Friday, March 11, 2005

Senator Bingaman

A few weeks back I wrote Senator Bingaman to express my concerns regarding the current state of morale at LANL: said morale being a direct result of our shutdown that started July, 2004, and which is still in effect for parts of the lab.  This is his response.

March 8, 2005

Mr. Douglas Roberts
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87506

Dear Douglas:

Thank you for writing me regarding the current state of
affairs at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). I
appreciate your taking the time to write.

I understand your concerns about the current situation at
LANL. I remain concerned about the low morale and the impact
that the stand-down at LANL has had on New Mexico's economy
and LANL employees, especially the low and mid-career
scientists. When I met last year with Linton Brooks, Director of
the National Nuclear Security Administration, I asked him to
consider the long-term repercussions of keeping LANL closed for
such a long period of time and urged him to have LANL resume
unclassified operations as soon as possible. I believe that the work
performed by individuals, like yourself, at LANL on a daily basis
is very important to the country, and I am proud that our national
labs play such a key role in helping our country meet its energy
and national security needs.

It is my hope that Director Nanos and the employees at
LANL can work collaboratively to ensure the safety and a quick
resumption of all work activities at LANL without decreasing
morale. That said, I am aware of the recent reports that many of
the security lapses at LANL were in fact due to clerical errors,
such as the disappearance of two Classified Removable Electronic
Media (CREM) disks that in fact never existed. Safety at LANL
should be of the utmost concern for the sake of national security
and LANL employees. But I also believe the employees have
worked very hard to ensure the highest level of safety at the
LANL, and they must be recognized for their efforts. As I monitor
the situation at LANL, I want to assure you that I will continue to
keep the interests of the Los Alamos employees in mind.

Again, thank you for your letter. Please do not hesitate to
contact me in the future regarding any other matters of importance
to you and your community.



United States Senator

Here's Senator Bingaman's response to an e-mail I recently sent him regarding the proposed amendments to the RFP:

Thank you for your letter regarding the addendum to the
Draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for Los Alamos National
Laboratory (LANL). I appreciate your taking the time to write.

As you know, the National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA) Source Evaluation Board (SEB) has
released a revised draft RFP which has addressed some of the
concerns raised by employees and retirees during the comment
period. After careful review, I am pleased that the SEB has
allowed for a 180-day transition period for employees and retirees
to evaluate the winning bid. Unfortunately, I remain concerned
about the continued ambiguity of the phrase, "substantially
equivalent" with regard to the future pension plan, as well as the
fact that the RFP requires a site specific pension plan separate from
the existing UC pension plan. I also do not believe it is in the best
interest of the employees and retirees that the "substantially
equivalent" benefits will not be decided until after the contract is

For this reason, during a recent Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee hearing, I expressed my concerns to
Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman that the purpose of the
contract competition seems to have been lost. To my mind, that
purpose should have been to strengthen the capability of Los
Alamos to conduct science in the nation's interest. Instead, the
contract competition has become a substantial destabilizing
influence on both laboratory morale and the ability to retain the
skilled employees who are the heart of the laboratory's technical
strength in the future. In my opinion DOE is creating a situation
with an unacceptable risk of triggering an exodus of the most
senior weapons designers, those with 20 or 30 years of experience.
They will be forced to resign in order to lock in their University of
California benefits. And I fear the other newer scientists will begin
seeking employment elsewhere.

I also sent a letter to Secretary Bodman letting him know
that it is my hope that the SEB will publish a final RFP that will
not: reduce employee compensation and retirement benefits,
reduce the mandate to support world-class scientific research, or
increase operating costs to a level that can not be supported within
the budget. I also told him that I believe the best way for the SEB
to guarantee that employees receive "substantially equivalent"
benefits would be to allow existing employees to remain within the
University of California Retirement Plan.

It continues to be my hope that the University of California
will retain the contract to run LANL. As I continue to scrutinize
the RFP, please be assured that I will keep your comments in mind
while doing so. I hope you will continue to inform me of your
concerns with the RFP as the process moves forward.


United States Senator
Well, it's reassuring to hear that some in Congress don't see us as the enemy. Now, what's to be done about the SET?
I have a really hard time understanding the third paragraph of Bingaman's letter. First he writes about safety and resumption, then he writes "that many security lapses at LANL were in fact due to clerical errors", then he writes that "safety should be of utmost concern for the sake of national security", and finally he writes that he believes "we have worked very hard to ensure the highest level of safety".

Haven't we worked very hard to ensure the highest level of security too? Don't we do more than many entities which handle classified material, such as the Navy?

Does anyone else have a problem with what he's trying to say?
No problem here. It seems like he is trying to help. Thanks!
He is saying what all junior senators of a party without a majority can say.. I can ask the Secretary all the questions I like.. but I cant do much beyond that.

With Saint Pete retiring in 2006 and Bingaman probably retiring soon after that.. this state will have 2 senators without any pull. It is probably better to get ready for the realities of smaller budgets and more political exercises after that at both Sandia and Los Alamos.
Despite my disappointment with Senator Domenici in some of his positions vis a vis LANL senior management or lack thereof, I sure hope that he tries to best the late Senator Strom Thurman's longevity-of-service record with Senator Bingaman coming in a close second.
To the 7:57 pm comment:

I read that 3rd paragraph as Bingaman telling us in political-speak that yes, he was aware that Nanos had completely blown it in having shut down the lab. Political-speak being what it is, he couldn't say it any more directly.
Sen Domenici was re-elected in 2002 as a US Senator for a 6 year term which expires in 2008.

If he is retiring in 2006 as the 11:38 pm post suggests, I would definitely like to know. That would probably hasten LANL's transition to whatever their new mission and budget will be.
Bingaman is up for reelection in 2006. Domenici in 2008!
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