Sunday, February 13, 2005

Whistle Blower Blew Before


Sunday, February 13, 2005

LANL Critic Whistled Before

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer
Last month was not the first time quality-assurance specialist Donald W. Brown filed for whistle-blower protection while working for the U.S. Department of Energy.
Brown, a 30-year veteran of quality assurance in the nuclear industry, was hired by Los Alamos National Laboratory in May 2003 as a contractor to do reviews of nuclear manufacturing and quality assurance, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Labor on Jan. 14.
After writing a 22-page analysis of LANL's "broken" quality-assurance program, which he wrote is "in desperate need of repair" and puts the public and workers at risk, Brown went to the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Government Accountability Project and filed for whistle-blower protection, also in January.
While working for a DOE contractor at the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository project in Nevada 15 years ago, Brown also filed for whistle-blower protection after losing his job when he raised a number of concerns about worker safety. That complaint was settled out of court.
In his most recent complaint, Brown alleges he was demoted for reporting critical failures in reviewing the quality of critical nuclear facilities and manufacturing processes at the weapons lab.
Among Brown's findings at LANL were a lack of a proper welding and inspection qualification program, failure to implement industry standard welding processes, failure to inspect welding projects, and improper procurement of welding materials. These factors resulted in more than 1,000 faulty welds in LANL's 50-year-old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building, he said.
In a separate audit, which he said he was never able to finish, Brown said he found LANL had a longstanding failure to address quality-related concerns of its nuclear weapons component manufacturing process.
He also asserts that when he tried to apply for a full-time position at LANLĀ­ because his position as a contractor is being made into a LANL positionĀ­ he was told he wasn't eligible and wouldn't be considered, nor was he allowed to attend a training class.

Claims reviewed
LANL officials have said they are reviewing Brown's claims of retaliation and contend that none of his findings reveals public or worker safety risks. LANL spokesman Jim Fallin said the notion that the weapons lab has no quality-review procedure for its weapons manufacturing systems is "absurd."
National Nuclear Security Administration officials have said they believe Brown's reviews focus on old problems addressed during LANL's recent shutdown and review of safety and security concerns.
Fifteen years ago, Brown filed for whistle-blower protection under the same federal regulation he is citing in his current complaint, the Energy Reorganization Act. At the time, he was working for Holmes and Narver Inc., a DOE contractor at Yucca Mountain.
Brown said he raised concerns that workers were not properly qualified. When proper actions weren't taken to resolve the situation, he pressed the matter.
"Ultimately, that ended up costing me my job," he said.
His complaint of retaliation was settled out of court, and the settlement agreement and documents were sealed from public view, according to Labor Department records. But the terms were found to be "fair, adequate and reasonable," by then-Labor Department Secretary Robert Reich.
"It is not a get-rich-quick scheme," said Government Accountability Project attorney Tom Carpenter about Brown's complaint against LANL. "It is trying to get him back to the job we think he was unfairly removed from" and to get him training he was denied, allegedly because of his reviews of LANL quality-assurance procedures.

Systemic problems?
Carpenter said there are systemic quality-assurance problems across the laboratory's most critical facilities, impacting everything from construction to nuclear weapons designs.
"He has raised issues everywhere he goes because that is his job," Carpenter said. "Frankly, if there had been adequate responses to his concerns, he never would have gone public."
In his review, Brown reports, "The good news is that all problems identified in this paper can be fixed."
LANL spokesman Kevin Roark said that, in fact, many of the points in Brown's analysis were known even before Brown was hired.
"And many of the problems have long been solved," he said.
Roark said LANL always reviews concerns raised by employees, often by independent sources, as it is doing now with Brown's analysis. LANL officials have also said they are reviewing quality-assurance matters and are "self-identifying those that need to be addressed."
Aside from LANL, Brown said DOE and its Los Alamos Site Office are responsible for not ensuring adequate quality-assurance reviews.
"Only recently has LASO treated quality assurance as a primary function and not as a secondary consideration, when convenient or as a 'necessary evil,'" Brown wrote. DOE should be functioning as a "third line of defense," he said, but has failed because its regulators and resources are spread too thin.
Brown said he met with DOE's Los Alamos Site Office manager Ed Wilmot about his findings. Bernard Pleau, National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman for the office, said Wilmot told Brown he would follow up and evaluate his concerns.
Brown said he recently received a response from DOE's Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board saying they would take up his worries in coming meetings.

And he'll blow again.

There goes another $1 million dollars.
And he'll blow again.

There goes another $1 million dollars.

I can only imagine the situation if people who really know stuff at Los Alamos started talking.
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