Friday, March 18, 2005
ROGER SNODGRASS, email@example.com, Monitor Assistant Editor
Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Peter Nanos told representatives of Congress this morning that he did not believe the University of California should pay for the costs of a lengthy suspension of operations at the laboratory.
"I feel that all the work that we did during the stand down was authorized under the statement of work," Nanos said during a hearing of the investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning.
Nanos said the laboratory had largely resumed operations within the first month with its less risky operations after the stand down last July and the most risky operations were restarted by February.
The laboratory would be back on schedule with its major programs, including some missed stockpile tests by the end of the month, he said
He said the review had found justification in the large number of problems that had to be fixed before operations could be resumed, plus ten times that number of problems that needed to be worked on in the future.
Responding to a question, Nanos said changing culture at an institution like IBM had taken seven years.
"I'm two years into at least a five-year process," he said. "We're close to the tipping point."
Earlier in the hearing the nation's chief nuclear officer answered questions about the discrepancy between LANL's estimates on the costs of the shutdown, estimated at $136 million, and an estimate prepared by a National Nuclear Security Administration.
National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Linton Brooks said DOE's Albuquerque office had estimated costs up to $367 million because of what he included in the estimate. He said the laboratory's estimate was based on a formula for how employee's effort was charged to the stand down, and it was not auditable.
The higher figure also included indirect costs of administration and overhead.
Brooks said a final determination was pending and he thought it would fall somewhere between the two estimates.
Pressed by the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., Brooks said the University of California, which has managed the LANL contract since the inception of the laboratory, had been held responsible by penalties and a reduction in fee, as well as by having to face a competition for the contract.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., expressed incredulity that the issue of stand down-costs was not specifically addressed in the contract and objected to having those costs put back on the taxpayer.
Brooks said that opening the contract to competition was a response to the recent problems with UC, but explained to the representatives that the university has never profited from the work of the laboratory.
LANL was a focus of the subcommittee, as the subcommittee chairman asked, "How we can turn the tide on the bad news at LANL?" But the meeting also examined security issues in general throughout the nuclear complex.
Chairman Whitfield asked Brooks to report on steps that have been taken at each of the NNSA sites to upgrade security.
Stupak, the ranking minority member, sought answer to the questions of what was still vulnerable and why, as well as what still needs to be done.
Glenn Podonsky, DOE's director of security and safety performance assurance, shared the panel with Brooks and was asked if his efforts were duplicated by a similar function in the NNSA.
Podonsky acknowledged that the department does a lot of checking on itself without much improvement, but said his function was separate and independent.
"We don't want to fall into the same predicament as in past years - checkers checking checkers," he said. "I don't believe that's what Ambassador Brooks intends."
Brooks assured the committee that despite delays, nuclear material from LANL's vulnerable Technical Area 18 site would be moved by the end of this year.
The subcommittee also heard testimony from Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
POGO has been particularly concerned about the nuclear material that remains at Technical Area 18 at LANL. She expressed doubts that the new schedule could be met.
"In addition, much of the material will be stored at the Los Alamos Technical Area 55 for an unknown period of time," she said. "Security costs are beginning to mount, as the delays continue."
Hit the "Login and Publish" button twice, did you?
Must have your Smart Card with you there in DC.
Attaboy, Pete! You tell 'em!
Can someone explain to me:
1) What this "at least a five-year process" is?
2) What "the tipping point" is?
Then there was that discrepancy on how much the stand down cost. Dr. Nanos (Note: only once was the title of Admiral used) gave the cost at $136M-- under oath mind you. Ambassador Brooks estimated the cost at $367M and glibly said the real answer is "somewhere in between." (Thank God that neither one of them is my banker and POGO, much closer to reality, put the figure at $1B.) Once upon a time, confessing such a discrepancy in cost before a congressional committee would have been like tossing red meat to hungry wolves. This morning opportunity to chew was fell upon toothless puppies who gummed the discrepancy and blamed it entirely on the University of California, the only party not represented at the table. In fact most of the morning was spend throwing darts at the UC. No voice came forcefully to the defense of the University including those of Dr. Nanos and Ambassador Brooks.
When Dan Brown's name was called out Dr. Nanos seemed to have leaped out to another planet. Maybe he was looking for Brown who was already there. In any case, Dr. Nanos should have had a point by point critique of the allegations Brown had raised. If one existed, he didn't seem to know about it. Then maybe Dr. Nanos thought the Congressman had said, John Browne (the "e" is silent like the defenders of the UC).
An interesting vignette transpired when Dr. Nanos was asked about his support at the Laboratory. Under oath he said, "I think that the majority of the people support what I am doing" (or something to that effect). The operative word is "think" because "thinking" erroneous thoughts can be done under oath.
Somehow Big Blue emerged as a point of discussion. Dr. Nanos said that it took seven years to change the culture of that behemoth from thinking mainframes to thinking PCs. We all know how successful the IBM cultural change has been. Almost all trolls have IBM PCs. Dr. Nanos promised to change the culture at Los Alamos in five. Similar results are expected here. He did say we are at the "tipping point." Maybe he actually meant the "breaking point."
Dr. Nanos' statement that the Laboratory would be back on schedule with its major programs, including missed stockpile tests, by the end of the month begged the obvious question: "Did the missed tests negatively impact the safety and reliability of the Nation's enduring nuclear stockpile?" Alas, again the silence was deafening.
Then there was a closed session down the hall where we can only assumed that ice creams, cookies, and punch were served.
Tipping point is a term used my managers. It's in one of our management books It like pushing on a cow standng in the pasture. You push like hell and the beast slowly starts to move. Beyond a certain inclination the process is unstoppable "the tipping point" and the whole beast falls to the ground leaving on the pusher erect to tip some other cow. Los Alamos is at the tiping point.
There is of course no way to stick UC with the cost of their mismanagement. If there were, they wouldn't be here. If the shutdown cost the nation "only" $367 million, as DOE figures, isn't that reason enough to bid the contract? If not, how much? Then of course we have DARHT, not "re-baselined" to 2008 for the 2nd access. Remember when DARHT was scheduled for 1988? And then of course NIF (at LLNL), another disaster...
Either UC should seriously involve itself in managing these Labs, or get the hell out of the game! As the Zinner, Gerberding, Jendresen and Gold Reports, all by the UC Academic Senate, have said since 1970.
Does anyone really believe that UC is ready to get serious; after 63 years?
But what caught my attention was the choice of words that he used to describe what charge codes were used during the stand down. Maybe it was just me but it seemed that he implied that the 'standing-up' process was done with special codes and not programatic codes?
Did anyone else hear it that way?
That is one thing that LANL has rarely done ( at least in my division ). When you have to do compliance or massive training or any other significant cost of doing business we are always told to charge to our customers instead of overhead. That is NOT how it is done by the other DOE/NNSA sites. I started my career at a Lockheed/Martin facility where we had charge codes for training, compliance, etc.
It was an actionable item to charge incorrectly there. It seems to be a standard practice at LANL.
Etymology: D dialect pappekak, literally, soft dung, from Dutch pap pap + kak dung
empty talk or writing : NONSENSE