Friday, March 11, 2005

"Great Pensions" over "Great Science"?

From Anonymous:

"Great Pensions" over "Great Science"? What a specious argument. I have been at this lab for less than 10 years so I don't have a significant pension to lose when the contract changes. But I have colleagues that are afraid they will effectively lose about half of their pension benefits by not quitting or retiring. They would be fools to not be worrying about it. They have families and mortgages. If we haven't learned anything else recently we should at least learn that NO ONE is really looking out for us EXCEPT ourselves.

Harping on all the 'whining employees' that can't see beyond their endangered pensions is just STUPID. Let's see how fast Sen. Dominici would respond if the Senator was asked to happily accept a 50% cut in his benefits just as he was ready to retire. It is all a matter of perspective. After all, comedy is really just a tragedy that is happening to someone else.

But I didn't come here because of UC or the pension or 'in-state' tuition at California schools. Most people that I ask still can't give me one concrete example of a direct benefit that we get from UC -except- the retirement plan. Really. Maybe it is just the people that I work with. I came here to make a contribution to what I thought was the stated mission of the lab. If we are not really going to do pursue it as an institution then please somebody just admit it so I can go work where somebody really does care about national security. Some place where the structure of the institution actually facilitates getting something done. How often do we feel that we get something done 'inspite' of the institutional inertia?

If your job is JUST a job then get out of the way. There really are some people that come here to do defense work. There are young people here who feel that this is how they pay back uncles and fathers and brothers who were at Pearl Harbor, Corregidor, Inchon, Fallujah and every other hell-hole in between. We should be here to give the President a credible deterrent and provide enhanced capability to our armed forces. We should be here to be 'mission critical' not merely employed.

If that is not ultimately why YOU are here, well, get off the Mesa. Not everyone needs to be a plutonium metallurgist or an explosives technician but you should care about 'our' success. We should expect to succeed at our mission, not just successfully retire.

And what "defense work" do YOU do that’s so “Mission Critical” that those of us that merely work here should be moving aside?

Wait, don’t waste your time telling me. I’m sure it’s beyond my comprehension and I’m sure I would not be able to grasp its importance. Fate of the Free World is probably an understatement.

In any event, I hope it really is as important as you seem to think it is. I also hope the President and Congress, along with the next contractor, think so as well.
“…We should be here to be 'mission critical' not merely employed.”

Admirable sentiment (pun intended), but you’re at the wrong Lab. Try NRL or some other non-nuke defense Lab.

Los Alamos was created for one reason: To develop the atomic bomb, which it did exceptionally well. It exists because of nukes. It’s funding is primarily derived from nukes. If we were a store our name would be “Nukes ‘R’ Us”, or “We ‘B’ Nukes”- in urban areas. Sure, there are a hundred other programs at LANL, not related to nukes, that do top flight R&D, but they’re the icing and cherry on the cake. They’re not the cake. The cake is nukes.

For many years Nukes and LANL were like Ying and Yang and the Lab was in a state of “true Zen” until two things happened:

1) In 1989 a bunch of politically frustrated young Germans, after a few kegs of beer, tore down the Berlin Wall. The rest of Eastern Europe fell in a few months. The Soviet Union teetered and then fell apart two years later. With that the Cold War essentially ended and the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction - backed up by a couple thousand of our warheads – became: Obsolete.

2) In 1996 a sexually frustrated middle aged President, after few kegs of beer, signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The other four global players signed on the same day. With that nuclear weapons research essentially ended and the concept of Nuclear Weapons Research Laboratories became: O..Ob..Obso..Obso…I can’t say it, it hurts too much.

So here’s what it comes down to: The chief function of LANL, the cake, is no longer needed. The world has gone on a nuke-free diet. North Korea and Iran, those greedy little pigs, are trying to sneak into the fridge at midnight but my guess is Bush will slam the door in their face. On the other hand, we’d really like to have a nuke “bunker buster” for ourselves but we’d have to test it and then we’d break the treaty, and we won’t do that because it would allow the pigs to taste Nuke cake. So no cake for them, no cake for us, no cake for anyone. Care for some Tofu? Some “Stockpile Stewardship”? They say it’s nutritious but I don’t think it has the caloric value to support the Lab. Besides, stewardship is not nearly as sexy as design.

Well, with no cake, LANL is left with icing and a cherry. Some very good scientific research in diverse non-nuke areas, but it won’t survive (not at $2+ billion/year) without the nukes. We once made history and now we have become history.

Don’t believe it? Still think we’re relevant? Well, take this simple test: When we were unquestionably relevant, uniquely relevant, gloriously relevant, say in 1944, do you think that research at the Lab would have been shut down for two months because of some missing bar codes?

No. No way. NFW! The answer is NO. However, it’s nice to daydream about what General Groves would have done with Nanos if he had tried to pulled this stunt in 1944. I think Nanos would have been court martialed and then personally shot by Groves for even suggesting a stand down. But 60 years later Nanos was allowed to do it. If you think that the Lab was wounded by the events that occurred last summer, you’re very close to the truth, you just need to invert it: The events occurred last summer because the Lab was wounded. In my opinion fatally wounded.

In the normal world this would not be such a bad thing. Our factory would shut down, we’d all loose our jobs and then we’d all find new jobs, because let’s face it, we’re good. But Los Alamos isn’t quite the normal world, and there aren’t a lot of jobs for educated people in Northern New Mexico (can’t see Intel opening a facility in Espanola). So that’s the problem: it’s hard to leave but it’s painful to stay. But the pain is only going to get worse. Plot your “Fun at Work” function for the last 10 years. It’s declining isn’t it? Not only that but the derivative is increasing. Now extrapolate it 10 years into the future and…it’s not pretty. Unless you work for one of the parasitic organizations (EHS and friends), there’s no future for you at LANL. Or said differently, “You can stay or live.”
I agree with much of what you say, if not your style. I even believe that some of us are “good”. The part that you seem to miss is that much of the world of science has eyes and a memory. They’ve seen those big programs with the acronym names that made no sense to the educated observer. Even if there is no mention of the “Neutral Particle Beam” on your resume’, you were present during the idiocy and said nothing. Furthermore, even if the New Mexico congressmen say that there was no real CREM incident and the lab is as great as ever a few facts remain. LANL is a failure at scientific innovation! One can not cancel its pitiful patent record with the R&D 100 awards. Furthermore, many of us know of programs that are well financed but have no legitimate basis or purpose. I, however, am pleased with my salary and pension prospects. Could someone else blow a whistle?
We who worked so hard to let the nuclear genie out of its bottle have an equal responsiblity to help put genie back where it came from. If anyone thinks that latter mission is not as important as designing and maintaining nuclear weapons, he or she needs listen to what the Salafi terrorists have in mind for us.
I don't think LANL is obsolete. I don't think nuclear weapons are obsolete. I don't think Bush has the power to stop Iran and North Korea (look how hard it was politically to stop Saddam Hussein), and we may well enter another mileau of Mutually Assured Destruction with suicidal regimes. I suspect the use of nuclear weapons may become a fact of life within the next few decades. Look at the condition of Europe after the two world wars of the last century: scorched and leveled. We've been extremely lucky to have been spared this in our times, but our luck won't last forever.

That being said, the Lab has a future even if the primary function isn't nukes. There is a lot of anti-terrorism work to be done, enough to support three labs this size. If one mission goes away, we'll shift to another.
Most of the anti-terrorism work can be done at other labs. It doesn't
take Los Alamos. There is a reason for all of the distress that is now
happening at LANL, and it goes beyond Nanos, or even the constant DOE
nagging and micro-management. The fellow who posted at 4:42am got to the
heart of the problem and nailed it. He f*#king nailed it! The nation
no longer sees us as critical to their security. End of story.
Yes the 4:42 poster got it nearly perfect. Any quality expert will tell you an organizations mission must come from the ground up. When the cold war ended there were important national tasks to be done, but Sig Hecker insisted on pulling his own silly idea of a mission out of his rear end, and screw the ideas of the staff. He also made sure all his pet projects were covered, no matter how stupid or out of date they were.
Great Pensions over Great Science for sure: I attended a job fair in the Washington DC area last fall where Los Alamos had a recruiting booth set up. I spent a considerable time speaking with the three representatives chatting up all the great things there were about Los Alamos and New Mexico. These people told me they were not scientists, but rather reps from Los Alamos' Human Resources Department. I talked mainly with one middle-aged woman dressed in a Hawaiiian shirt, and not once did she mention the "great science" or "great research" that is presumably done at Los Alamos. She did say that working there was "all about the retirement," that Los Alamos was "a great place to meet guys," [apparently she failed to notice the wedding ring on my finger], and that life and culture in New Mexico was just like "cowboys and indians." This latter comment was rather offensive. She also mentioned that Los Alamos had one of the best school districts in the US, which I found a bit hard to believe. I asked about the ongoing problems with security, the UC contract, and morale that everyone who reads the Washington Post is well aware of, and she said that it would all blow over. She made Los Alamos sound so backwards and unappealing that it is hard to imagine how that institution recruits any new people. And judging from the posts on this blog, the morale problems are far deeper than any outside observers thought.
In response to the 10:44 post -

This anecdote that you have shared is just another example of what is wrong at the lab.

We sent three HR people across the country to go talk to perspective employees. And what did they say? Nice schools, fun dating scene, interesting 'culture' and great retirement benefits. How stupid is that?

If we do not start doing SOMETHING right then it won't matter who gets the contract to run the ghost town.

I do not agree with the general comments made in this thread that want us to think that there is not a single significant thing going on in defense related work. The pockets of research and work-for-others may be small compared the overall lab budget but real, productive work is getting done. It is not ALL a shame.
The HR/SUP/PS/ESH type divisions are the important ones at LANL these days.
If you want some job security, I suggest you quickly look at moving to
one of these divisions. If you want to do science in one of the "science"
divisions, you're going to be out of luck. The HR reps at the job booth
are simply reflecting the reality of the changing work force that is now
managing LANL. Science at LANL is quickly dying, but the "dating scene"
for women is terrific! You go girl! I guess all is not gloom and doom
up here on the mesa.
Yeah its a shame but LANL is becoming a Sham. We are doomed and it is going to be just another bloated government contractor run piece of shit. I am going to hang in as long as I can and see how this all unfolds but am prepared to cash in and leave. The scientists will leave along with the support staff that has a work ethic. You will be left with the boneheads that should be flipping burgers in the valley.....
I agree the goal these days should be to hang on as long as you can to see how things play out.

LANL appears to be starting to change as some of the stats below seem to indicate. It appears as though LANL doesn't need many new PhDs to carry out its "Critical Mission", but apparently does need quite a few NO Degree types to handle it.

The data are from a previous post about where LANL seems headed. The data seem relevant to LANL's future "Critical Mission" being discussed here.

According to LANL demographic data, of the 343 Regular UC New Hires this FY, 56 were TSMs (16%). Currently, there are 3898 TSMs out of 8445 UC Regular Employees (46%).

Degreewise, of the 343 Regular UC New Hires, 10 had PhDs (3%) and 210 had NO Degree (61%) as their highest degree. Currently, the Lab has 1868 PhDs (22%) and 2258 NO Degree (27%) as the highest degree among UC Regular Employees.

Sounds like a sneak preview of the LANL of the future. Hire about 20 NO Degree people for every PhD.

Would not surprise anyone I think to see the PhD population eventually work itself down to below 10% of the LANL UC Regular workforce with the help of a Bechtel, say.

Likewise, an increase in the NO Degree portion of the LANL UC Regular workforce to about 40-50% would be about right for the LANL of the future.

Certainly, the goal of having over 50% of the workforce with NO Degree where "The World's Greatest Science Protecting America" takes place seems both worthwhile and achievable. In fact, let me challenge LANL to get it up to 60%.
You make it sound like being another bloated GOCO run piece of shit is a bad thing.

You need to get your mind right about the future LANL. This is NM pal, they take whatever they can get...
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