Friday, March 18, 2005

Nanos to testify

Nanos to testify

ROGER SNODGRASS, roger@lamonitor.com, Monitor Assistant Editor

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Peter Nanos will be among the witnesses before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is meeting Friday morning in Washington, D.C.

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., is reviewing security initiatives at DOE nuclear facilities.

National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Linton Brooks and Glenn Podonsky, Department of Energy director of security and safety performance assurance are scheduled to testify as well.

Following Nanos, Danielle Brian, Executive Director on Nuclear Security, The Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C. public interest organization, will submit testimony.

Last Friday, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Whitfield sent a letter to Brooks, asking for more information about the "cost and reasonableness" of the suspension of operations at LANL that began in July last year.

The letter recounted the representatives' efforts to obtain follow-up information on the stand down, which began as a result of irregularities in accounting for classified information, followed by a serious laser injury involving a student working at the lab.

Nanos originally estimated the cost of the suspension at $100 million, but the letter to Brooks cited a report, dated Feb. 22, from the NNSA's field office in Albuquerque, which raised the estimate to $370 million.

"The amount is staggering, and we are concerned that it will continue to grow," wrote the two chairmen.

"However, the necessity for the stand down and its duration is the direct result of recurring mismanagement by the University of California (UC), and we believe UC should pay for a portion of the cost of the stand down," they added.

Chris Harrington, a spokesman for the University of California, said, "We've been asked to come before the committee and we'll provide the answers to the questions asked."

Harrington said safety and security were very important to the committee and to UC and LANL.

"We've taken very aggressive actions to improve safety and security throughout the laboratory," he said.

"And this is a chance for us to review those actions and efforts with the committee.

Beth Daley of POGO said in a telephone call this morning that Daniel would talk about the relationship between the laboratory's treatment of whistleblowers and congressional oversight.

"From our sources, the costs are up to a billion dollars," she said.

The investigations subcommittee was the arena in which LANL's property and financial management problems were aired two years ago.

Comments:
Uh, oh. It looks like the Vice Admiral is going to explain to the big boys just exactly why it was, again, that he felt it necessary to waste $1 BILLION taxpayer dollars on a shutdown of highly disputed justification, and nearly run a National Laboratory into the ground in the process.
 
The ONE BILLION wasted is egregious: the impact on national security inestimable.
 
Don't get your hopes up too high. While I'd love to see Nanos raked over the coals by this committee over the stand-down fiasco and a billion dollars down the drain, my cynical side doubts this will happen. Remember that this committee comprises many of the same GOP congressmen who have been so dead-set on smearing the reputation of the LANL workforce in the past, who probably gave us Nanos in the first place, and who insisted on competing the UC contract. This fiasco has been a GOP production from day one, so I don't expect to see much help from them.

My fear is that what we will see is Nanos very smoothly and convincingly laying out the case for the stand-down (LANL scientists running amok, as usual), helped along the way by GOP committee members playing the straight men, asking carefully crafted leading questions that will enable Nanos to paint a very damning picture of LANL scientists and their supposed lax attitude. Nanos will be praised for his "courageous action." It'll be all lies, of course, but the press won't care or bother to check facts.

The POGO guy will then back this up with further horror stories from his "whistleblowers" (we're not talking Kaupilla here, we're talking about Dan Brown, that uncleared guy who supposedly found all sorts of violations in facilities he didn't have the clearances to enter).

The culprits? UC, of course. UC, and all those dastardly scientists who just won't follow the rules. The solution? Hand off LANL and the UCRP pension fund to a well-connected corporation, with a $100M/yr plus-up in the management fee to sweeten the deal. Same old story.

The sound bites on the evening news (if they bother to cover it -- baseball steroids and Michael Jackson will clearly take precedence) will be something to the effect of "the stand-down was a absolute necessity given the egregious lapses by LANL scientists." And, of course "UC is incapable of managing this laboratory; wasn't Congress ever so wise in insisting on the contract recompete."

Sorry to be so negative, but I've learned to expect nothing good from the NeoCon party.

I hope I'm wrong. We'll see in the morning.
 
They sure managed to keep a lid on that one until the last minute, didn't they? They must be fearing the worst out of the hearings. Maybe UC will finally be forced to remove him after the hearings. Can't wait to hear how Baghdad Bob spins this one.
 
You bet Nanos tried to keep the lid on his testimony! I recall that in early 2003 when he was still licking his chops about being named acting director, and every word out of his mouth was how screwed up things were until he walked in the room, that he had his PR kids (fresh out of diapers and just barely having gotten their drivers licensses) post all the Browne/Salgado hearings on the Newsbulletin for all lab employees to see the public flogging. How disgraceful. Browne/Salgado never deserved this public display, and I hope today Nanos gets his due!
 
So get out there, you guys, and send questions to the committee members that can embarrass Nanos or, better yet, get to the heart of the problems!
 
Mr./Ms. 7:34 Oxymoron comment -- Nanos IS the heart of the problem~!
 
this was nauseating…

major themes:

1) can we make UC pay for the shutdown?
2) Dan Brown’s “Chernobyl in LANL” vision and
3) it was tough, Pete, but you did a good job

let us face it: noone out there has a clue…
 
To anybody who watched it: was it really as bad as 11:16 AM said? I cannot hardly believe that.
 
I am the author of the 2:50 a.m. post.

Sounds like it played out pretty much as I predicted.

To the 11:16 a.m. poster: Having a clue has nothing to do with it. These congressmen know exactly what the truth is, and are doing everything in their power to prevent the truth from gaining a foothold. The purpose of this hearing was not information gathering, it was PR posturing.

The neo-con wing of the GOP has an agenda to raid the federal government and give as much of it away to their corporate supporters as they can get away with. Privatize everything. This is theft of public funds, pure and simple, but because they make the laws, they are now making theft (at least this kind) legal.

They've had their eyes on LANL, its $2 billion/yr budget, and the multi-billion dollar pension fund for several years now, and they are adamant that one of their cronies get this cash-rich plum one way or another. They thought they could sneak the pension fund raid past us, but too many people noticed and spoke out. Now they're looking for alternate ways of getting their hands on this money. Hmmmmm. Can we force UC to pay for the stand-down? Where might a billion bucks come from? The pension fund, perhaps? They are desparate to "prove" that UC is incapable of managing LANL, in order to justify their corporate hand-off, hence carefully stage-managed hearings like this one.

It makes me sick. All I can say is, to the 60% or so of Los Alamos county that voted Republican in the last election, please understand that this is what you voted for. Like it? Please, please, please wake up and take a hard look at what the GOP has become. This is no longer the party of Ike, or even of Reagan. A gang of criminals has seized control of the party, and are increasingly trying to drive good conservatives like Domenici out. I see no alternative now than to vote Democratic, like them or not, until the GOP expels these thugs and goes back to being a legitimate conservative party. What the GOP is doing now is truly dangerous.
 
I totally agree with the 1:34pm poster. I have been a lifelong Republican and am ashamed at what has happened under there reign. Fortunately in the last presidential election I did NOT vote for Uncle George. He is a disgrace and is going to be the ruin of this country. People don't realize that the economy and bloate government is hanging by a thread.
 
When the standdown started, we were told to charge our time to Group Overhead. That was reasonable. However, after a few days, we were told to charge our time to programs. I believe that was inappropriate because many of the programs were unrelated to and got no benefit from the standdown. However, it is clear that this was a step to hide the costs. Apparently it succeeded to some extent.
 
I disagree profoundly with the 1:34 pm poster. One of the major doctrines of the GOP is National Security. keeping LANL running and in good shape is definitely in the interests of our national security. If the lawmakers can see through what Nanos said, then expect them to act in a way that is beneficial to the lab and the US.

We must also be careful not to criticize the Congress too much. They have a lot more than LANL on their plate. (have you ever tried to run a country?)
 
If I only had a nickel for every story about how the Lab compete is some Republican conspiracy...

Wasn't the Republican plot supposed to give the Lab contract to some Texas university? Whatever happened to that? [rhetorical]
 
"I'm two years into at least a five-year process," he said. "We're close to the tipping point."

Can someone explain to me:

1) What the "at least a five-year process" is?

2) What "the tipping point" is?

Thanks.
 
2:47 & 7:05
You repubs have your head in the sand, unable to take responsibility for the unbelievable damage your party has done to this nation, this lab, and the future of both. Dead bodies are your responsibility for voting for this insanity. Take responsibilty for your vote and stop whinning about being misrepresented. Get real.

I'm tired of reading BS. We're trained scientists, dealing with experiments where data can be correlated with controlled variables. We're not trained to deal with hype, prejudice, petrofided viewpoints, and bigotry. Say something constructive that will help this lab (and nation) move forward for the betterment of everyone, not just the well-connected corporate liches. Base your ideas on a foundation of believable facts or stop wasting our time. The stress level is too high to deal with your narrow view of the world.
 
9:35: You may be a trained scientist, but you are defiantly not a trained lawmaker!

But, I have to give you credit for one thing. The real problem around here (with LANL) is the congress' fault. However, half of congress is Democrat.
 
The 9:35 post and Nanos both demonstrate the inability to distinguish people who disagree with them from "morons" or "bigots." We need to set aside this kind of provincialism and realize that thoughtful people can come to different conclusions regarding the facts.

If you need to throw arounds words like "whining," "prejudice," "insanity," etc. to prove your point, you concede the argument to your opponent.
 
We are done. LANL will be no more in
3 years. There may be something left
but it will be of no value. The good
people will retire and the other young people will leave. The rest will be the worthless. No one good will ever go here again. The good Universities will tell the students forget Los Alamos. Nanos sold us out. Linton Brooks is evil. The United States has lost today. We are on the decline. It is no suprise. Every great empire must end, it is simply our turn. The other DOE labs will go next. Social Security will become more and more important. Than the Universties will go. Than at some point it will be clear, the nukes will not work. Than some other country will rise and will take the
chance and we will watch, thinking
only about what we where suppose to be given, all those things from the goverment. What we where promised, it will not come. Someone is watching what is occuring at LANL and knowing what it all means. We are the fallen.

"When a Man lies He Murders
Some Part of the World
These are the Pale Deaths Which
Men Miscall Thier Lives
All this I cannot Bear
to Witness Any Longer
Cannot the Kingdom of Salvation
Take me Home"
 
To the poster at 4:19 AM

The world is always in transition. Bad things happen to great people and to great organizations. Most often we have no choice in selecting the forces that buffet us. What we must focus on the most is that moral compass within us all that provides direction and purpose to our lives. For I am persuaded that nothing happening here on this mesa can separate us from that direction and purpose.

With change, even drastic change, comes opportunity and we can never lose our vision to make our community, our laboratory, or ourselves stronger, more involved, more capable, and fundamentally better persons and contributors.

The point is that all of us who care about this great institution are knowledgeable of the contributions it has played in our history. Those contributions were made not because we were associated with the University of California but because we were dedicated to pushing forward the boundaries of science to make the world a better, safer, and more secure place for generations to come. It is my fervent hope that the University of California will bid on the contract and prevail. If the University does not, I will know then what I know now. The people who remain here, as inheritors of our collective past, will make this place great again. No transient tyranny can keep that from happening if we do not lose hope.

The sun will come out tomorrow. It always does.
 
10:30 am post. Go for it.

I would argue however, that a declining weapons budget might, as you say, cause, "Bad things to happen to great people." Who knows, maybe enough people will leave to make RIFs unnecessary.

I would need some concrete data to estimate the impact. Right now I have heard speculation regarding declining budgets, Gross Receipts tax, and Award Fee.

"Those contributions were made not because we were associated with the University of California but because we were dedicated to pushing forward the boundaries of science to make the world a better, safer, and more secure place for generations to come."

I would argue this effort, while sincere, has been largely a failure since the end of the Cold War. Not too many in the US think the world is a better, safer, and more secure place for generations to come. So keep up the effort.

Of course the sun will come out tomorrow. Why would it not?
 
I agree that the world has gotten more complicated since the end of the Cold War. However considering the megatonnage of destructive power that America and Russia once had pointing at each other, I would argue that, even with terrorism, the present world is much safer. That is not to suggest that significant challenges do not lie before us. They do and those challenges are different and complex. However, we have accomplished a great deal since the Cold War. For example, the folks at TA-18 developed the monitoring technology that enabled removing highly enriched uranium from Russian weapons and converting that material into nuclear reactor fuel. At last count, about 11,000 weapons had been decommissioned in this fashion. In terms of raw destructive power, that program by itself represents the greatest disarmament in human history. A significant fraction of electricity that heats and lights American homes is derived from this converted material. Obviously, we have more to do and dealing with plutonium is going to be a very difficult challenge.

The 4:19 AM poster quoted from the heavy metal band "Metallica." Ironically, we in a sense are a heavy-metal band of brothers and sisters ourselves. The heavy metal plutonium cannot be blended down and it will not magically disappear or let's hope not. In that regard the 24,000-year half-life of plutonium is the best insurance we have that Los Alamos is here to stay.

As Little Orphan Annie sang, "The sun will come out tomorrow. You can bet your bottom dollar."
 
Maybe the song should go, "you can beet your botom dollar or ask your actinide scholar."
 
Shouldn't that be "bet your bottom." Hell, it's getting late and I'm getting punchy myself. There was some great stuff posted today.
 
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