Saturday, March 19, 2005

UC May Have to Chip In for Lab Closure

UC May Have to Chip In for Lab Closure

Energy Department and university differ on the cost of lost or delayed work at Los Alamos.

Los Angeles Times
March 19, 2005

By Sara Clarke, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress again criticized the University of California on Friday for its management of Los Alamos National Laboratory, saying the university should bear at least some of the financial burden of a lengthy shutdown at the nuclear weapons facility.

Los Alamos was the main focus of a hearing on security at the nation's nuclear sites held Friday by the investigations panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. UC has managed the New Mexico lab for the Energy Department for more than six decades.

Nearly all operations at Los Alamos were shut down in July after two incidents — the reported loss of two classified computer disks and a laser accident that injured an intern — prompted security and safety concerns. The lab did not fully reopen until late January, although many activities had resumed in previous months.

An official with the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Energy Department agency that oversees the lab, estimated Friday that the cost for lost or delayed work resulting from the shutdown could be as much as $367 million.

Los Alamos and UC officials, in contrast, put the figure at $119 million, and said the Energy Department figure included millions in costs not directly attributable to the closure. They said the UC estimate also took into account the gradual resumption of regular operations in many sections of the lab, while others remained shuttered.

Testifying before the panel, Los Alamos director G. Peter Nanos said that during the closure, the lab's employees still came to the facility and concentrated on such activities as management assessments and safety and security training. Such work should be funded because it was authorized under the university's contract, he said, adding: "We just normally don't do it in such heavy concentration."

Although an Energy Department investigation has determined that the computer disks originally believed to be missing never existed, Nanos said the lab had improved its handling of such classified materials and reduced the number of storage locations.

Still, the financial burden stemming from UC's lack of oversight should not be passed on to taxpayers, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), told Nanos.

"How are you going to change the culture, and get responsibility?" asked Stupak, who was among several lawmakers who said the university and those responsible for the problems had not been properly sanctioned.

Employees who were implicated in the security breaches and in falsifying records had been terminated, Nanos said.

Several members of the panel said UC should bear at least some of the costs. "The University of California was hired to do a job and they didn't do it," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.). Taking the university off the hook, he said, would be outrageous.

Linton F. Brooks, who heads the National Nuclear Security Administration, said two investigations had suggested that the closure costs would be allowed under UC's contract.

But the problems have not been without consequence for UC's reputation and the lab's finances, he said. In what it called the harshest financial penalty ever imposed on a national lab, the Energy Department in January penalized the university more than $5 million — two-thirds of its management fee for 2005. That penalty would not affect the university's other functions, UC officials said.

In addition, for the first time, the university's contract to run the lab has been opened to competition. The current contract expires in September.

UC regents will decide whether to bid for the contract after the department releases more specific information on the request for proposals this spring, said Chris Harrington, a university spokesman.

- Times staff writer Rebecca Trounson in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Comments:
Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I don't believe the good Congressmen asked a single question
regarding the three missing pieces of classified media within the DOE/ABQ office. LANL
answered the questions, fully and completely, about our missing CREM - it wasn't missing.
Is DOE/ABQ hiding something? What's good for the goose is good for the gander, is it
not Mr. Brooks? The DOE's hypocrisy on this particular matter is mind-boggling.
 
We should all be clear about what is going on with respect to Nanos, Congress, and the media. Its all about spin, truth has nothing to do with what is happening. The self-interest of the major parties involved is the driving force in every event.

Nanos has some sort of “plan” with the Lab. Part of executing the plan was the stand-down. He was going to have a stand-down no matter what, it was just a matter of waiting for the inevitable screw-up that would surely come. He knew that LANL’s scandal ridden recent past would justify his BS excuse, few questions asked. Now that its been exposed as a gross over-reaction he’ll use whatever excuses, lies and half-truths necessary to justify his actions. This includes selling the entire institution down the river in order to save his own hide. Nanos went to DC and stoked the fires by bad mouthing us and the testimony last week was more of the same. Brooks and Foley are right there arm-in-arm with Nanos and will be as long as their necks aren’t on the chopping block.

The Congress has an agenda, in fact 535 of them. All of them self-serving with about a thimble full of patriotism between the lot of them. Again, they will use whatever lies and half-truths are available to suit their spin needs. We just happen to be convenient cannon-fodder and Nanos is playing right into the hands of certain people. They are playing into his hands too. We’re caught in the middle. National security be damned, political futures are in the balance!

The media just wants a scandal to pump up their ratings. Since we’ve had problems in the past, we are ripe for future scandal. CBS is just playing the numbers with us, they’re just hoping one of these charges will stick. The point is stick, not have merit or truth. Its all about ratings and trying to catch up to ABC, NBC, MSNBC, Fox, CNN, …

The bottom line is that all of these forces care little about the truth or facts, its all about the opportunity to help themselves as much as possible. The fact that its at LANL’s expense is meaningless. This lack of malice on the part of all of these forces doesn’t excuse it at all. We are simply the still living carcass that these vultures are feeding on. Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the morality of the 21st century.
 
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