Saturday, February 19, 2005

Vision for the Future?

From Anonymous:

Let's assume that UC wins the recompete and Mr. Nanos is relieved of his command. What is our vision for the future? What positive things could UC - Dynes - NNSA do to restore our trust in UC management and return us to the path of excellence?
We've bitched enough about the present situation - what's our positive vision for the future? If you were Director, what would you do? What kind of person would you like to see as the director? What is the Director's real job? Is it running day to day operations? Is it setting policy and managing external affairs? Where does the "commercial partner" fit in?
Much as I hate to admit it, I think John Browne was on the right track until he was overrun by politics. I think the director's job is like the president of a university - the job primarily involves kissing up to outsiders (e.g.: alumni and foundations) or (in our case) DOE, NNSA, and Congress to get money. Back home there's a full-time executive committee (Deans, VPs, department heads, etc.) who actually run the show and get things done. Browne's mistake was letting Salgado run the show.
Put Nanos behind us, get creative, and lay out a vision of what LANL should be.

I think that this is a wonderful suggestion!! Let us hear some visions for a new LANL and how those visions can be accomplished. What are the positive steps that can be taken to achieve that goal? I am a little tired of hearing, once again, that Nanos is the problem when there is already a general consensus of that among the posters to this forum.
If the University of California (UC) wins the recompete and Nanos is releived of his command there is still the problem that UC will still be under the thumb of the Department of Energy (DOE). Somehow the situation has to return to the way things were before DOE.

In the mid 1970s Dr. Harold Agnew was Director. He had the complete trust and respect of the UC and the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory which ran the daily operations. Harold represented UC and the Laboratory to the overseers in Washington.

Then, in the late 1970s, DOE was formed. DOE forced UC to take an active role, under their guidance, in the operation of the Laboratory and forced Agnew to resign. It took 25 years for DOE to cripple the ability of the Laboratory to accomplish its mission.

But, the Laboratory is not dead! It has somwhow managed to find and retain people like those who came to Los Alamos in the Manhattan Project.

Somehow we must convince Congress that we must return to the way things were in the Twentieth Century. The Laboratory was not broken. There was no reason to "fix " it.

It is very important to do this immediately because of the role Los Alamos plays in the Nuclear Weapons program. You cannot have weapons without Los Alamos.
In between AEC and DOE was ERDA. It's been downhill since AEC.
In between AEC and DOE was ERDA. It's been downhill since AEC was replaced by ERDA.
I keep thinking of the 'Raspberry Jam Lost' article. Every time DOE, NNSA, UC or some other entity some up with some inane rule or requirement that makes no sense the Director has to take up his sword and do battle. If we have a critical mission, then 'they' have got to stay out of the way and let us do our jobs.

If we do not have a critical mission then we are just a way to pump money into the economy of Northen New Mexico.

I would like to see a demonstration of peer review on the big science projects at the lab. Somebody is approving these giant projects but not very many people can truly say that they see what benefit they provide towards the mission of certifying a weapon.

Changing the captain ( or Admiral ) without changing some of ways we operate the ship will not change the course we are following. What is it that the customer really wants? How much of what the lab does is in direct support of that? How much indirect support work is also needed? How much of the world class science at LANL is NOT related to the core mission of the lab?

That may sound like heresy, but if some 'Good science' projects are actually diluting the lab's ability to fulfill the main core missions then they should go somewhere else.
The last comment is right on the money… The Lab has lots of great science that has almost nothing to do with our Mission. These projects are a diversion of focus and effort from institutional success.

Many of these projects are funded perpetually by LDRD. There are groups and divisions that view LDRD as their birthright. These organizations feel no duty to give anything of substance back to the programs that contribute the lion’s share of the funding to LDRD. Effectively, LDRD is a tax on the programs that returns little or nothing back.

In principle I think LDRD is a great idea. The problem is how it is managed. The focus of LDRD has been hijacked by those who seem to believe that it is OK to siphon off money from the Lab’s core mission to fund work that has nothing to do with that mission. Trying to get the LDRD program to fund anything of programmatic relevance is close to impossible especially if you are in a division that is mission-focused. LDRD is symptomatic of deep institutional problems that we should be spending our energy solving.

On the other hand, this has been a problem for a very long time. Its important to get rid of our recent problems first, then turn our attention to the systemic issues. Nanos is a parasite that must be removed immediately or the Lab will die. These other issues are chronic diseases that we can treat when the life-threatening parasite is gone.
If I recall correctly, it was a speech that Sig Hecker made which shifted a good bit of the attention, effort, and funding (via whatever mechanism it's done - taxes or whatever) to "Tech Transfer". The rationale was that LANL was going to have to shift its efforts and its mindset if it wanted to compete or stay afloat in the post-cold war era.

Like a craft set adrift without a destination and lacking a navigator or a wise captain, LANL has been trying to figure out how to maintain it's viability. Similarities can be found in the history of the March of Dimes once polio was no longer a massive threat. MoD wasn't ready to disband and had to find a mission - hence, their focus on the broader scope and long-term battle against birth defects.

The distillation of a mission for LANL came in the form of "Nuclear Stockpile Stewardship" which offered at least something in which LANL had experience and credibility. This was pre-9/11 when the weapons work was seemingly less needed and less viable.

Stockpile Stewardship, weapons work, tech transfer, or some other program or a combination of any/all of these? LANL needs to figure out what we can do that we can do better than anyone else and be 'peerless' in doing it though be able to pass the litmus test of credibility by other organizations which can help assure that we are what we say we are and we are doing what is needed and doing it the best that there is or that can be conceived of.

Will the average or below-average leader and his/her team be able to guide LANL toward that level of excellence? I think not, so the vision must also include a keen eye toward exemplary leadership along with a clear idea of where they'd be leading LANL to.
Sorry, I have to disagree with the two "let's focus on our core mission" comments.

"Focusing on core competencies" is one of the greatest short-sighted falacies of modern-day management-speak. I would rephrase it as "Committing to Obsolescence." The attitude seems to be "we've always made buggy whips; let's not distract ourselves with all these new-fangled automobiles and aeroplanes." If you see a has-been company, one that has slipped far behind the cutting edge and whose stock price is now in the dumps, you can pretty much bet your bottom dollar it's one that "focused on its core competency" a few years back.

Yes, we have an important core mission, but as the world changes, we must change with it if we are to survive. If LANL had been slavishly focusing on its "core mission" in the 1980's, it never would have survived the end of the cold war.

New ideas and new directions grow out of all the "irrelevant" science you guys are complaining about. That's our insurance policy against turns of the historical tide. For example, who would have guessed fifteen years ago that one of LANL's greatest claims to fame and national relevance in the post-9/11 world would be our performing gene sequencing of anthrax strains? Where do you think that capability came from? Explosives testing?

Time after time, I have seen the next big thing for the lab grow out of off-the-wall research. I believe we need more LDRD-style science, not less.

(And just so you don't think I'm being self-serving here, I currently get all my funding from DOE "core-mission" programmatic sources.)
The following was written a couple comments above: "Trying to get the LDRD program to fund anything of programmatic relevance is close to impossible especially if you are in a division that is mission-focused."

Recall that LDRD is statutorily prohibited from funding work that simply augments programs. If you want LDRD to pump up your program, write your congressman and senators, because right now this is illegal (and rightly so, IMHO). Sorry.
First, this is a discussion that is positive as compared with the discussion of how to relieve us of our abusive and incompetent Director. It is where we should be spending our energy!

The comment that “"Focusing on core competencies" is one of the greatest short-sighted fallacies of modern-day management-speak” just does not hold up to scrutiny. Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” describes what separates companies that are great from those that are good. It exemplifies some of the best current thinking in management. The conclusions in the book are not all theory; they arose from empirical data on corporate performance. It is hardly the stuff of horse drawn buggies.

A key element in greatness is focus on a clear business model. The business model is based on what you do better than anyone else, what you love to do, and what you can sell to the customers. You have to “confront the brutal facts” within your business. Execution of the business model requires discipline and unwavering judgment about how to diversify. Great companies do not diversify unless it resonates with the business model. Other elements spelled out in Collins’ book are leadership that is clearly far different than the current Laboratory’s regime (the CEO’s of the great companies are all “anti-Pete’s”). Fundamentally, the ideas explored in Collins’ book are how do businesses produce excellence rather than simply success. It is arguable whether these ideas might extend to organizations like the Lab, but it is worth discussing and considering in how to define our future.

I believe the poster’s reaction is based on reading too much into what focus implies. We need to focus on something. We need to focus on something that can be funded in the current National political environment. Right now, I contend that we have no clear Lab-wide focus and this is dangerous. LANL is not a single Laboratory, it is a collection of many different enterprises and these divisions threaten the very existence of LANL. Under Nanos our only clear Lab-wide focus is safety and security. This is absolutely wrong. What sort of people would work for an organization like this? The ones we do not want here, and this is exactly the people Nanos has been hiring in droves. The best thinking I have seen on how to do this right is that LANL should “Do Science safely and securely”. In other words, Science is the job and safety and security are part of how we do it.

Are we a “Science” Lab or a “National Security” Lab? Right now we are evolving into a “Safety and Security Lab”.

I believe that LANL is first and foremost a “National Security” Laboratory. This is the business model that we can sell. It is essential to make sure “Science” and excellence is a key part of this formula. Excellence in science is what brought many of it and us here is what can keep us here. It’s the true core of the Lab’s identity. LDRD often becomes the centerpiece of how scientific vitality is maintained because it defines the institutional freedom to define what is excellent and how that excellence will be directed. The presently diffuse focus of LDRD threatens its existence. Without showing its ability to improve the quality of science in the Lab’s programs, the LDRD program may be reduced in size or removed entirely. This is one of those “brutal facts” that Collins talks about confronting.
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