Friday, March 04, 2005

Letter From Rep. David Hobson (Ohio) to Energy Secretary Bodman

From Anonymous:

Attached is a letter from Rep. David Hobson (Ohio) to Energy Secretary Bodman. The timing and content of this letter reveal much about what motivates the changes that have been proposed by DOE to the draft RFP. None of the changes appear to be favorable to UC or to present LANL employees. Instead, the changes mirror Rep. Hobson's anti-UC bias and his complete lack of regard for the concerns of LANL employees. All in the name of "leveling the playing field" of the competition. The most chilling part of Rep. Hobson's letter is the assertion that "world class science" should not be the most important part of the competition evaluation criteria because it gives UC an unfair advantage. Precisely what is unfair about this advantage?? The importance of maintaining the quality of science at LANL was recognized as the most important evaluation criterion in the competition process by several blue ribbon panels (including the National Academy of Sciences: http://www.nap.edu/books/0309092442/html/). Any attempt to lessen the importance of this criterion would be disastrous.

It is no coincidence that the corporate headquarters of Battelle, one of the industrial parties highly interested in the LANL contract,is located in Columbus, Ohio. (Full disclosure: the 7th Congressional District that Hobson represents does not include Columbus, but closely borders it on 3 sides) Nothing less than our national security is at stake in this competition and it must not succumb to partisan politics.


Signed,
A deeply concerned TSM, making plans to leave just in case.

Comments:
Well he did say the problems were with the management, and if DOE doesn’t get enough “qualified” (whatever that means) bidders then they would have to go back and tweak the RFP yet again. I feel contract extension.
 
This is of course politics, but it is not in any meaningful way "partisan".
 
Lockheed-Martin and University of Texas each withdrew from the process BEFORE the draft RFP was released. The text of his letter makes it seem as if they withdrew after the release, which would lend creedence to his assertion that DOE was trying to stack the deck in favor of UC.
 
I read Representative Hobson’s letter with great interest, but little surprise. His views are consistent with his legislative behavior. Our problem as a Laboratory is to quit making us such easy objects of criticism. Representative Hobson rightly targets our idiotic slogan “The World’s Greatest Science…” as the object of ridicule. Our science as a Laboratory has been “World Class by definition” for quite a while because of the increasingly inept management and the failure to apply any sort of rigorous peer review internally. It would be inaccurate to simply place all the blame on our management (Nanos, UC or DOE). This problem is long-standing and the result of collaborative incompetence from all the players starting with LANL’s scientific staff and ending in Washington DC.

UC deserves much of the blame as does Congress and DOE. Congress has increasingly pushed the time horizons in our core programs to be increasingly shorter, more engineering-oriented and less scientific in content. Look at the general quality of science in the United States as compared with the rest of the World! It is arguable that the European Union has already displaced the US as the scientific leader of the World (http://www.futureofinnovation.org/). East Asia is close on the EU’s heels. DOE is responsible for over-selling programs and over-administering the Labs. LANL (and our sister Labs) are responsible by willingly playing into all of these forces of mediocrity. We’ve allowed ourselves to become political “pork”. We’ve allowed the standards applied to us to be lowered. We’ve bought into programs that were poorly constructed and aided in their over-selling.

How does the current administration of the Lab fit in? All the above problems were with us two years ago and we have made no measurable improvement. Just the opposite, our problems have never been worse. Morale is rock bottom and we are losing talent at an alarming rate. The political environment is utterly poisonous and Pete’s failure to support the Lab has created a view of the Lab that is overly negative and critical. The RFP is simply pouring rocket fuel on the inferno that Nanos created. His efforts have made an already bad situation, untenable and created the circumstances that may well destroy the Lab. If he succeeds through his ineptness, he will have damaged the Nation and our National Security immeasurably.

In the interests of fairness I must admit that Nanos and his crew of misfits have done a couple of things right. The return of lab-wide classified colloquia is wonderful, and the “science roadmap” is a good idea. The problem is that his inability to provide positive leadership has turned the entire workforce against him. The negative forces Nanos unleashed will overwhelm anything positive. He has also buried the Laboratory in a flood of meaningless and ineffective safety and security paperwork. The climate of fear has made the vast majority of managers go into CYA mode and emboldened the empire-builders in support side of the Lab to increase the non-productive load on the working scientists. The ability to produce scientific results simply has no currency at the Lab; all of the emphasis is related to safety and security. Most of those who support Nanos simply do so out of fear or vested self-interest. Few have the best interests of the Lab or Nation in mind. Nanos can not succeed because he has alienated the very people he needs to produce results.

In addition, we have had a torrent of meaningless and ineffective project management and project managers heaped on us, adding more cost, but little or no value to our increasingly poorly constructed programs. Adding project rigor via technically clueless project managers is simply accelerating our decline. We are failing as a Laboratory to apply focus and sound technical judgment to a slew of important National issues. From where I sit the level of management inattention to issues of importance has never been greater and the focus on meaningless form-without-function paperwork has never been higher. New management structure has been a key player in draining science from the Weapons Program. There is a clear propensity to apply the management-fad-of-the-day mindlessly. Our management seemingly spends all of its time and effort in “fighting fires” and over-reacting due to Nanos’ fear-based style of leadership. The net effect has been to completely gut our management of scientific judgment.

Our management failings have never been more profound. I would gladly go back to the problems we had under Brown or Hecker. Nanos makes them look like management savants.

What can we do to move forward as to thwart the sort of critique that Hobson applies? We need to start by confronting our problems head on. This will be painful and open the Lab to more criticism. It will be difficult and success is not assured. We can only do this with support from DOE and Congress (are they willing or able?). First, the present management team is incapable of succeeding. Pete’s behavior, poor judgment and failed leadership have destroyed any chance of success. We will need space and support to recover from the damage done in the last two years. Second, we need to stop applying “World Class by definition” and accept rigorous external and internal peer review. We need to act decisively on these reviews. The “great science” part of the Lab and the programs need to be brought together. The great science needs to be focused toward institutional success and stop merely being window dressing. The programs need to accept the much-needed infusion of great science and the renewed collaborative spirit that once made the Lab a great place. Thirdly, we need to stomp out the culture of entitlement that is pervasive in both the “great science” and the programmatic parts of the Lab. Once these steps are taken they must be reapplied continually with increasing vigor and focus. New programs need to be undertaken only if they truly pass a rigorous scientific standard and through a collaborative effort including DOE and Congress. We need to be active in making sure this is done in a manner that the science really is serving public and National interests, not merely pork for Northern New Mexico.

We must recognize that the Lab still has a great deal of positive things going for it. We have a compelling mission that the Nation needs. Our Nation’s security is at risk and we have a large part to play in reducing this risk. Despite our losses, we still have a talented staff that needs to be unleashed. Our site represents an enormous National investment that needs to be harnessed to achieve its potential. Our prevailing institutional culture is based first and foremost on scientific excellence. These resources simply need to be drawn together in order to transform our future.

With the right approach the Lab can return to its former exalted place. Our alternative is to continue circling the drain at any increasingly alarming pace. If we don’t face up to, and start solving our problems, the Lab will transform into a place most of us will want nothing to do with. The Lab will cease being a place that can serve the interests of the Nation. Everyone is going to need to contribute in order to succeed in making the future brighter rather than dimmer.
 
I certainly agree that Hobson's attack on "World's Greatest Science ..." is on point. "Greatest Science" as defined by whom, LANL Public Relations? On the subject, just exactly what the hell is "World Class" Science. More PR crap!!! When did LANL sink to this level, where PR has taken over for substance?

The problem with giving so much scoring weight to "World Class Science" is, how do you measure it? By the assessments of science by UC? Those assessments are based DRC committee assessments; and the DRCs are appointed by LANL management, with critics screened out.... Ever look at the DRC minutes, when they still posted minutes? LANL briefings, on subjects selected by LANL, to a sombulant DRC... They seem content to get their $750 a day and have a nice lunch... UC should be appointing the DRC members, and setting the agenda; for an objective , independent, overview of LANL science. They don't care to be bothered. "World Class" science, is, until reformed, just more LANL PR. They do publish a lot, with the LDRD money fed to Post Docs... on many subject having nothing to do with the LANL programs.

And, how about cost of operations? LANL just pissed away $500 million last year of taxpayer money. Why doesn't that get some weight? It shows real talent, unique within the NNSA complex, for screwing up. And look at TA-55, with the constantly delayed "pits" in every smaller numbers. And DARHT; more of the same... Sandia is living proof that you don't have to accept constant screw ups to get nuclear weapons and good science.

Hobson is right. He is not anti UC, but he is tired of the screw ups. So am I.
 
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