Saturday, March 05, 2005

The LANL of the future revisited

I authored the “LANL of the future” post last month and got few responses. Now with Mr. Nanos apparently on his way out, let’s think about where we’re going and what we want LANL to look like. Put on your strategic thinking cap and do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis.

Facing a flat (not inflation-adjusted) budget, a higher management fee, pulling out the environmental cleanup costs, and paying NM GRT, LANL will see a declining operating budget for the foreseeable future. How much lower? Perhaps $100 to $150 million. At $250K (burdened) per exempt employee, that works out to a decrease of perhaps 800 - 1000 heads, depending on the mix of exempt and non-exempt workers. Under those circumstances, retirement may be an attractive alternative to a RIF for all concerned. For the employees, it removes the uncertainty of their job stability and the monkeying around with their retirement plans, and for the new contractor, it helps bring costs in line with the future budgets by restructuring the workforce.

If you were BWXT (the rumored UC partner for the LANL bid), how would you restructure the LANL workforce? Everyone complains about the crippling overhead rates, and this translates directly to two issues: the “tooth to tail” ratio and the gross inefficiencies in the support organizations. The “tooth to tail” ratio is a military term describing how many doers (the teeth) are supported by the logistics and support people (the tail). I suspect that at LANL, there are far too many bureaucratic indirect people (purchasing, HR, middle managers who don’t contribute to the mission) and too few direct support people (skilled trades, technicians, etc.) who do.

The incentive in commercial organizations is to have the work done by the lowest competent pay grade. Management makes a concerted effort to assure that highly skilled technical personnel are used to maximum efficiency by multiplying their hands with skilled support personnel. My experience in industry is a ratio of about 1:5. At LANL, we have highly paid people doing clerical and technician work because of the chronic misallocation of labor resources into non-value-added activities.

Then there is the KSL problem. KSL is notorious for low quality and low productivity, and exorbitant pricing. It would make sense to vet three or four small, disadvantaged business contractors in each trade area (plumbers, HVAC techs, painters, masons, telecom installers, computer hardware support, etc.) under blanket purchase orders and let them bid on task orders. You could set them up on a fixed price time and materials basis at negotiated labor rates (just as the body shops do now – or as they did before Nanos tried to kill them) and then assign the work orders on the basis of capabilities and backlog.

So what does the LANL of 2006 look like? There will be fewer employees overall, both technical and clerical. There will be more body shop employees, because they offer staffing flexibility and are cheaper than “permanent” employees. The featherbedding overhead jobs in facilities, HR, purchasing, division offices, and the host of other non-business-related functions will be cut back. If the DOE/NNSA follows their roadmap to a new contractor management paradigm, the micromanaging will be reduced as the new LANL proves that it can deliver on time and schedule.

Current LANL management has no credibility with either the customers or the employees. It’s time for a change, and I hope it will be a change for the better as LANL focuses on the national security mission and prunes out the deadwood. What does your LANL of the future look like?

-Dawn-


Comments:
Though, I agree with her on KSL, clearly Dawn has no idea of the internal workings of LANL support groups. The problem isn't featherbedding, but getting the work done with too few employees. This applies to purchasing, computer support, security and many other support areas.

HR is also understaffed but is given the wrong mission. It should be charged with providing the best possible staff, but instead it is required to defend management at all costs and no matter how wrong-headed the manager. Think of the possibility of HR actually supporting LANL's mission!

We had a RIF a few years back aimed at cutting out the "deadwood" which I see as the tone of Dawn's letter. First it was found to be discriminatory -- guess what, most of those support workers turned out to be older or Hispanic. On top of that the RIF was ridiculously inefficient. The mail quit being delivered. TSM's had to start doing their own travel and xeroxing. How is that cost efficient?

There are some inefficiencies at LANL. Many of them have to do with not providing enough support of the right kind to scientists and engineers. Wouldn't it be nice if scientists had enough first class system managers to keep their computers working? That could easily be accomplished if LANL would pay enough to retain the first class system managers it trains. Wouldn't it be wonderful if LANL had enough computer support so scientists didn't have to do much of their own computer support?
I know of one scientist who wanted to go to work on a project of interest today, Saturday, but can't because the network is having trouble. Hmmm. What is that costing LANL? How many others are there home today when they would prefer to be working?

What is the cost of endless legal battles over RIFs and discrimination? That money may not come out of the contractor's budget but it comes from somewhere. How much time do our managers and legal office spend fighting lawsuits protecting bad managers? Why not just train good managers and send the bad ones to whatever they are good at?

Why do we have to "pull out the environmental cleanup costs"? That money will not go away. It will be used right here at LANL. It will require many of the same kinds of employees that we have now. It would be really incredibly farsighted if the new contractor would retrain existing employees to do new work. Now that would be creative management, and would save a lot of money in severance pay, law suits and stress on the workforce.

You can project all you want, but predicting the future at LANL is prone to error. When things are going well, money comes in. When things are going badly it departs. Who could have predicted this shutdown? Did anyone at LANL predict the changes caused by 9/ll? Things change fast at LANL sometimes. The best plan would be to build a truly functional and humane structure then let it change as needed to cope with outside pressures.

Frankly, if this is what the new contractor decides to do it will fail -- whether it is UC or BWXT. Good management is not synonymous with mean-spiritedness, in fact it may be the opposite. Hopefully, Dawn is not on the staff for restructuring LANL.
 
As a Senior Systems/Network Manager I can relate to computer support issues. I work in an organization that is comprised of 5 Program Offices.Until last year I had a desktop support technician working for me and could back up my functions as well. Then we had to cut overhead so management decided to cut the technician that was working with me leaving me alone to support 60 users, various types of servers etc. I protested to deaf ears. Now this same offce which by the way is in charge of the 5 program offices consists of a high paid manager, Chief of Staff and 2 Administration assistants. Any one of them or all of them could be gone for weeks and the Program offices could still function. If the systems go down while I am on vacation, sick or travel they are in deep shit and get all hysterical. Then I am dinged because people are complaining about computer support. Managers priorities are all screwed up.
 
I'd like to respond to the comments about computer system administration issues. My division contracts out a great deal of this work to a small company in ABQ that has Q-cleared UC retirees working for it. If our network were having a problem today, one of them would be working until it was fixed because they respond to email and phone calls on weekends and nights for no extra money.

However my division COS has decided to replace these experienced people with an entire team. First SUP tried to apply the CWP to them to get rid of them, but that didn't work because my division contracted for a service with them. Now someone is trying to apply Nanos' UC retiree directive to them. Their cost and experience are not important to my division. What's important is building a team whose members will quickly leave as soon as they are trained.

My division is not doing this singlehandedly. They have been aided in this empire building scheme by SUP buyers who seem to enjoy going out of their way to make it as hard as possible to accomplish anything at LANL.

Of course, next year at this time, all the new hires might be RIF'ed because there will not be enough money to support them if the new LANL contractor has to pay GRT to New Mexico! So my division will again be calling on small companies for support as they did over 8 years ago when they contacted this company and BEGGED for support, or we will all go back to being our own sys admins.
 
The poster above said "If our network were having a problem today, one of them would be working until it was fixed because they respond to email and phone calls on weekends and nights for no extra money". I am a 20 year LANL employee and do the above and have always done so. I am not a CCN employee. (no flames please) I have a pretty good arangement but I have a feeling this will get screwed up very soon and then I will not be inclined to do so although I have said that before and have always stepped up to the plate anyway.
 
Wow! What a novelty. In-house network and desktop support! I do all of my group's plus my own full time TSM job. I gladly come in on call without extra pay or comp-time when there is a problem.
I hate to see what is coming of the Lab IT program. Who really is qualified to decide for me what IT equipment and systems I need for my job better than me?
Some old-timers might remember when we didn't have to go downtown and pump our own gas for government vehicles or arrange to have gov't vehicles "serviced" at the kwiky-lube.
As for bloated support Divisions; HR, SUP, Security and old FWO/KSL included amongst others, the Lab would be better off for them to be downsized/combined and contracted out. There really are people in support divisions who take pride in keeping real work from being done. We already have to do our own T&E, travel, procurement, desktop repairs, network admin, trash hauling, recycling, mouse-patrol...to name just a few, and all in accordance with the Lab's rules. Talk about featherbedding. The support folks have better facilities than the staff bringing in the money.
I do bring more money to the Lab than I take out, at least up to six months ago. I hope the bloated overhead appreciated it. By the way, have you all had your "mouse training"?
How about the intentionally set slow leaks or unplugged battery chargers that result in overtime callouts for support folks when these become problems. There is a subculture.
How about the KSL and LANL support folks who kill time driving the recreational loop to put miles on their gov't vehicles while spotting for elk and deer. There is a subculture.
Also Qwest cannot touch a phone wire without screwing it up.
 
1. Comments to poster at 6:34 pm - I don't know if you work for a group or a division, but no matter which, they are lucky to have you. And hopefully whoever hired you has more technical competence than the person in my division who is making technical decisions without any input from group leaders and TSM's. This person (an SSM COS making over $100K/year) has already figured out how to use Nanos management techniques to bully everyone into compliance.

2. Comment to poster at 7:59pm - If you want support, I'll provide you with a name of an ABQ company who will do it for you
24 hours/day 7 days/week. However, if I do this, it will be with the agreement that if you have comments about this company, you direct them towards the company and not send them to the blog. I am incredibly pleased with this company and the support they have provided me. And I want to keep them for as long as possible.

Decisions about IT and support should be done at the group level, not higher. The division offices do not have a clue about IT support so they pass it off to non-technical folks, such as chiefs of staff who are totally clueless but want to pad their resumes.

And I certainly agree with you about SUP and the others. They contribute nothing to LANL except to require inches of paperwork to justify the purchase of a paperclip. They are all parasites, as are all the SSM chiefs of staff who make uneducated technical decisions for division offices.
 
I think a major problem with the support organizations, KSL especially, is that there is no competition. They have a monopoly on their services, bolstered by rules dictating that we must use only them, and hence a captive clientele at their mercy. When it comes to support services, working at LANL is very much like living in a communist state: State monolopolies on all sevices, no competition, and no incentive for excellence. (I was once told by a Russian scientist that the situation at LANL is worse in this regard than the Soviet Union was back in the Brezhnev days.)

The attitude of many on the support side is exemplifed by a story told to me by a colleague. He needed a piece of electronic equipment for his project. The buyer was exceedingly slow in getting the purchase order out to the vendor (i.e., months went by). When my colleague complained to the buyer that his inaction had set the project back by months, the buyer's reply was "What do you care? You're getting paid anyway." Now I recognize that there are many good people in the support organizations, but the "you're getting paid anyway" attitude is widespread.

So why don't we introduce some competition into the system? Have several support contractors available to do essentially the same work. Instead of just KSL, we'd have KSL, and ABC and DEF. If one of these performed poorly, or overcharged, the customers, i.e. we scientists, could choose a different contractor next time. Eventually the poorest performer would be squeezed out and could be replaced by yet another.

The same could work for internal support organizations, like procurement. Break the division up into competing entities, motivated (and enabled, by a massive reduction in red tape) to excel. If one procurement group drags its feet on getting an important contract out the door, we can take our business elsewhere. The "you're getting paid anyway" folks would rapidly find themselves out of a job.
 
Of course the problem is monopolies set up by SUP because it makes life so much easier for them. SUP has now decreed that small businesses can only have contracts with outside companies for certain types of work, such as A/C maintenance if the contract is over $500,000. If it's less, it must go to KSL. KSL has the first right of refusal, but if they choose to refuse the contract, they refer it to a union company since New Mexico is not a right to work state. They will not refer to non-union small companies.

And look at the various JIT contracts - for purchasing computers, for stationary, etc. All are monopolies supposedly saving taxpayers' money. But LANL/UC/DOE/NNSA have agreed that for the health of Los Alamos County and northern NM, they need to spend money locally. This is not being done because the JIT companies are in ABQ, not northern NM. And look at the loss of GRT in northern NM because of the CWP. Does Nanos hate all of northern NM or just Los Alamos County? If he hates it so much, why doesn't he just leave?

What you are asking for is capitalism, but LANL operates in a very communist sort of way. The buddy system is in effect and the poor performers get rewarded. What is really disturbing are the number of LANL staff generating PR's for services ultimately provided by KSL who run up against this and are such cowards or incompetents that they will not even challenge SUP's awarding contracts to KSl or other monopolies. These people are not good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars. And SUP must either be in bed with KSL or so afraid of doing something wrong that they take the easy way out.
 
EDIT OF PREVIOUS COMMENT!

Of course the problem is monopolies set up by SUP because it makes life so much easier for them. SUP has now decreed that LANL can only have contracts with outside companies for certain types of work, such as A/C maintenance if the contract is over $500,000. If it's less, it must go to KSL. KSL has the first right of refusal, but if they choose to refuse the contract, they refer it to a union company since New Mexico is not a right to work state. They will not refer to non-union small companies. And most small northern NM companies are non-union.

And look at the various JIT contracts - for purchasing computers, for stationary, etc. All are monopolies supposedly saving taxpayers' money. But LANL/UC/DOE/NNSA have agreed that for the health of Los Alamos County and northern NM, they need to spend money locally. This is not being done because the JIT companies are in ABQ, not northern NM. And look at the loss of GRT in northern NM because of the CWP. Does Nanos hate all of northern NM or just Los Alamos County? If he hates it so much, why doesn't he just leave?

What you are asking for is capitalism, but LANL operates in a very communist sort of way. The buddy system is in effect, and the poor performers get rewarded. What is really disturbing are the number of LANL staff generating PR's for services ultimately provided by KSL who run up against this and are such cowards or incompetents that they will not even challenge SUP's awarding contracts to KSL or other monopolies. These people are not good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars. And SUP must either be in bed with KSL or so afraid of doing something wrong that they take the easy way out.
 
Try going through SUP to purchase "software support" from a company.
A year ago, I needed to get software development support from a large
software vendor so that I could have access to their help line. It
was going to cost all of $200/year for the support. However, once SUP
got the PR, they immediately gave it to the SUP legal staff, who went over
the contract paperwork in great detail. After waiting six months, I
was finally told by SUP that there was just no way I could get the
maintenance support, as the contract would require too many modifications.

I ended up paying the $200 for the software support out of my own pocket
so I could continue with my work. Today, when I need small purchases
for items that are critical to my work, I often end up purchasing them
with my own money. It's the only way I can reasonable get projects
completed. Five or ten years ago, I never had to do things this way.
The LANL PR systems has becoming a stumbling block to getting work
done. And when your TSM time cost your sponsors around $150/hr, you
can't afford to be stalled by SUP over pesky $200 purchase requests.
 
"Today, when I need small purchases
for items that are critical to my work, I often end up purchasing them
with my own money."

Yes, I do this, too. I try to get reimbursed when I can, but sometimes the battle isn't worth it. I've lost count of how much personal money I've donated to my work, but it runs into the multiple hundreds of dollars. It's inexcusable that we have to do this, but I view it as an investment in my career. People who insist on working only within the system end up at a stand-still, but this way you can make progress.

Five or ten years ago, the main stumbling block on urgent purchases was getting the items delivered. FedEx could have them to Lab Receiving overnight, but then those clowns would lose the package, or put it on the truck that aimlessly wandered the laboratory grounds for a week before finally delivering it to the wrong mail stop. The solution was to have the items delivered to your house, bypassing the incompetent LANL delivery system altogether. Of course that's a big no-no now, a previously widespread and legitimate practice that Walp, Doran, and their political handlers pointed to in their portrayal of LANL as a den of thieves; in reality we were just trying to get our job done and save the taxpayers some money. So that's another motivation for just buying it myself with my own money. I can have the urgently needed items delivered to my house overnight, with no possible appearance of impropriety.

Sometimes I think I should just set up a lab in my garage and deal with my sponsors directly.
 
KSL/SUP..."Its all in the family".
 
A very big problem at LANL is that a huge percent of the people who have PhDs think :
1) Valid work cannot be done by anyone but a PhD -- even system management, human relations and purchasing.
2) Support workers are all idiots conspiring to make the lives of hardworking PhD's difficult.
3) Rules and laws exist only to stymie sainted geniuses with PhDs.
4) Support workers are lazy bums who have no problems.

This attitude creates a hostile work environment for support workers, and costs the very PhDs who hold this attitude good service. In a restaurant, if you are a cantankeous customer or tip poorly, somehow gravy gets spilled down your back.
There is a reason LANL scientists have been called arrogant and self-centered and most of the last 9 comments on this thread demonstrate the problem. Frankly, a great many of you get the service you deserve.
On this thread we have a system manager who works long hours to keep his customer happy and one who maintains that such system management can only be had by an outside company in Albuquerque. Hmmm? How can both be true? One division gets good service at LANL. One division has to go to Albuquerque to get it. Hmmm. Maybe the support workers in some divisions just didn't enjoy the insulting behavior of their customers.
I have often had trouble getting people to work on my individual computer at LANL due to lack or resources. The lack of resources was due to lack of funding for computer support. I also had trouble getting well trained people to work on my computer. Why? The people who were well trained left because they got tired of the abuse and low pay.
I never had trouble getting software support if the product was still supported by its own company. Sometimes I had trouble getting the money for software support, but if I paid for it, the contract flew through puchasing like lightening.
Of course, I did try to be polite and friendly to the support people.
As far as delivery of packages is concerned, that has been cleaned up enormously since the Anderson/Bussolini mess forced some action on management's part. Delivery personnel now have computerized bar code readers and mostly have locked areas where delivered items can be stored.
Yes, KSL is a problem and should not be given work without a competitive bid. It is very difficult to get KSL to do anything, but that is not LANL.
I do not see how scientists can expect to come out on top in this battle with DOE, NNSA and Congress over the contract, if they want the benefits only for themselves and not all the people around them. Even New Mexico senators don't go for that idea.
We already proved that riffing support workers didn't work in the '95 rif. Can't you guys remember anything?
 
To the SUP fellow who said:

........................................................................
"I never had trouble getting software support if the product was still
supported by its own company. Sometimes I had trouble getting the money
for software support, but if I paid for it, the contract flew through
purchasing like lightening. Of course, I did try to be polite and friendly
to the support people."
........................................................................

I don't know what you've been smokin' buddy, but your comment is a flat
out lie. No support contracts get done within LANL without the legal
people looking over every single sentence in the contract, no matter
how small the cost. You are obviously within the support staff, and your
bias is plain to see. And I do treat the SUP PR people "politely", but
it doesn't seem to help one bit. As far as your generalizing that the
TSMs feel that:

........................................................................
1) Valid work cannot be done by anyone but a PhD -- even system management,
human relations and purchasing.
2) Support workers are all idiots conspiring to make the lives of
hardworking PhD's difficult.
3) Rules and laws exist only to stymie sainted geniuses with PhDs.
4) Support workers are lazy bums who have no problems.
........................................................................

Excuse me? Most of the TSMs do not think that we are "saints". We are
just trying to get our work done (and pay for the SUP burden - your
salary, BTW) as efficiently as possible. I suggest you try your hand
at writing proposals and working hard to bring in $350 K per year to
feed our overhead "tax monster". You might have a different viewpoint
of SUP efficiency if you helped pull the wagon, rather than merrily
sitting in the back of the wagon going along for the ride. Believe me,
the money for your salary doesn't just appear out of thin air.

Presently at LANL, there are far too few people pulling the wagon while
far too many hop on for a free ride. This has a direct correlation
with the outrageous FTE costs at Los Alamos. Working hard to pay these
high costs and then getting almost no real support assistance in return
is quickly burning me out. And I know I'm not the only TSM at this
Lab who is beginning to feel this way. It was bad enough five or ten
years ago. Today, our bloated TSM cost structure and lack of genuine
support is causing the Lab to come closer and closer to collapse. I
could probably, as a previous poster says, work out of my garage and
still bring in lots of money. Can people in SUP with bad attitudes
say the same thing?
 
Dawn has a good idea of what is going to happen no matter who is running this camp. Looking at the cleanup costs, I was expecting a 20% cut in staff. And while some people are thinking that they are understaffed now.. they have not been off the hill to realize how much work has to get done with so few people these days.

As far as people in Washington are concerned.. having less than a 8:1 ratio is going to be considered government welfare.
 
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