Friday, March 25, 2005

The new management style

From Anonymous:

It seems to be the management style today. Walk off the street into a functioning and vital organization. Find a few off normal situations to complain about and use them as bludgeons to beat your staff into submission. If you cannot find real off normal situations, fabricate them. Use your findings to further weaken the organization. Call a news conference and soundly condemn the cowboys and buttheads that are responsible for destroying the organization. Be cheered by simpletons and Members of Congress for your insight.

There is a tendency in organizations to slide into micromanagement, reduce the efforts of researchers into narrowly defined roles, strive for temporal efficiency, and ultimate reduce management from an art into a procedure. Once the procedure is in place, the successors to management positions when they turn over are less qualified, intelligent, imaginative, and thoughful. Their exertions to exert authority and meet objectives result in suppressing new ideas. Today's Oppenheimers could never be hired at the Lab, in NASA, NIH, &c. You can't turn leading edge science over to dull MBAs and retired military. The Lab's problem is there is no Oppenheimer and too many Groves. It's probably the same in most other labs. Managers are bred in a petri dish of efficiency and record keeping. Imagination is not encouraged in the little germs which grow up to be narrow minded organisms that produce reports in response to stimuli. The LANL job ads are depressing because the main qualifications for supervisory roles are be able to count beans and enter the results in the lurid collection of managerial software they have up there. When I worked up there, the Lab had turned into a huge bureaucracy under a scheme called "matrix management" and in the sense of fostering innovative research and pursuing promissing new directions in the National interest, management was becoming an impediment. Now I gather it is outright oppressive.

What has been lost is the sense of the Laboratory being a place of scientific discovery. Early efforts to maintain that sense against the mounting forces of national interest bureaucratization were to create new programs and expand "reimbursable" programs. But bureaucratization quickly swallowed up such "side" activities and began to throttle them. Latent bureaucrats at the Lab began to see their future as micromanagers instead of defending the scientific integrity of their researchers. They sold them out by representing science at LANL as a matter of following a script that ended with barfing up a "deliverable" to schedule instead of having the balls to tell a sponsor that good research is no respecter of calendars. UC went wrong by refusing to defend the Lab as an academic institution. Back in the old days the Lab delivered its work when it was good but matters slid into treating the Lab as a reliable deliverer of contracted objectives on time. All of a sudden, it seemed like no one had the balls to tell a sponsor that we needed a few more months on this or that a critical experiment suggests a problem with the objective of the work. How do you mollify bean counters when you get halfway through a project and realize this isn't going to work? I realized that most people in Washington have no idea what it means to hire a world class lab to work on something. You pay for effort, not for specific results. If it will take another year and another MIPR to make progress, pay up or shut up. That was our understanding with direct funded weapons programs. When the Lab sought to expand itself to seek funding for "side" research, it let the bureaucrat camels under the tent. And now their management models are tearing apart the Lab and other public science institutions as well.

The deplorable state of the Lab today has deeper roots than the misfortune of being saddled with a director whose concept of management is better suited to being the Commandant of the Brigade of Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy.
I agree with this post. This appears to be exactly what the Admiral has done: come in and say that everything is wrong (need to "drain the swamp."). Then, make a bunch of changes and declare success. Only this time, he stepped overboard and made a public spectacle of failure.
In addition to contining on this post it also refers to the March 18, 2005 post:
“Lawmakers Say California University Should Share Los Alamos Stand-Down Cost”

The Lab recently received its performance fee for the FY04 Appendix F Performance Assessment. The Lab FAILED the performance assessment in a gigantic fashion receiving only 33% ($2.9M) of the possible fee (see partial reference below). If you go to the new communication spin called Dir. notebook on the LANL home page you will find a video in which Dir. Nanos admits that it was not a "good year because of the shutdown". Dir. Nanos made the decision to shutdown the Lab and is responsible for those actions.

The lab-wide shutdown was an over reaction, reflecting poor judgment, and the lack of capacity to think strategically. It also demonstrated his inflexible attitude and inability to modify a decision once new information was provided. Pride and personality certainly inhibited the correct approach. Granted there was cause to pursue a phased well thought-out measured approach to ensure safety and security. Such an approach could have been investigated, designed, and implemented (even after the initial order to shut the whole lab down).

Part of the message and complaint that Dir. Nanos has expressed frequently to the staff is their lack of accountability and responsible behavior. Dir. Nanos from his Navy training knows that staff behavior is a reflection of leadership behavior. Dir. Nanos needs to behave in an honorable, accountable and responsible manner and follow through on his own expectations and requirements for employment. After the announced Appendix F Performance failure he should have taken full responsibility, acted in an accountable fashion and RESIGNED. In fact he should still do this.

At least our previous leadership was responsible and accountable, Dir. Browne maintained honor when he took responsibility and stepped down.

Lawmakers Say California University Should Share Los Alamos Stand-Down Cost
…(stuff deleted)
"You have to do things right or take some responsibility," added U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak from Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the committee. "In this case these costs should be paid by the university, not the taxpayer."
…(stuff deleted)
Pete Nanos, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, says the stand-down was the right decision, as it highlight other problems at the lab.
…(stuff deleted)
"The NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) also exercised its right to hold the university accountable for the incident. LANL received an 'unsatisfactory' performance rating in the 'operations' area of the annual performance assessment," Nanos said. "As a result, in January 2005, NNSA withheld 67 percent of the UC management fee, with a penalty assessment of $5.8 million our of a possible $8.7 million performance fee pool. This represents the largest DOE-directed management fee cut in history."
…(stuff deleted)
In reading this blog I've never seen any consideration for the notion that perhaps LANL R&D is no longer necessary for National Security. Upon the manufacture of automobiles buggy whip companies fell on hard times. We are not designing new weapon systems and don't test anymore. The nuclear arsenal is on the shelf and part of Cold War history. The new enemy isn't defeated with nukes. Maybe the real reason we find ourselves in this apparently unappreciated situation is that we are obsolete.
Even Iran and North Korea agree that nuclear weapons are obsolete. Er, wait...
11:50p poster:

Perhaps you are correct. Let's just shut down the lab, stop all that irrelevant LANL (or LLNL or SNL) R&D, and send all the employees off to flip burgers with their obsolete skills. Let's also hope that when some nut case with a nuke decides to take a vacation to some US city, that you can save that city all by yourself - no tools or training. I wish you luck.

(Now for my soapbox speech to the general public)

It's your money, and you're entitled to get exactly that for which you pay. If you want to understand nukes, and how to beat them, you first have to know how to design them and improve them. It's not trivial to acquire the comprehensive knowledge needed to design and improve nuclear weapons, and the only way to acquire that knowledge is to pursue the breadth of research that LANL routinely undertakes. If you want it, you have to pay for it.

Sticking your head in the sand will not stop the other countries from developing their own capabilities. I suspect that a few have people who read this blog - and they will all be nodding at this statement. The world is not a nice place. Don't think for a second that they won't.
Every vacuum gets filled.

What LANL represents is the nation's to keep or lose. Your choice.
LANL is not only about nuclear weapons. There's quite a bit of other stuff, too.
As things now stand the United States spends more money on its nuclear weapons programs than any nation in the world and has the least to show for it. We are virtually pit-less, tritium-less, test-less, design-less, criticality-safe-less, and rapidly becoming nuclear-less. I could add clue-less as well. Why is this so?

Well (to begin with a deep subject), it's not because DOE lacks for centers of excellence populated with great scientist, engineers, technicians, and support staff that on occasion make a few human mistakes. The problem lies with the disestablishment of the AEC and its replacement by departments that lack a vision of how to manage a nuclear weapons complex, in particular how to manage one in rapid transition. But some will say we have the NNSA (poem not intended). Let me dispense with that right away. I know the AEC. I worked with the AEC and the NNSA is no AEC (to borrow a line from Senator Lloyd Bentsen).

Obviously, there are many quality people in the DOE and NNSA. Let's hope that historians will number Secretary Bodman among them. Unfortunately, there seem to be an inordinate number of "can kickers (CKs)" and "closet anti-nuclear drones (CADs)" throughout the Department. A CK -pronounced SEE KUH-is a civil servant that will postpone difficult decisions in the hope they will magically evaporate or be postponed so long as to wind up on his or her replacement's desk. Some CKs and CADs have climbed their way into headquarters and regional management. Often as in the case of hard decisions like the CMR and TA-18 Replacement Facilities at Los Alamos and the SPUR Facility at Sandia, the CKs and CADs will work together to sabotage vital capabilities and initiative.

Considering events in today's world with the ominous prospects of nuclear terrorism, with the possibility of a rapid escalation in the number of nuclear weapon states, and the fact that nuclear weapons will for the foreseeable future be part of the calculus of American national defense, is it possible that at some time in the not too distant future the CKs and CADs will win by default and America will be national-defense-less. Indeed, if events at Los Alamos are an indicator, we may already be on that threshold.
My Dad ran away from home and joined the Navy in 1938. He told stories of being spat upon on the sidewalk and signs in Norfolk of "Sailors and dogs keep off the grass." Men in the armed services were considered the lowest of the social dregs (even, at the time, below blacks).

Then came Pearl Harbor and suddenly everyone in uniform was a hero. Experienced Navy men like my Dad advanced rapidly to fill out the ranks as NCOs the recruits flooded in.

I think we're seeing a bit of that now: anyone who has anything to do with nuclear weapons and deterrence is heaped with social contempt by the annoited babblers. Then, when our nuclear Perl Harbor happens, suddenly all us terrible baby killers who worked on nuclear weapons will be savaged for letting it happen.

It's not LANL scientists who are putting Seattle, San Francisco, and LA at risk of nuclear destruction: it's the politicians who refuse to believe the threat and act upon it. We can sound the alarm, but they are deaf to our cries.

Maybe we should move MC Hobson to Seoul so he can live with the threat up close and personal.
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