Sunday, February 27, 2005

No one is as necessary as they think

From Anonymous:

"No one is as necessary as they think"

How glib. How wrong. It is this kind of thinking on the part of the bean-counters that has put us in this situation. The Lab is full of people with one-of-a-kind knowledge and skills. We already had a problem, because we have a large number of people who have critical knowledge and skills and these people are at or approaching retirement age. The uncertainty surrounding the recompetition is turning a manageable problem into a national security gamble. It has taken a problem with a five year lead time and shrunk it down to less than one year.

If you do not think that individuals are important, then you do not know the amazing people that we have here. Sure, they can go work somewhere else, but here they can make a positive difference to the entire world. This place isn't just about big or small science -- it's a nuclear weapons lab. Small and efficient? That should not be the most important consideration here. It's a nuclear weapons lab! Los Alamos is about a lot more than just churning out academic papers for our buddies to read. My God, I sure hope nobody starts using their garage-lab or their personal computer at home to try to do the kinds of things we do at work!

Also remember that many of the people here are part of dual-scientist households. And many of our children go on to pursue careers in science. At a time when too many American children are opting out of careers in science, the children of Los Alamos are truly a bright hope for the future. Each of us has invested our lives and our careers to help keep this country safe, both now and in the future.

As has been pointed out many times, for all of the investigations and allegations, not much real abuse or fraud has been found. Certainly less than one might expect for such a large diverse organization. I think this is because we all know exactly how important our work is. And how critical and irreplaceable our co-workers are to fulfilling our mission. That's right, we have a sense of mission. We are honorable people trying to help our country and our fellow citizens. It is very sad that the country, our President, the NNSA, the DOE, and the current Laboratory management have forgotten or simply don't care anymore. But none of those people or organizations represents the heart and soul of the Lab. The Lab stands for (used to stand for?) peace through security, good science, and always doing the right thing, even when nobody's looking. We don't take off our security clearances when we get home. We can't download the secret stuff out of our brains when we go home. Our pension may look good, if the stress doesn't kill us before we retire, but our other benefits are not stellar. So this is not really a "fat cat wants it all" situation, whatever certain bitter retirees may say.

The post about critical mass is correct. If the Lab loses too much of its capability, it will be shutdown. There is no reason to do non-weapons, non-homeland-security research in this isolated place. Well, maybe physical isolation is good for counter bio-terrorism stuff. I don't think the facilities and upkeep for that will be small and cheap either. We are a nuclear weapons lab; we are the best at what we do and what we do is very very important. The current management and the people in Washington are playing politics and they are gambling with our national security. If they didn't appreciate that before, then they should appreciate it now. And they should fix it now, before it's too late.

If we should swallow our hurt feelings and put the past year behind us, well, okay -- let them go first. Tell Nanos to apologize and then get him out of here. He is salt in the wound. Forget about recompeting the contract. What's at stake here is more than the embarassment and hurt feelings. Remember the IRS's new computer system? The FBI's new computer system (come on, that was just last week!)? Compac's promises for the Q machine? The list goes on and on. Consequences are what count. The potential consequences here are disastrous. I'll remind you again -- we are not bean-counters (present management excepted), this is a nuclear weapons lab.

"Put down the gun and back away slowly with your hands in the air. Don't make any sudden moves."

Well that won't happen; the wheels of government grind on without the possibility of admitting mistake, especially if there's an easier way out. Especially if the real consequences will be felt by the next generation. As lowly TSMs, we're not allowed to have feelings or egos. But their egoes and their games are more important to them than the continued security of our country.

Comments:
"Los Alamos is about a lot more than just churning out academic papers for our buddies to read."

I agree with almost everything you said, but with all the stuff coming down now, we don't need comments like that. There is serious basic scientific research that goes on here. It's not just for our buddies to read. Some of the basic research directly supports the weapons programs, some if it provides capabilities that are used in the future by those programs, some of it supports other national security needs. Technological applications ultimately come from basic science.

Now, maybe I misunderstood you. But something about the phrase I don't like. Why not say:

"LANL carries out first-rate basic scientific research, to provide capabilities for future national security needs, but the vast majority of the lab's resources go directly to immediate national security needs."
 
Anyone is entitled to make statements, even inane ones that belittle the service of others.

The folks at Los Alamos are working (or would like to work) on the two problems of enormous importance to the security of this Nation. The problems are complex and demanding even for the talent that resides here. First, they are working to ensure the safety and reliability of an aging stockpile of nuclear weapons without testing them for a department that has recklessly attrited away this Nation's most basic nuclear weapons capabilities. Second, they are working (or would like to work) on the single most important national security threat we face as a Nation. This ominous nature of this threat, the detonation of an improvised or stolen nuclear weapon by terrorist, is not my evaluation but that of the President, the new Director of National Intelligence, and leaders in both houses of the US Congress. Even here, the scientists, engineers, and technicians work in an environment that has seen the elimination of one essential capability and another by the same department. Yet they still struggle and just maybe they will be able to keep one of our cities from being turned into a radioactive crater.

I would like to shout this message from the Washington Monument but no one seems to be listening or, if they are, they don’t seem to give a damn.
 
A friend of mine was in DC over the weekend for a military briefing. His take on it is that the smart thinking in DC is that it is inevitable that DC will be nuked - it's just a matter of when and by whom.

The public may rise up in anger at the politicians who let it happen - but by then LANL will be no more able to help the country than will Pizza Hut.

I suppose there's some schadenfreude (sp?) here, but I can't help it. The politicians crapped in their bed, they should have to sleep in it.
 
I think the above is prescient. I decided to withdraw myself from working on a project intended to prevent the above when I realized it was too easy to get falsely accused of a security violation when working with classified in the new atmosphere of "Intolerance." We've got vigilantes hurling accusations to prove they "get it," and managers too afraid not to pursue even the frivolous ones. I decided that trying to protect DC wasn't worth the personal risk.
 
Using fear as a double-edged sword? Sly, guys, but below the belt even for the Beltway...

I agree the stress of working in an intolerant, uncertain atmosphere in a location that provides no career alternative is intolerable. Look at the number of illnesses and disabilities claimed recently at LANL. I agree we have to join together, via Blog, Union, CLE, however we can to preserve our strength, sanity and future, both LANL's and the nation's.
 
"No one is as necessary as they think."

Normally, I would agree with that statement except that at LANL we have lost,in the last few years, some incredibly important scientists and other workers who were the backbone of the US nuclear weapons program. Some have retired and moved away. Some have died. And many have been driven away. Most of the experienced employees who are left will retire by June 30th to prevent the loss of their pension which is inevitable if the contract is changed along the lines recommended in either of the draft RFP's. Frankly the experienced people LANL has left are of the utmost importance.

Thanks to Nanos, some who have already retired, are not allowed to come back because they will be seen as "double dipping". Of course, Nanos himself is double dipping, but what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander at Los Alamos.

But the loss of scientists is not the only problem at LANL. The loss of all kinds of employees is a problem. LANL has lost administrative professionals, technicians and clerks who understand how the weapons programs work on a different, but very important, level. LANL has lost its classified library, a great deal of which has not been converted to electonic media and it has lost or punished the people who know the intricate and ill-defined rules of maintaining classified resources.

LANL's dirty little secret is that for every scientist or engineer fired there are usually at least two lower level employees who are fired or disciplined. Just look at the case of the non-existent media. Several managers were demoted. One technical staff member was fired. And two vault workers were fired. These people were doing their best to work within a system that had never been truly defined.

In fact, often scientists and engineers who make mistakes are neither fired nor disciplined. Only those who are lower than Technical Staff Member level take the blame.

For those who have never tried it, maintaining a collection of classified media for use by scientists and engineers is far from trivial. And for low level employees who attempt to enforce rules on scientists, engineers, and, God forbit, managers, the future is bleak. They are just as likely to be fired or disciplined for enforcing rules as for breaking them.

Why would anyone want to work on classified work after the beatings taken by Wen Ho Lee, the members of the NEST team (whose hard disks disappeared and then reappeared behind the copy machine) and now the career damage done to the folks in DX-3 who were fired and/or punished -- apparently only for PR purposes?

If only Nanos had done what he said he would do, solve safety and security problems and hold people accountable. Unfortunately, he only held non-management employees accountable and he only held them accountable for the failure of management to provide a system that actually worked for tracking classified media. It is time that someone hold Nanos accountable.

I agree that LANL has driven off and continues to drive off people with important science and engineering knowledge. But I also believe that not enough has been made of the firings and punishment of lower level employees without whom the laboratory could not function. Their jobs also require knowledge and experience that LANL can ill afford to lose.

Sadly, LANL is being run by a bunch of managers who know little about management,in general, and specifically about the management of a premier nuclear weapons program. They don't understand that their only tools are people and that unlike tools, people and their skills cannot be replaced by a trip to Sears or Home Depot. People have to be trained and maintained, no matter what their line of work. They need to feel safe and appreciated and to be treated respectfully. If the US can't get it straight, there are a several countries waiting in the wings to take over. Let us not forget that national security isn't a joke and can't be maintained just by putting up a good facade. It takes real people working hard and as a team -- managers and all.
 
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