Sunday, February 13, 2005

Who is Don Brown?

From Anonymous:

I have a hard time swallowing most of the ABQ Journal article from our
friend, Don Brown. As a denizen of TA-18, I couldn't even tell you
who this guy is. He allegedly was hired on in 2003 to evaluate QA
across the facility. However, I can't point to a single time I saw
him at 18. That doesn't mean he wasn't ever there, but how many times
could he really have been there? Further, the article states, "...he
recounted problems he said he uncovered at LANL's Technical Area-18,
where the lab performs subcritical nuclear experiments." TA-18 is
where the *critical* assemblies are housed. Sure, we do stuff at the
subcritical level, but we also operate at the delayed critical, we do
bursts, etc. However, the statement that TA-18 could have a
Chornoby-type accident is just completely bogus. All of these little,
technical errors definitely point to someone who clearly has no idea
what a critical assembly is or does or how any type of a failure of
the system might work.

Yet it doesn't change the fact that we, the denizens of 18, are most
likely going to have to address these completey far-fetched claims.
Lab management has *never* understood what it means to operate such a
facility. They constantly ignore the input of the experts in order to
pacify people who have clearly demonstrated they know nothing about
what they are talking about, such as Don Brown. The result is a set
of safety analyses that are based on accidents that are impossible to
occur. The scientists at TA-18 have for nearly two decades (or
whenever it was that the tiger teams occured) had to rationalize their
existences against a set of ridiculous and impossible safety

The end result is that TA-18 is being shut down. The Category I/II
quantities of nuclear material are being moved to the Nevada Test
Site. The scientists are having a mass exodus because of managements'
inability to demonstrate a clue. The vital missions being performed
at TA-18 are being handed off to Livermore. One guy I know, one of
the most brilliant minds when it comes to the designing scenarios to
test various detectors against, is transfering out of N Division
because, "someone needs to make management see how they are killing
this group."

It is truly sad that incompetant unknowns (i.e. the Don Brown's of the
world) are dictating how we do criticality safety at LANL and in this

when i began working at los alamos in the late seventies i enjoyed the work so much i couldn't imagine ever leaving. but a little over two years ago, leave i did. the lab had gone from a great institution run by great men with an important and well defined mission to a purposeless entity run by useless morons.

i now live in a crappy trailer on a meager income. i am so glad i am here, not there.
I suppose the question has to be asked, what Division or Group Leader at LANL hired this guy?

Sounds like incompetents hiring incompetents.

How does a contractor get demoted? I am a bit unclear on that.

I also am amazed that as a contractor this guy was apparently running around without LANL technical supervision. Did this guy decide to go to TA-18, X-Division, or anywhere else by himself, or was he directed to do so? Answer to that question could be amusing.

Who knows, maybe this was done in the same incompetent vein of the famed "Blue Ribbon Panel".
Thanks for the rebuttal of Brown's claims. You sure don't hear both sides in the paper. The "sky is falling" sells more papers.
And who are you, Mr. Complainer?

It's terrible to see that you didn't even do your homework before posting your complaint. Don Brown is a Quality Assurance Specialist with over 30 years of success evaluating and assessing nuclear facilities across the country.

Just because he is an outsider to your group of denizens at TA-18 doesn't mean that Don Brown is incompetent. It is too bad that you do not have a better scope in your view. Did you ever think that perhaps to an evaluator of his caliber (having assessed real nuclear facilities like reactors) that the activities your group does would mostly fit into the "subcritical" label domain? Or did you ever wonder that his use of the word was purposeful to prevent people who don't know any better from freaking out and launching an attack on the Lab (i.e., what the consequences could be if he used the word 'critical")?

Really, you MUST do your homework and learn more about how to communicate realistically. In this day and age, one most likely could agree that TA-18 never ought to have been placed where it is now. And the facility is no doubt outdated, bringing into question more concerns about how to assure the quality of any work being performed there. One comment you made that could be most true is: "Lab management has 'never' understood what it means to operate such a facility." Perhaps you are on to something there, but you just don't like the results now of management sorting it out. I would bet that the decisions being made about where the work is done has something to do with consolidating efforts and improving SAFETY. Even recent safety surveys (2004) among your fellow denizens clearly points to a need for change.

You MUST be careful when ruling out potential accidents in that field as "impossible to occur." Shall we use your personal assurance as the litmus test? How irresponsible! And all that is being done with TA-18 is not lost nor ending up as eroded as you portray. Again, it helps to widen your perspective, do your homwork, and learn the facts for better representation. You wouldn't want to sound incompetent in any way, would you?

To the third commenter: assumptions abound, I see. Don Brown was not aimlessly wondering through sites without supervision. He was hired to perform audits related to Quality Assurance in his area of expertise: nuclear facility management. He was in those ares doing the work he was contracted to perform. Out of curiosity, what do you REALLY know about Don's work? Do you have 30 year's successful experience on a national scope?

You two really need to be careful with such rash criticisms and careless comments. Basically these two posts can be boiled down as follows: poster child A is pouting about his work while wanting it to go on forever as it always has been (preferably without any safety requirements beyond verbal assurance of said denizens) ; and poster child C supports poster child A with assumptions and attitudes that serve as some source of amusement that ultimately lead us absolutely no where productive.

Congratulations to poster child B for figuring out what makes them happy. All the best!

P.S. To answer the question about demotion: it is because management sometimes (and in this case) likes to suppress what it cannot or does not want to deal with effectively. From what poster child A has to say, it seems he would favor this method as long as it protects his group's existence, his status, and his paycheck. And to answer a question that might already be lingering in the reader's mind: as much as I would like to, I cannot reveal my identity because of my potential involvement in the pending lawsuit. It is too bad some people (not including Don Brown on this account) do not do more to increase their awareness and critical -thinking and -decision-making skills. Sadly, I believe this truth will not find easy remedy out of this situation; just a reminder for the need.
I'm not clear on exactly why Don Brown considered X-division to be within his domain. Perhaps that is because Don Brown doesn't have a clue as to what X-division really does. Thirty years of reactor safety & QA is not an adequate background for a review of X-division. Further, any review that somebody with those credentials could lead would be irrelevant to X-division without first performing said review on the entire LANL management chain. As things stand now, the question is moot, and Don Brown looks like a child whining to the press. Actually, if he manages to rob the taxpayers of more $'s, he may be on to a career that many LANL folks could try after the lab implodes.
People are fighting back so now Brown comes out of the woodwork. Is this a setup? Another reason for a stop work just to show how all powerful Pete is?
Don Brown of PS-1 is listed in Lab records as Uncleared.

If he has had no clearance since he's been at LANL, then there is little to no credibility in his remarks about weapon quality programs, and I suspect little credibility in his remarks about TA-18.

How could he possibly conduct a comprehensive audit of a secure facility, and classified programs, without a clearance?

He can't.
As the original poster of the message, I wanted to reply to a few things in the Anonymous Comment #4...

He said: "Or did you ever wonder that his use of the word was purposeful to prevent people who don't know any better from freaking out and launching an attack on the Lab (i.e., what the consequences could be if he used the word 'critical")?"

Perhaps using the word "critical" in a news article would be considered a poor choice of words. However, it is by no means a secret since the certain areas of the site go by the team name of Los Alamos CRITICAL Experiments Facility.

I also object not only to Don Brown but to *anyone* who would judge the site, its work, and the safety of it without having been there, as it is clear is the case with this writer.

When asked as to whether to use my own, personal assurances that the safety at TA-18 is up-to-par, I would claim an emphatic NO to this statement. Instead, I would encourage you to talk with the people down there who have done the safety analyses on the various experiments on which the authorization bases are based. If you do so, which this writer clearly has not, you will get a very different picture of things. And then they will tell you about the "impossible scenarios" that some of this is based on.

Finally, I would like to state that this writer has also made assumptions in this posting. His personal attacks are unjustified as he has no idea who I am. I am sorry he is not capable of better than that.
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