Friday, March 18, 2005

Los Alamos security shutdown costly

Los Alamos security shutdown costly

Associated Press
Fri, Mar. 18, 2005

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Disruptions caused by last year's security flap at the Los Alamos weapons laboratory may have cost as much as $367 million because activities were shifted away from the lab's normal work, members of Congress were told Friday.

Lab officials virtually shut down the facility last July after reports that two classified computer disks had disappeared. An investigation later determined they never existed. Some of the normal activities did not resume until last month.

The laboratory also disclosed Friday that the mystery about the disks might have been resolved quickly last summer if two employees had not falsified an inventory sheet showing the disks existed.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Peter Nanos said the inventory sheet was signed though no inventory had been taken. The two individuals were fired, but when pressed at a House hearing about whether they should be criminally prosecuted, Nanos said that was not for him to decide.

During the so-called "stand-down" at the lab in New Mexico, thousands of employees were told to stop their normal work and join the search for the disks, undergo security training and undertake other safety- and security-related activities. Many of the workers returned to their normal duties after a month.

Linton Brooks, the Energy Department's undersecretary for nuclear security, told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on investigations Friday that the $367 million figure "represents an upper limit" estimate of how much the security-related suspension may have cost the lab in lost or delayed activities.

The laboratory disagrees, putting the figure at $119 million. The Energy Department number includes tens of millions of dollars in indirect costs that should not be attributed specifically to the work stoppage, according to Nanos.

Whatever the figure, "the costs are significant," said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., the chairman of the investigations subcommittee.

Several lawmakers questioned why the University of California, which manages the Los Alamos lab, shouldn't be charged for some of the costs since, they say, the work stoppage resulted from security failures related to poor management.

"The university was hired to do the job and they didn't do it," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. He said letting the university off the hook was "outrageous."

But Brooks told the panel that in all likelihood the government would absorb the costs because activities related to the work suspension were covered by the Energy Department's contract with the university.

Nanos strongly defended the decision to suspend laboratory operations as "absolutely the right thing to do" and said the cost should not be viewed as lost money. During the stand-down more than 3,000 issues were found that raised safety or security concerns.

Nanos said the redirected dollars were an investment in the lab because the funds were refocused toward safety, security and compliance activities.

However, if the government were to determine the spending was not covered under its contract, the university would lose tens of millions of dollars it had expected to receive from the government under its contract.

Earlier this year, the Energy Department penalized the university $5.8 million because of the debacle surrounding the allegedly lost computer disks and other security and safety concerns at Los Alamos.

On a broader security issue, Brooks told the subcommittee that it will not be until fall 2008 that he expects the Energy Department's nuclear sites to meet the more stringent security levels demanded in a post-Sept. 11 era of heightened terror risks.

The tougher requirements were issued last October and the department previously had said implementation would take several years. Brooks said facilities where nuclear material is kept must submit by July implementation plans and a list of resource requirements to meet the new standards.

"Almost certainly additional resources will be required" to meet the new standard, he said, but it's too early to determine how costly the security improvements will be.

While there have been "significant security problems" at Los Alamos and some other sites where nuclear materials are kept, Brooks told the subcommittee "none of the vital national security assets - nuclear weapons, special nuclear material or classified material - are at risk anywhere within the nuclear weapons complex."

A watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, testified that some facilities such as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in California are unlikely to be able to meet the tougher standards and that the nuclear material, including plutonium, should be moved to a safer location.

Livermore officials have said they expect to be able to meet the new requirements.

On the Net:

Los Alamos:

People and members of Congress need to remember that none of the shutdown was carried out without the express, albeit not written, approval of the DOE. Of course, that does not excuse the competence of the DOE and the Admiral. But, you are not going to see the DOE step up and admit thier involvement.
In the parable of the the monkeys: Brooks is the monkey that would see no evil because if he would he would know that the whole exercise of competition is evil. It's bad for the weapons program, it's bad for NNSA, and it's bad for America in its fight to prevent nuclear terrorism. Nanos is the monkey that would hear no evil because he has never listened to anyone including himself. If he would hear he would hear the litany of the evil he has done and the condemnation of thousands of voices calling for him to leave. Foley is the monkey that would speak no evil against his fellow sailors even to defend the integrity and reputation of the University of California that pays his damned salary. However, there is a fourth monkey. This monkey has no eyes, ears, tongue, or testicular fortitude. This monkey sees no evil and hears no evil and he will not speak out against evil that others try to tell him about. That monkey unfortunately is President Dynes whom I respect greatly but not for how he has handled the mistreatment of his employees at Los Alamos. He desperately needs to tell both Foley and Nanos find a port somewhere else. Evil thrives when good men stay silent.
I can't believe there isn't a day that Pres Dynes wakes up and wishes that he had never heard of Los Alamos.
On the subject of UC President Dynes feelings about Los Alamos -

How very true! And because of this, UC will be washing their hands of us
in short order. Forgetting about the "rightness" or "wrongness" of what has
happened to Los Alamos, we have simple become too great a liability for UC
to handle any longer. It looks to me like Northrop Grumman will likely be
our new masters. Science at LANL will diminish (NG has been rather clear
on that point), benefits will be curtailed, and cuts in staff are likely.
The storm clouds are gathering and beginning to look rather ominous.
Before the executives over at Northrop Grumman get too excited, they need
to realize that the next time Congress wants to shake-down a LANL contractor
for $370 million, it will come out of Northrop Grumman's hide. That is
something that should greatly worry both their shareholders and Wall Street.

Los Alamos isn't exactly an aircraft factory, now, is it? At LANL, we
experiment with some of the most deadly stuff on the planet. The liabilities
in this endeavor can be enormous, and if I were a NG shareholder, I would
be mad as hell that my company decided to take on this risk, regardless
of the contract fee. Even a Limited Liability Corp. might not be strong
enough to protect them from the possible liabilities. Add in the expected
bad press they would continue to get as the LANL managers, and you have to
wonder how the managers over at NG who proposed this scheme have kept their
jobs. It will be interesting to watch NG's stock on the day they are given
the contract to be the next managers of Los Alamos.

Oh, and in guess you executives over at Northrop Grumman haven't heard, the
DOE RFP explicitly states that the contract will have NO CAPS in regards to
future LANL liabilities. Enjoy your new prize!
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