Wednesday, March 30, 2005

We have entered the end-game here at LANL

From Anomymous:

One now begins to get the sense that we have entered the end-game here at LANL. The present Director, George P. Nanos, has sufficiently alienated the majority of his staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory that his ability to be a leader is generally recognized to have diminished to nil. Similarly, his masters at the University of California can only be wishing to see his backside rapidly retreating, what with the $5.8 million dollar penalty Nanos earned them as a result of his hasty and ill thought-out decision to shut the entire laboratory down last July. On a third front, Director Nanos has a congressional committee pressuring him to produce accurate cost estimates of the shutdown.

The waiting game is on. Will an interim director be appointed as an attempt to reduce the exodus of talent and expertise now leaving LANL for more amenable work environments? If so, when? This interim director will need to be quite a salesman. His task will be to try to hold LANL together long enough for the the winner of the new contract to operate LANL to have enough of a staff base remaining to justify keeping the place open. He will need to be able to convince the scientists that still remain that LANL has a future; that it will once again become a good place to work; an institution in which one could again take pride.

There is not much time left before the flood gates open wide, and the mass exodus begins. The departure rate seen to date is a trickle compared to what we will see if UC tries to stay the course with its current choice for LANL director.

I see that John Birely, whose UC job involves taking care of the university's interactions with labs (and whom I respect greatly), is giving a talk to ISR division on contract issues. Could someone report on that here, please? John is one of the people who has been rumored as a stand-in if/when the blank-blank Admiral gets sacked as this "endgame" scenario unfolds. PLEASE, John, tell us that it's so ... Of course you can't in that division setting, but please do anyway ...
Sadly I dont think that Nanos leaving will be anything more than whitewashing. The WHO song comes to mind about out with the old and in with the new.

Congress will expect that the next guy will need to be as 'tough with the unruly scientists' as the last guy. Acceptable losses for LANL are in the 20-30% range if it cuts down the bad press afterwords as it can be painted that the crappers left when the hammer fell.

Some guy with classified material will want to tweak the noses of the new bosses, and we will be back in the same boat again. The next guy might not even get the chance to unpack a box of books before the place is Federalized and UC is banned.

So just remember its the bottom of the ninth, 2 outs and 2 strikes.. and we are behind.. and even if the coach is fired.. that isnt going to change the score. [Not saying it shouldnt happen... just that it wont fix anything other than a lot of people will post about how happy they are right before they retire.]
Having a new director who's willing to contradict the thunderous cataract of nonsense coming from Congress and DOE might be sufficient to change enough minds to stop the unraveling of LANL.

If people can see that there is once again a connection between their efforts and outcomes, rather than the arbitrary attacks we've experienced recently, it might go a long way to remedying the cynicism that is etching away at the Lab.

Down with politics! Results matter!
To 10:32PM:
This is not a game. This is about the survival of our Nation. Besides, in a game there are rules. Our Director does not recognize rules. He never has. However if we buy the game analogy, the Director should have been canned in spring practice when he dismissed the team's star players who might have had the stature, chutzpah and knowledge of the history of this institution necessary to defend its standing.

Pennant races are determined before the regular season begins.
"Pennant races are determined before the regular season begins." Nah, and one need look no further than last year's real live baseball for a compelling counterexample. Any Astros fans among us?

It is NOT too late to save this team's season -- where "season" means both the careers of our employees, and our service to the nation. Start by firing the manager (Nanos) and you'll be amazed at how rapidly the team rallies.
What most people at LANL are only starting to understand is that it is that the LANL contract, now at 100 million management fee is a big political plum and all those Congressmen are fighting to see who gets it -- and UC is not a contributor to any political races.
Nanos has nothing to do with this. Not that I like him, but I don't think we can stop the political take-over by private industry in this Administration. Let's face it. The current administration is far more interested in business than in science and that is what they will support.
LANL employees should be hoping that Halliburton doesn't get it.
See today that LockMart is going to bid. Having been thru the 10+ yrs at Sandia w/LockMart, I know what's going to happen to you. When I get a few spare minutes in the next few days, I'll write a little summary.
See today that LockMart is going to bid. Having been thru the 10+ yrs at Sandia w/LockMart, I know what's going to happen to you. When I get a few spare minutes in the next few days, I'll write a little summary.
John Birely, John very careful of what you wish for.

This is why this blog should be concentrating on figuring out what to do and how to do it instead of just whining. "The first priority is getting rid of Nanos." Ah yes, very nice, but who will replace him? And what will you do besides whine when that person is the same or worse?

One who has worked with him...
John Birely: not a horrible choice for INTERIM Director.

Sig Hecker: a better choice, highly respected, and for sure only an INTERIM Director.

Bottom line: getting an INTERIM Director will be a victory for the staff and workers at LANL. Let the winner (UC+Bechtel, LockMart,...) pick the REAL Director. Then we can worry about him; but for now, let's get rid of Nanos and get an INTERIM Director--any INTERIM Director.
Sig Hecker - you got to be kidding! If his directors didn't agree with him, it was to the gulag. Sig got his management style from Joe Stalin. Look at the leagcy sig will leave - he is off to Russia and korea working by himself. He does not want to pass on anything to the next gereation. Sig is good, but he is not great. He could have been great. His legacy will be a few awards and a tombstone - no mentoring, no one to take over what he has started.
Someone should nominate Doug Roberts for DISTINGUISHED PERFORMANCE AWARD for starting this blog. Doug took some personal and professional risk for all of our good.

Way to go Doug !!!
Boy, you are really scraping the bottom of the barrel with John and Sig, both failed managers... Remember Sig's famous "flat land" approach to management? That set LANL back about 3 years. Brown finally essentially rebuilt the old Senior Management Group, which Sig destroyed. A commentary on Sig's worth, is that he is still at LANL; not marketable in the real world.
Comparing the ex Directors of LANL and LLNL is revealing. Those from LLNL go on to head UCSD and Caltech, and take up high posts in DOD research. Those from LANL mostly hang around the Lab. This is a useful commentary on the merits of the two labs. LLNL always considered LANL second rate, in nuclear weapons, and in management. As far as I know, they still do...
"Boy, you are really scraping the bottom of the barrel with John and Sig, both failed managers..."
I have worked with and for Sig for most of my career at Los Alamos. I have nothing but the greatest respect for the man. That doesn't mean that I agree technically or administratively with everything he has done. But I would never question his motives or his integrity. I firmly believe that LANL was the better for his years of dedication to serving as Director. To characterize his still being at Los Alamos because he is "not marketable in the real world" is both unfair and rediculous. Sig's greatest love is science, and he is doing that quite well. He only stayed on as Director, way past his original desires, because he felt that was best for LANL. Whether or not he would be a good choice for the interim Director is rather mute. Why would anyone in their right mind put themselves in such a place. Sig is dedicated to LANL, but he is not a fool.
Just my opinion.

That word apparently vanished on some web browsers at or below the level of Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Another nominee for INTERIM Director is: Doug Roberts. (He might laugh, but those of us who see The Blog as a lifeline, know a lifeguard when we've just gone under for the second time.)
Since Lockheed-Martin is considered a heavy favorite, and may team with UC- Please write about their business model.
What worked well?
What did not?
How were their relations with employees? fair or vindictive?
What kind of overhead do they extract from program funds?
What will they do if safety or security mistakes happen? i.e. "heads will roll' or 'the buck stops here'.
Bottom line: is L-M a good contractor or are we likely going from bad to worse.
When will this blog focus on reality? The world is judging a LANL that pre-dated Nanos but the employees seem to enjoy the red herring. They have conveniently forgotten the past record of failures. Face I t- LANL is known as the DeLorean of big science. Take, for example, the giant TVA generator that was dragged up the hill at great cost to be hidden in a defunct laser building. Much was made of the cost to strengthen bridges and roads for the transport of a huge piece of machinery for an important experiment. What happened to that experiment? How about all those idiotic beams and lasers that had no legitimacy? Where are the refereed scientific papers? How about a few lessons-learned? Complaining about a director who has been put in place to correct a habit of bad big science ignores your past. Why doesn’t someone speak out about all the improper programs that led to fine salaries? I know.
The end game may be accellerating - I got a phone call today from a headhunter working for Lockheed-Martin soliciting my resume and wanting to setup a phone interview. Looks like they're starting to move in.

I worked for LM briefly nearly 20 years ago and thought they were fairly well managed and tried to take care of their people, but the company is so big that there's no way to extrapolate that experience to anything meaningful. It all flows down from the local manager at the top.
9.54 thinks that "Flatland" was a bad idea. I was a junior manager before, during and after Flatland.

Before - nothing ever got done. The AD's were bogged down with a myriad of issues and could never prioritize them.

During - if I needed something, I asked the manager above me and he either said yes or no, and that was it - I could actually get things done. What a novel concept!

When John Browne tasked Pete Miller to start putting together an new level of AD's I went to talk to Pete, and asked him if he'd already forgotten about how bad things were when all the AD's formed one big inertial mass. His answer - "Oh no, now well select empowered AD's". Yes, sure, Pete... And sure enough inertia set in again.
I (the author of the 8:02 comment) have dealt extensively with both John Birely and Sig Hecker, and while I like both of them and have valued them as colleagues, I don't consider either to be an ideal long-term director. Nor do I believe that all of the issues before us will be resolved with a change in directors, or contractors, or staff, or any other single step. Our situation is too complicated for any simple fix.

But you gotta start somewhere. In my opinion, replacing Nanos with either Hecker or Birely (my preference) on an interim basis would accomplish three highly valuable things. First, it would get the message across that UC and NNSA have been listening and watching. We need that. Second, it would allow some critical re-examination, at the highest levels of the lab, of the true state of the place, by people who've been around long enough to be able to take the long view. One thing that has contributed to Nanos' blunders is that he has never seen the lab when it is working "right." Remember, he got here soon after the fire and the hard-drive fiasco, and things have been pretty regularly screwed up ever since. But Birely and Hecker have enough of a history with us to know that there is an alternative that doesn't involve destroying the village in order to save it.

Finally, most importantly, and a consequence of the other two, having John or Sig as an interim would give us someone to rally around. A new leader doesn't have to be perfect, or ideal, to provide a rallying point for disaffected staff; (s)he just has to be better than the old one. Yes, there would be people who'd point to the inadequacies that John or Sig exhibited in their leadership roles in the lab of old. But more would sing "ding-dong the wicked witch is dead" and cut them a break while we pitch in and try to put things back together. We need that desperately, urgently, overpoweringly.

I still believe that the overwhelming majority of staff at the lab remain deeply committed to serving the country and the laboratory, and I think we'll take any reasonable opportunity to try to make things better. We now have a director who has no interest in working with us for that goal unless it is on his own misguided, self-promoting terms. Give us someone we CAN rally around, and we WILL rally around them, even if they have some rough edges.

Long, sorry, but I feel extremely strongly about this.
I think that General Annette Sobel would make a fine interim director. A) She's coming off a tour of duty as New Mexico's Homeland Security Chief. B) She currently works at Sandia National Laboratories and fully understands the "national lab process". C) She's mild mannered and has a way of motivating you that's in sync with our science community. D)She's a general. How's that for chill bumps, huh?

She's a General.

Ring any bells? I, for one, have had my fill of military "leaders" at LANL. Maybe 10 years from now I'd be willing to try another, but I doubt it.
I believe high level military officers should be statutorily barred from being directors of national laboratories. No admirals, no generals.

The military high command mindset is fundamentally incompatible with the scientific mindset. General Groves recognized this, which is why he brought in Oppenheimer to lead the Manhattan Project, and deferred to him on all matters remotely scientific.

The military commander is trained to expect unquestioning obediance from all subordinates. The scientist is trained to question everything.

A general or admiral will expect the response to his command of "jump!" to be "How high, sir?"

A good scientist might respond, not with "how high?", but with "Sir, we've been studying the effects of jumping in the current situation for several years now. We have found that jumping in these circumstances invariably has deleterious consequences, and is an extremely bad idea. This conclusion is based on exhaustive studies by me and my colleagues, who happen to be the world's leading authorities on the consequences of jumping. I strongly recommend that none of us jump at this point."

Despite the fact that this highly trained scientist is being paid precisely for the purpose of providing this kind of expert assessmment and advice, the typcial general or admiral would promptly label this scientist an "arrogant cowboy butthead," and proceed to inflict punishment for insubordination.
To the 8:43 am poster who offered to provide a short summary about life at Sandia under LockMart, please do! I would be most interested in hearing what you have to say, as I'm sure many here would.

If there are other readers of this blog who work for Sandia or some other LockMart organization and could contribute comments -- good or bad -- this information could be enormously valuable to us as we begin to make our decisions whether to stay or bail. Thanks!
how about homer simpson. he has many years at the springfield nuclear plant. bart could run the admininistration side since marquez hasn't done anything but brag about his growing up hispanic.

A hispanic tsm
Can you please explain what "growing up Hispanic" means exactly.

I cannot imagine "bragging" about how I grew up.

A non-Hispanic TSM.
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