Monday, February 28, 2005

Time to Start Facing Some Reality

From Anonymous:

I really enjoy this blog and the comments people have posted.

But…after reading all of it, and having been here myself for a good length of time, I think it's time to start facing some reality here, at least as a non-management person. Some general observations and comments partially based on some of the stuff written in the blog.

1) By most accounts Senator Domenici has done pretty much all he can for LANL. Sooner or later (sounds like sooner) LANL will have to stand on its own. How it will fare is subject to speculation. Saying it is very important to National Security, has unique capability, etc., no longer matters. Those factors have been made clear, and they will enter into the determination of LANL’s future, along with a myriad of other factors, some rational, some not. That’s just the way it is. In my opinion, to hope or believe LANL will be considered in a special category is wasted psychic effort.

2) To ignore the reality of future funding is sticking your head in the sand. While there have been several newspaper posts on the blog about next year’s funding, it is unclear that most people are cognizant of proposed changes. Senator Domenici releases an article and says that NM has done well by him and that’s all people see. While I agree that we can only look at about a year or two at a time in terms of funding, I consider it worthwhile to see where changes are occurring. For example, there is a proposed decrease in DP funding at LANL. Sandia was also hit in this area. Given the general state of the federal budget deficit, and Senator Domenici's eventual departure, I am not counting on increases in these areas.

3) I have a high level of confidence that DOE, NNSA, etc., think what people do here is just a job. To them, LANL is just a pool of human resources, that when combined with funding, carries out a specified set of tasks. No more, no less. To think otherwise is naïve. To try and change their point-of-view is an exercise in futility.

4) Potential bidders have already brought up the need to have flexibility regarding the workforce as an RFP Issue. These people are highly attuned to funding. As unpleasant as it sounds, the new contractor will make decisions on who is, and who isn’t, important in carrying out LANL’s tasks. Subject to budget and political constraints, those in areas deemed important will likely have more bargaining power regarding their options. I suggest accurately and objectively assessing one’s own importance relative to what LANL will become. Try not to make this a self-worth issue.

5) When the time comes, everyone will be forced to make a decision in their own best interest about rolling over, becoming inactive, or retiring. It’s stressful to have to make decisions like these, but that’s the reality. To ignore the fact that decisions will have to be made will only cause more stress. I recommend planning as information becomes available.

6) For whatever reason, it appears as though many people have equated LANL with themselves. While I think I understand some of the underlying reasons for this, I cannot believe that it is a particularly good thing to do. It’s just a job folks, and if you think of it as any more than that, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. In fact, that seems to be the case already, as evidenced by many, many posts.

7) The Director and the SET/EB are who they are. How they came to be there is irrelevant. To think they will change by complaining is unrealistic in my view. It may feel good to vent, which is fine, but that’s about it. They will be changed when those that make decisions at that level decide they should be changed, plain and simple. We are not privy to their thought processes. This is not a democracy here, the LANL population in general did not vote for them, and they will not be recalled by petition. Like it or not, they are what the outside world sees regarding LANL as an institution. Blog opinions aside, as far as most know they are the best LANL has for those positions.

8) Perhaps, as many suggest, LANL will no longer be known for doing “The World’s Greatest Science”. So what? That just means the Greatest Science will be going on somewhere else. Whatever LANL becomes in the future will not diminish its past. LANL’s history has been pretty well recorded. If you were fortunate enough to part of it, that’s great. If not, then if you stay, you’re just going to have to deal with whatever LANL becomes the best you can. Institutions evolve due to a variety of forces, that’s the way it is. If LANL takes on a different or reduced mission, then it takes on a different or reduced mission. That’s what pays the bills. If you want to do science and stay at LANL, perhaps you will need to do it on your own time as some have suggested. Perhaps you will decide you need to leave to do science elsewhere. If, as has been suggested, the best people leave, well then they leave. If LANL becomes unattractive to new employees, well then they won’t come here. Not to trivialize these concerns, but I think it is that simple at a basic level. LANL’s next contractor will work with whatever budget and resources it has, don’t think otherwise. All organizations face these challenges. Some survive, some don’t.

9) While I believe most concerns are valid and heartfelt, I think there is really nothing that can be done about some of them other than bringing them up as a private citizen to those with decision-making authority. Even if the Director and the SET/EB are removed as some advocate, there is still the RFP/contract issues to deal with, as well as future funding. As far as National Security concerns go, LANL will have to abide by what Congress and the President decide is LANL’s role in the future – however that decision is reached. While it might sound a bit selfish, I think the most anyone can realistically accomplish is to try and be prepared for what might be coming – job skill-wise, funding-wise, and retirement-wise.

Thanks Doug for posting this. While it may be difficult for people to read, digest and believe the points made here, it is about as simple and straightforward as can be.
People should look at their sphere of influence and make decisions based on what control they have over whatever situation they face. Life can be tough and people need to grow up and face reality.
If not controlled, the continued anger and disgust at the events that have transpired over the last year can be dangerous to you and your families health and well being.
Sounds defeatist to me. You know, some things are worth fighting for. Places like Los Alamos are becoming increasingly rare and precious in this country, as both government and private industry are short-sightedly turning their backs on science. I for one am not willing simply to sit back and accept the needless destruction of a great and irreplacable institution.

I am reminded of comments made by Charles Lindbergh in the mid-1930s, during Hitler's rise to power: "We Americans have become used to dealing with a Europe dominated by Britain and France. In the future, we may well have to get used to dealing with a Europe dominated by [Nazi] Germany." Imagine what the world would be like if Lindbergh's view had prevailed. Fortunately, events overtook this version of the "let's just face reality" mindset.
I guess I didn't get the impression the writer was saying to sit back and do nothing about what is important to you. Sounds more like they are saying events are in motion and people are going to be forced to deal with them.

I would be interested to hear what the previous poster is planning to do to prevent the destruction of Los Alamos.
As much as I would like to believe otherwise, this post is probably right.
And come Oct 1st, this will be a very different world. Whether we like it
or not, we are destined to be control by some industrial company like
Bechtel even if UC wins the competition. Add to that the fact that DOE
is now looking to eliminate duplications of efforts within Weapon Labs.
And if you work using WFO funding, it unclear whether that will even be
possible in the future. Costs are already pricing LANL out of the market.
Then consider the fact that our new industrial bosses will probably want
to impress their new DOE bosses by implementing "efficiency" initiatives
(ie, RIFs) once they take over.

In a year or two, we may be looking back on the current times as the
good old days! It's all very depressing when you stop and think about it.
This place feels like it's on an definite downward spiral, esp. for
the scientific staff. Am I missing something? Is there any light at
the end of this tunnel? Or is now the time to leave, before it becomes
virtually impossible to sell your house if you live on the Hill?
I have to agree with the commentator in the "What Would Feynman Do" post
who says Feynman would leave through the hole in the security fence and
never come back. Science is dying at this place, and we all know it. You
can smell it in the air.

During the start of the Cerro Grande fire, I remember going down to the
grassy knoll at the Medical Center on the Sunday when the fire was trying
to jump Los Alamos Canyon. It was almost a picnic like atmosphere in many
ways. We watched as the tanker planes made their targets and dropped their
retardants. There was an air of unreality about the whole scene that
day. I remember telling my son, "now, if the fire jumps the Canyon,
the town of Los Alamos is gone". I said it nonchalantly, somehow
knowing that it just couldn't, it wouldn't happen. It was unthinkable!

Well, it did happen, and my neighborhood was burned to ruble. The
fire could not be stopped. Somehow, this seems like a fitting analogy
for what is now happening to the Lab itself. It largely escaped the
burning fires of Cerro Grande. It will now be scorched by DOE. You can
sit around thinking it couldn't, it wouldn't. Well, yes, it will.

The hills above Los Alamos are now full of dead trees, but new life
is starting to emerge from the catastrophe. The natural landscape has
changed dramatically. The forms of the mountains are now plainly
visible. In another decade or two, it won't be so bad. The cycles of
nature are in motion. One can hope that at some future time, the
Lab, likewise, will recover from what is now occurring. The big question
is whether those who are here today will ever see this recovery.

I wish I knew the answer to that question. I truly wish I knew. But
the true answer is no one knows -- not DOE, not the Senator, and not
even the staff of Los Alamos. At this point, we can only hope that
the destruction is minimal enough that it will be possible to rebuild
for the future once the "fire" has passed. And it is now time to gather
your loved ones and prepare to either "hunker-down" or to flee from
the Hill. Let's hope that this fire passes quickly.
While I agree with the poster who says that LANL is not a democracy, it does belong to a democracy. I believe we can draw hope from the kind of actions performed by the citizens of the Ukraine lately ( who would ever have expected to hear that 50 years ago?) They successfully changed a government that they disagreed with.

It is possible to say no to corruption within a democracy but it is scary and it has to be done by many people simultaneously. If only 20 come out against the status quo those people may very well face serious trouble. But if 20,000 come out against it, they have a chance and if 200,000 come out for change, the government gets the message. The problem is the citizens must send a clear message, not a fuzzy one. Politicians have to understand what they actually want.

Dominici has long been able to count on the votes of Los Alamos citizens, yet he seems to take their support completely for granted with insulting statements like, "For god's sake we aren't trying to hurt you."
And my guess is that Dominici believes what he says. LANL employees agree with him when they vote, but not when the principles Dominici openly stands for are applied to them.

The last draft RFP gave with one hand and took away with the other. Supposedly benefits of current employees are now guaranteed, but now the new company won't have to hire all of those who currently work at LANL. And there are other outrages in it as well. LANL employees cry out against this new plan, but this is what they voted for the last time Dominici ran and during the last Presidential election.

The biggest problem I see is that Dominici and his supporters generally believe they are really doing the whole country a favor by privatizing public institutions and bringing benefits and salaries lower, to enable the private industry to compete with government institutions such as LANL. They think private ownership and competition will create more efficiency in everything. Unfortunately, this approach has been tried before and it did not work. ( Look up laissez faire capitalism in history). It certainly isn't the kind of atmosphere that made LANL great. It certainly didn't make the LANL cafeteria great!

The bottom line is that most of the people in Los Alamos agree with the idea that it is competetion and private ownership that make for a strong economy except when the competition principle is applied to their own work place. It is time for LANL employees to think these issues through. If one believes that the best way to make the US great is to put our support into large corporations in "open" markets then one ought to pleased to see that principal applied in one's own workplace. It appears however that that is not the case at LANL. No wonder Dominici is confused.

If it feels like a bad idea in one's own workplace then how can it be a good idea for all workplaces in the US and even in the world? Yet free, open markets based on competition are what the US and Los Alamos voters are pushing these days , for all people throughout the world.
Why don't Los Alamos employees want privatization and competition in their own work place? Until they think this confusion through LANL employees will continue to appear to outsiders to be spoiled children and Dominici will continue to stand for the principles he has believed in all along.
If LANL employees and other citizens change their minds, Dominici and other politicians will be more amenable to the kind of workplace LANL employees have enjoyed for so long, which is government owned, government managed with a substantial defined benefit pension instead of a 403b or 401k with some matching funds from the employer.

What keeps most employees at LANL is the retirement fund, yet our current government is seeking to make defined benefit retirement programs a thing of the past. And most LANL employees are very upset about the loss of their defined benefit pension fund.

The voters of Los Alamos haven't thought through the economics of their politics. Until they quit voting for privatization of everything, they will have to have to continue to worry about their own workplace.
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