along the lines of:

"I don't find this place arrogant...
... and I revere it."

Bodman is in complete disagreement with Nanos on this one. I also enjoyed
his little baseball joke about "it's not arrogance if you can do it!".

As far as reverence goes, we have ample evidence that neither Nanos nor his
cronies on the SET have any reverence for Los Alamos and it's place in
our nation's history.
 
A "willingness to criticize himself"? The rest of us certainly have not seen that side of Pete! He has criticized the entire staff, the middle management, UC, DOE, NNSA; but never, ever, himself. Well, at least in public.
 
I'm beginning to suspect, based on Domenici's parting remarks, that treating us fairly might just mean screwing us less than others.

Granted, the benefits and salaries we get at LANL are incredible for the work we get to do. However, do all that compensate for the abuses hurled at us by the Retired Vice Admiral?

I learned in the Leadership Institute that humans are fragile creatures. To earn the trust of the followers, a leader needs to be willing to admit mistakes and ask how he could earn forgiveness and/or make up for it. LANL is now full of humans who have been hurt, and still hurting. Pete Domenici, how do you propose we just stop feeling the pain and move on?
 
"Stop feeling the pain, you slaves; move on, now."

I can hardly believe those in the audience who applauded Massa Domenici after he watched his overseer, Darth Nanos, whip them unmercifully, and then told the assembled scorned and beaten slaves to kiss the whip, "Get over it, and quit'cher damn whimperin'!"
 
That was a really telling meeting.

Nanos was deferential and diplomatic in the extreme, but then of course his big bosses were there, and he wasn't about to be anything but in front of them.

Bodman was unstandably nebulous for a guy three-weeks on the job, but he was very deft at not praising Nanos, nor running him down. I think he has potential, but the DOE and NNSA bureacracy was there before him, and will be there after him, and they know it.

I don't think Domenici said a single thing about Nanos at all. Of course, Domenici has lost face now having bashed the Lab early during CREM-III without facts to support it. Pete can't get out of being responsible for how he looks now without looking bad (or, well, worse, than his rant made him look at the end of the talk).

Brooks, as has been noted, said absolutely nothing at all. This, the NNSA Administrator, in charge of the agency created to 'better' operate the NW complex than DOE. Talk about an abject failure. But he didn't say a single word in support of Nanos. Hmmm.

Overall, the supporting words for Nanos were gratefully absent from the panel. That tells me they know at least a bit what we know and they're starting to back away from him ever so gently. I hope.

Finally, what was with the INCREDIBLY LAME questions, overall, people asked?

The damage and being done to the Laboratory is extensive, long-lasting, and grave. No one I can recall presented that issue to the assembled chiefs at all, and yet it seems to be the bottom-line of all the issues at hand.

Domenici obviously doesn't have a clue. Whether or not anyone INTENDS to hurt the Laboratory or not, IT HAS AND IS BEING DONE ANYWAY.

There's no way I can see him running for re-election, and even now I have to wonder how much Senatoring he's doing himself, and how much his staff is really our 'man behind the curtain.'
 
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