Sunday, March 06, 2005

UC Seeks New Los Alamos Director

(A rare noon-time post made from the Los Alamos Public Library computer, during my lunch hour.


UC seeks new Los Alamos director
Despite expressing confidence in embattled leader, officials are quietly searching for his replacement
By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER

While the University of California has expressed high confidence in the embattled director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, university officials quietly have been searching for his replacement.
Headhunters for the executive-search arm of A.T. Kearney recently contacted senior figures in business and the nuclear-weapons complex in what the recruiters termed a "sensitive" recruitment of a director "for one of the national labs."

It's no secret which one. Retired Vice Adm. Pete Nanos, tapped by the university to turn around a troubled Los Alamos, now faces a virtual mutiny after verbally berating scientists as "buttheads" and shutting down the New Mexico desert lab for months, largely over a security breakdown that apparently never happened.

Last month, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the FBI confirmed what scientists had muttered for months — that two disks of nuclear secrets that supposedly were lost last summer never in fact existed.

Los Alamos attaches bar codes to all its portable electronic secrets. Within a day or two of reporting the "loss," rank-and-file scientists and a senior weapons manager realized that someone mistakenly had created two more bar codes than disks.

Those scientists say Nanos and federal officials at the NNSA dismissed that explanation. By then, several lawmakers in Congress were demanding accountability and swift discipline for the losses. Several scientists lost their jobs or were demoted.

When a senior physicist criticized Nanos in the pages of Physics Today, the director suggested the scientific journal lacked integrity, was not peer-reviewed and that the scientist had "perjured" himself. For reasons unclear, that edition of Physics Today never reached more than half of the lab's 400-plus subscribers.

With acknowledgment by federal authorities that the disks never existed, hundreds of Los Alamos scientists have signed a petition demanding Nanos' resignation, and the university is searching for a new Los Alamos chief.

The hunt for a new leader of Los Alamos comes at a delicate time for the university and for the lab that maintains, by number, most of the nuclear explosives in the U.S. arsenal.

The NNNSA is expected by the end of March to begin taking competitive proposals to run Los Alamos, starting a 90-day clock for the University of California to identify its executive team.
Los Alamos public relations officials waved off speculation on Nanos' departure, saying new and creative rumors of his tenure's end circulate every week. But UC officials did not repeat their usual assurances about Nanos' leadership.

University spokesman Chris Harrington steered clear of mentioning Nanos in response to questions about the leadership of the laboratory and the search for a new lab chief. Because federal officials will judge the university's operations partly by its management team, he said, "it is therefore important to the University of California that the best people, with the right skills and expertise, are in the right management positions at the lab."

Contact Ian Hoffman at

Getting closer!
Looks like UC is finally listening. If so, I suspect this blog deserves a substantial share of the credit.

Thank you, Doug.
VERY interesting. I just ran across the LANL code of ethics at

and note that one requirement is "We treat each other with mutual respect and common courtesy". In the FAQ's it says that "Director G. Peter Nanos will evaluate his direct reports and hold them accountable for adhering to the principles of the code of ethics". But then who will evaluate Nanos...?

However, I would bet that any results of job search for a new director will only apply after the contract is awarded.
Sounds like we are going to drain the swamp and get rid of Admiral Butthead!
Looks like UC is going to drain the swamp and get rid of Admiral Butthead.
Look at the "Code of Ethics" and see how many of the signers are still on the SET. It looks like the ethical ones left.
It's about damn time! The question remains, though: is this a "just for show" deal, or does UC finally "get it"?
Could someone post the LANL Code of Ethics? I remember at the time it was published I wondered why the Lab had to write down something so obvious. Now I see why it was so important.
How interesting, I also heard "rumor" that Nano is going to be replaced in near future.
Thanks to all of you who have spoken out on this blog and especially to Doug and to Ian Hoffman, an old friend of LANL employees.
I have not stopped hearing rumors about Nanos leaving since last August. I'm taking all this with a grain of salt. We will just have to wait and see what happens.
It's interesting that UC spokesman Chris Harrington states that "it is therefore important to the University of California that the best people, with the right skills and expertise, are in the right management positions at the lab." He may be talking about more than the Director. The Director's Development Program (DDP) appears to be in trouble.

The DDP is the effort championed by the Director to identify and to mentor management "up-and-comers" to assure that there is an adequate pool from which to grow and select the Lab's future leaders. For the class of 2003, 18 were selected from an applicant pool of 65. The class of 2004 comprised 19 from an applicant pool of 50. The deadline for self-nomination to the class of 2005 was March 4, but as of March 1 only 19 applications had been received.

In an email to the ADs on March 2, Judith Kaye (Executive Chief of Staff) said "we currently have very few nominees for the Director's Development Program. I am also told that the quality of the nominees is lower than in the past. As you know, this initiative is critical to the institution, and Pete has personally championed this because of its importance. We cannot move ahead with the current set of nominees. Please let me know asap if you will be able to provide additional, high quality nominees, and by when."

Any guesses as to why fewer and fewer people are asserting their interest in moving into upper management?
I would think that signing up for the Director's Development Program that is designed to mentor those who might aspire to higher management level positions might not be what folks would want on their resumes if Nanos continues to be involved in the program. Unless, of course, one wants to learn how to bully, retaliate against, and lie to one's employees.
I suspect the lack of participation in the Directors Development Program is just the "tip of the iceberg". Informal lists are now being kept about who has done what during this sorry time; astute and ethical Lab TSM's are trying their best to stay off these lists. People do not want to be considered the next Edward Teller.
Not all TSMs are afraid to be noted on sombody's list. Brad Holian, Doug Roberts, Dave Hanson, to name a few.
This is as close as you can get to a "Code of Ethics" online at LANL. Note in particular "Respect for Others." (If such is observed from the very Top of the Hierarchy, then all the rest follow--right?)

Core Values

Service to the Nation
We serve the nation by providing scientific and technical solutions to critical national security problems.  We are customer-focused and serve with a strong sense of patriotism and pride.  We uphold our nation's trust by ensuring stewardship of the nuclear stockpile and work to reduce threats to our country.

Integrity and Openness
Our workforce expects and upholds high ethical standards, reflected in our science and engineering and in our relationships with our employees, customers and community.  We communicate candidly with a consistent message.  We share news with full transparency in an honest, prompt and open way. 

Passion for Excellence and Innovation
We attract and retain the best-qualified people who embrace our mission and are committed to making a difference.  Our focus is on superior performance that meets the needs of our Nation.  We embrace change and innovation taking prudent risks to achieve remarkable results.  We take pride in surmounting seemingly intractable challenges.

Personal Accountability
We are proud of our role in national security and willingly accept the responsibility held.  We each assume personal responsibility for ensuring that work is performed safely, securely and in a manner that protects the environment.  We work to the highest possible level to keep our commitments while never compromising safety or security for programmatic or operational needs. 

Respect for Others
We act with respect to our communities, our colleagues and ourselves, treating others as we wish to be treated.  We embrace diversity and differing points of view.  We demonstrate our respect through open communication, personal accountability, and by maintaining a safe, secure workplace.  We regard the communities of northern New Mexico, the State and our neighbors as our partners in achieving our mission and vision.

Our teams combine multidisciplinary capabilities and diverse talent to tackle complex and technical challenges for our customers to ensure our national security.  We work without organizational boundaries and draw talent from throughout the organization.  Through teamwork, we foster excellence, interdependence and respect.
I saw the comments I expected to see for this article, and they made me wonder. Doesn't anybody remember how grateful we were to Pete Nanos for "saving" us after John Brown resigned? Has he changed, or have we? Are we three year olds having a temper tantrum because things didn't turn out like what we wanted them to?

More to the point, who'd take this job?

Think about it - the next to the last Lab Director was forced to resign, this one has gone from savior to scrapgoat in less than a year. Maybe he hasn't been perfect, maybe far from it, but maybe success in this job is impossible.

In any case, whoever takes on herding this particular group of cats (the TSM's, I mean) is likely to get replaced when the UC contract now in force expires in six months to a year. Do you want that job? And if you don't want it, why should someone else take it?

Dream on, kids. Nobody is coming to rescue you. This is strictly a do it yourself proposition.

In short, take some responsibility and grow up.
If the commentor of 10:50 pm will pardon my observing: taking responsibility is _exactly_ what we are doing here. This blog, and the (with certain exceptions) well-thought out and perceptive observations about Director Nanos and his SET are a primary reason that UC has initiated a search for a replacement director.

You're welcome.
Response to 9:42 post:
_ _I don't remember feeling that
Nanos was any savior at his
introduction. But I do remember
thinking what a class act John
Brown was as he stood on the
stage with PN and said "The buck
stops here".
_ _I didn't know who the hell Nanos
was. But I sure do now. Nanos
never took responsibility for any
of his screwups -- most notably
the shutdown of the Lab.
_ _Brown had his faults but he was
an honorable person, not an
incompetent sociopath like
G. Peter Nanos.
_ _Sociopath -- you could look it up.
---A former TSM (and glad to be out)
"Doesn't anybody remember how grateful we were to Pete Nanos for 'saving' us after John Brown resigned?"

Speak for yourself. My recollection was that nobody inside LANL was calling for John Browne's head; those calls were coming from certain members of Congress and the DOE, in response to the completely bogus, manufactured financial "scandal." John Browne was a bit of a disappointment for his lack of vision, but we could live with that for a while. In retrospect, it seems likely that the "financial scandal" -- the Mustang credit card purchase that didn't happen; the "$30 million worth of missing equipment" that was later located and inventoried, almost without exception, down the last antiquated, worthless, 1979-vintage computer that was still listed in the accounting as being "worth" $4000 ; the thefts by Bussolini and Alexander, felons who were quickly caught, fired and prosecuted, but still held up as examples of U.C.'s supposedly failing management -- all of that was a manufactured pretext to oust John Browne and open the way for the installment of Pete Nanos. Exactly why this was done and by whom remains to be revealed.

For my part, when Nanos showed up for work as deputy to Don Cobb, already accompanied by rumors that he was being groomed as the next director, warning flags began to go up. Could it really be possible that this military man, nearly devoid of scientific experience or accomplishment, was going to be our next director? For that matter, what relevant experience did he really have for the position of Deputy ADTR? Then came the rumors regarding misbehavior in both his professional and his private life: an unseemly dispute and lawsuit with a neighbor over a real estate deal and subsequent judgement against him; similarly unseemly disputes with local businesses; formal complaints being filed regarding harassment and verbal abuse; and accounts of his arrogant attitude in managers' meetings. All that before he was even named _acting_ director.

Then he became acting director, and his management style began to become apparent: loudly and publicly announce ideas and views sure to be popular; quietly and under cover take actions to ensure the opposite actually occurs. A prime example: Announce that he was going to simplify and streamline our safety system , make it more user-friendly and less paper-intensive (Yay!!!), then drop the bombshell of Integrated Work Management, with its requirement for paperwork (IWDs) on every single step of even the most trivial procedures, a doubling of signature requirements, and an overall loss of detail and safety utility as compared to the old Hazard Control Plans.

So anyone paying attention was wary of what the future might hold for us under Peter Nanos. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt; this place needed a good house cleaning and maybe this take-no-nonsense character might be the man to do it. But all those rumors of a violent temper, of an inability to take advice, of a knee-jerk punitive reaction to any dissent, and first-hand observation of the disturbing disconnect between his words and his actions -- these things were a source of unease long before the infamous July 2004 all-hands meeting.

So, no, we haven't changed. We have always been impatient with bad management. John Browne was benignly inept, and so many of us were frustrated. George Peter Nanos, on the other hand, is a disaster for LANL and a national disgrace, an incompetent and arrogant (that most dangerous combination), bullying and vindictive, deceptive, manipulative and fundamentally dishonest threat to national security who must be removed immediately, before he does any further damage.
Re: 1:01AM

Game. Set. Match.
It seems that every time there is a thread in which some harsh words are said about Nanos, this strange character posts his signature "let me try to confuse you" messages. The motive of these messages is pretty invariant: 1) deflect attention from Nanos, 2) talk about general impending doom at the lab ("the 'real world' is coming", "Nanos is just a 'change agent'", whatever else), 3) attempt to insult those posting comments to this website ("grow up kids", etc).

Having seen this pattern consistently over many recent threads, I'm starting to wonder: who is this person and what does he really want?

Is he one of the lab PR people? Perhaps, somebody from the senior management who stands to loose his position once Nanos is no longer Lab Director? Maybe somebody who in general dislikes his colleagues?

Or, perhaps, he's a genuine rarity, a museum piece: a Lab scientist who actually enjoyed the shutdown?? Remember that magic feeling: having to sit in your office instructed not to have any thoughts about your research? Without any food, given that the cafeteria is shut down? Having to explain to your collaborators from various Universities why you cannot talk to them about your common projects? Being afraid to speak in the hallway because somebody might report your "bad attutude" and your group will not be allowed to work for months?

Maybe we have here among ourselves somebody who actually enjoyed all this?? If not, what IS your real motivation? I'm lost, as I think many people here are.
Has it occurred to you that it might be GPN himself?

The serial bully website lists the character traits of the "socialized psychopath, or sociopath," the personality type that seems the best fit for our esteemed director.

One of those traits reads:
" is adept at creating conflict between those who would otherwise pool negative information about the sociopath"

That seems to be the motivation: to start little squabbles amongst the legitimate posters over what is an appropriate post and what isn't, in order to water down the discourse and effectively change the subject.

Just a thought. It probably isn't him, but it's fun to imagine that he might be tuning in to all this impassioned venting, sitting there at his computer muttering about missing strawberries.
Serial Bully? That website describes 3/4 of the middle managment I have to endure every day.
"Has it occurred to you that it might be GPN himself?"

Given the Director's evident level of computer savvy (calling his video clip the "Nanobyte," "Every Unix program has a back door, but Windows is 60% tested") I suspect the only way extracts of this blog reach him is if his executive assistant prints them out and leaves the results on his desk.
Regarding the identity of the "troll poster", I suspect that it is somebody who truly has something to lose if Nanos is replaced. Specifically, I suspect that it is Frank Marquez, who, coincidently, is the one who pulls Baghdad Bob & Comical Ali's strings.

He hasn't had much success in fostering conflict among the posters though, because he isn't very good at what he is trying to do. Which is another reason that I think it is Frank Marquez.
In fact, Nanos' secretary _does_ print his email for him to read each day.

Sott Adams, are you listening?
Reread the description of the "serial bully" (narcissistic sociopath) while comparing the described behavior with Bill Clinton's.

Scary, isn't it?
My observations about the mystery troll:

1. Anxious
The tenacity with which this person reposts things which are deleted by the moderator and restates points that have been shot down, combined with the mendacity of posting several formulaic "I agree with that" messages immediately after each piece suggests someone who is afraid of losing some significant things in the near future.

2. Ex-Military
The aggressive demeaning of other people indicates a leadership style that has fallen out of favor in every organization without a captive audience.

3. Low Social IQ
The combining of insulting and motivational content in the same message ("Go for it, you bunch o' weenies!") suggests someone who does not perceive how others will relate to his statements. The willingness to say extreme things that no one is likely to believe suggest a disinterest in the sincere opinions of others. Definitely cut from the same cloth as Nanos.

4. Uncreative or on a short leash
The inability to come up with an independent narrative comparable to Meyer's, Holian's or Kauppila's and heavy reliance on Nanos-like soundbites suggests someone not creative enough to come up with more than opportunistic calumnies. Slavishly loyal to Nanos.

5. Confabulatory
From innuendoes that Lab employees will have to work at Walmart to cleanse their resumes to insinuations that the whole country views us as buttheads, this person is making it up as he goes. This is probably not a scientist or someone used to dealing with data.
If the rest of the world perceives us as looking like buttheads and cowboys, it's a result of being presented that way by those who have permission to officially represent the Lab. I don't think the rest of the world understands the constraints placed on those who are employed at LANL. There are policies that ensure that individuals not authorized to do so do not speak for the Lab as a whole (which are not an unreasonable policies in themselves), conditions of having a clearance which obviously protect information which needs protected, and the unwritten or implied 'rules' which intimidate and relegate people into silence. Many wait with eager anticipation that perhaps a new day has dawned and those with a voice, PR or management, will speak the truth about the effort and diligence that most of the workforce applies to the mission here. For all the hopefulness and eager anticipation that the good work that is done to solve difficult problems and forge ahead in the frontiers of science is to be poorly represented even in front of Congress (listen to the hearing webcast at or read the print version which can be accessed from the same url) or publically lambasted by the highest-ranking manager as cowboys and buttheads. If the public learns something from this blog, I hope it is that often the characterization or information provided through official channels is not always consistent with all that is happening behind the scenes. If UC learns something from this blog, I hope it is that the workforce would appreciate and value a true leader and would likely rise to the call to work even harder and more diligently for a leader who is an astute manager with a solid background in science. I would like to think there's something positive and constructive that we, the concerned employees, learn but it's challenging to not learn how to be self-preserving in such circumstances and I'm open to suggestions for a more constructive outlook - even from those who perceive this a more whining.
Director Nanos has no clue WHATSOEVER about the most important contribution that Los Alamos National Laboratory makes to the United States when he claims that he could restart the Lab with ten people.

In fact, Nanos reminds me of a former High Official of the Laboratory (Steve Younger) who testified at Wen Ho Lee's trial that Wen Ho had compromised "the Crown Jewels" of Los Alamos, namely, the "Legacy Codes" (Fortran II spaghetti codes). What Younger failed to understand, and Nanos REALLY DOESN'T UNDERSTAND, is that the REAL crown jewels of the Laboratory are its bomb designers--the human side of the equation. These are the vanishing breed of people who have designed tests in Nevada and are the ones who have made the spaghetti codes run, that is, who know what the "knobs" really do.

The Radical Left would just LOVE to shut down the nuclear weapons work at Los Alamos; the Radical Right would just LOVE to shut down basic scientific research at Los Alamos; if you take away nuclear weapons research AND basic science at Los Alamos, you will destroy whatever good the Lab could ever do for the Nation. -This would NOT be a good idea, in my estimation.

If UC and DOE, that is, President Dynes and Secretary Bodman, do not recognize this fact and do not remove Director Nanos from his position (or force him to resign), then the consequences for national security may well be very dire.

I submit this, most respectfully, to my colleagues at LANL and to my fellow American citizens,

-Brad Lee Holian
Dear Sigmund:

Inmates now running asylum. Experiment in self-expression and self-empowerment has gone wrong. Posts now nasty. Like what they rise up against. Unfavorable opinions now met with lynch-mob mentality. Ring Master censors ideas not fitting current line. Efforts employed to find identities of those who don’t agree. Suspicion alone adequate rationale for reprisal. Elitism the order of the day. Anger abundant. Reason relinquished. Mob has become what it fears. No hope left.
Dear Agent Provocateur:

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It really doesn't matter how you feel. When Bechtel gets here a lot of dead wood PhD's will become unemployed. Can't wait!
Sounds like LANL management is helping pave the way for Bechtel by cutting down on the TSMs with PhDs. Should make the previous post author happy.

According to LANL demographic data, of the 343 Regular UC New Hires this FY, 56 were TSMs (16%). Currently, there are 3898 TSMs out of 8445 UC Regular Employees (46%).

Degreewise, of the 343 Regular UC New Hires, 10 had PhDs (3%) and 210 had NO Degree (61%) as their highest degree. Currently, the Lab has 1868 PhDs (22%) and 2258 NO Degree (27%) as the highest degree among UC Regular Employees.

Sounds like a sneak preview of the LANL of the future. Hire about 20 NO Degree people for every PhD.

Would not surprise anyone I think to see the PhD population eventually work itself down to below 10% of the LANL UC Regular workforce with the help of a Bechtel, say. Getting rid of those "dead wood" PhDs should help this come about.

Likewise, an increase in the NO Degree portion of the LANL UC Regular workforce to about 40-50% would be about right for the LANL of the future.

Certainly, the goal of having over 50% of the workforce with NO Degree where "The World's Greatest Science Protecting America" takes place seems both worthwhile and achievable. In fact, let me challenge LANL to get it up to 60%.
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