Monday, April 18, 2005

As a former LANL TSM who moved to Sandia

From Anonymous:

As a former LANL TSM who moved to Sandia a few years ago, I want to
share my perspective on the big difference between life at LANL and
life at Sandia. The biggest difference - drum roll - is how much
easier it is to get work done at Sandia. The business systems are
astoundingly efficient; they're designed to enable me to focus on
research - which is what I'm paid to do - and not bureaucratic red
tape. Travel is a great example: the first time I arranged a foreign
trip, my manager approved the travel and I submitted an itinerary on
the Lockheed Martin travel system. That was about 5:15 in the
afternoon. The very next morning, the Sandia travel clinic called me
to schedule an appointment for recommended vaccinations and to discuss
travel health matters. Not only was I able to get all the shots at
work, but the nurses provided me with a small emergency medical kit in
case I got sick, explained Sandia's emergency travel health insurance
policy and gave me a list of phone numbers for emergency situations,
and even had pointers on dealing with the healthcare system in the
country I'd be visiting. A couple of days later, one of Sandia's
Counterintelligence officer came by my office and gave me a short
briefing on the interactions I'd be having with the foreign nationals I
was working with. Meanwhile, the SNL travel staff took care of all the
DOE and State Dept. paperwork and notified me electronically when the
approvals and country cables had arrived. I even got my very own
Sandia corporate travel card, so I wouldn't have to put any work
expenses on my own personal accounts. And when I returned, I filed my
trip report and expense reports electronically - no paper at all - and
got my reimbursement a few hours later, right in my bank account.
I've experienced the same efficiency in procurement and computer
support as well. I hope LANL gets similar systems, someday, because -
well, wow, I know how much they're needed.

Welcome to the Private Sector of doing Business. Having work for LANL the last 3 years and 25 years in the private scetor has been night and day.

LANL is a complete nightmare. Most workers don't work and get away with it and this is why you have a broke down system. There is a culture problem in Los Alamos aright!!!!! Think about it!
There may be people at LANL who don't work. I have known some. But to say most workers don't work is an absolute outrage. I come from a two LANL worker family and both of us have spent a significant number of hours at night and on weekends at work without any extra remuneration whatsoever. There have even been some allnighters. And on those weekends there have been co-workers doing the same. To have this individual claim that most LANL workers don't work shows how little he or she knows about LANL.
As for efficiency, that would be nice. I agree that LANL is broken, but why do LANL employees have to give so many benefits to gain efficency? Isn't efficiency supposed to make the company more money?
I know, I know, it is all about the sacred market. Slavery is even cheaper than paying employees. When will that start?
I'm curious to know just when you received DOE approval for your foreign travel. It is customary for DOE to withhold foreign travel approvals for LANL employees until the day before one is supposed to leave. Several people I know have been notified of DOE's approval while driving to the airport! I just wondering if this is how DOE treats Los Alamos, or if it treats all contractors the same way.
A comment about DOE policy on approving LANL foreign trips when the individual is on the way to the airport. As a retired DOE employee who was responsible for, amoung other things, approving foreign travel, I can tell you that is not accurate. The problem is that LANL was typically late in getting the request package to DOE, SNL was rarely late! That is the primary reason for delayed approval. DOE requests 30 days approval time but can make it happen in less time if it is an emergency. Typically LANL provided the documentation less then 5 days before the trip, SNL almost always provided the documentation on the 30 day time. By the way my compliments to Doug for providing this blog - it is truly informative and helpful to those who may consider offering a proposal to operate the LANL.
A response to 7:54 AM - I'm the person who posted the comment to the blog, and if you read my post carefully, I never said that people at LANL "don't work." I don't know where you got that. What I said is that it's much easier for me to get my research DONE at Sandia because I'm not spending hours filling out expense reports, so I'm more productive in the areas that really matter to my customers and my career. You need to read postings more carefully before you react so viscerally.
This post confirms what I've come to believe about LANL -- that the highly
expensive "support" that we pay for is largely ineffective and broken. At
other labs the staff actually get the support they pay for, and I'll bet
they even do it with far fewer "support" people and at lower cost. Maybe
some good can come from the RFP in this particular area.
As one who worked most of my career, before retirement, in the private sector and worked for LANL twice before retirement, the Sandia perspectives are totally on point. I always found the LANL travel system bizarre and inefficient, the secretarial support inadequate and meeting discipline sadly lacking. Many meetings were held without an agenda and no minutes circulated, simply called by someone who was justifying their position. As a fan of Townsend's "Up the Organization" I was offended by this abuse of my time, but my complaints were ignored. Friends from Sandia had a much better situation.
I came to feel that LANL had, and has, no bottom line. In private industry I worked for some real stinkers, but they were removed, over time, because they cost the company money. My opinions were listened to, mostly, even when critical of management, because they saved the company money.
At LANL it seemed that, where I worked, alibis were worth more than performance. It didn't matter if a manager failed to meet the deadlines, if a proper excuse was provided. Losing a valuable TSM off a project could be such an excuse. So, if your project is not doing well, arrange an excuse (losing a key TSM for instance); and the other managers will sympathize and use the same tactics themselves. The result is a profound lack of accountability in LANL management, and a great deal of frustration by agencies dependent on LANL contributions, including the DOE. If LANL were a business, they would be out of business.
The many LANL stand downs since 1992 should have resulted in a lot of fired management. They didn't. So, the problems continued. It is time for this to end; and for the bottom line to come to LANL. Sandia seems to understand this, UC clearly does not.
LANL is unable to disipline or fire non-performers because of it's "Tenure" policy. Remember Walp and Doran? They were "Probationary Employees" and could be fired for UC's convenience - they didn't have tenure.

One of the things a new (industrial) contractor will bring to the organization is real accountability - NOT Nanos "Accountability" which is a personal vendetta.

I've worked in DOD, DOE, commercial and Mom and Pop shops. In the real world Nanos would have been offered his resignation two weeks after the July shutdown when it became clear that it was groundless and a national embarassment.
Regarding 4/18/2005 09:02:49 AM's comment on DOE taking 30 days to approve foreign travel, that seems to me to be a large part of our overall efficiency problem. Why does DOE need 30 days to approve travel?
No one at LANL, that I have ever met, would argue that LANL is efficient in the area of foreign travel. It has been a big mess for years, primarily because those who manage it were incredibly bad managers. They failed to reward the experienced people who understood how the foreign travel department worked, so those women went elsewhere within the lab. Then the managers hired a woman who was, lets say incompetent, because she talked a good line. They lost years of experience because of their stinginess. They also lost an expensive custom computer program because the new incompetent travel person didn't understand how it worked and had a new travel program written to her own specification even though she didn't really understand the process herself. Needless to say the new program was a nightmare.
Would industry do better than this? Very likely.
On the other hand, why do employees have to give up their benefits to get a more efficient foreign travel system? None of you pro-business types have come up with an answer to that one. Are employees expected to personally pay for a system that actually works? Seems to be the case. And this with a huge raise in the performance fee. This makes only one kind of sense -- a kickback to a big company that made a big contribution to the political campaigns of several current incumbents. You know the names.
>>LANL is a complete nightmare. Most workers don't work and get away with it and this is why you have a broke down system. There is a culture problem in Los Alamos aright!!!!! Think about it!<<
This comment came from the person who commented to the original post at 16:50 AM. I am the person who posted immediately after that comment. Perhaps I should have been more specific about who I was answering, but I read quite carefully.
I can tell you that most people I know at LANL put in way more than 40 hours a week at work. Admittedly not all. A good manager would get rid of the ones who don't. Unfortunately, most of those who don't work at LANL are quite happy to break rules, if not laws, to help management cover up its dirt.
A profit driven system may or may not rid us of such non-working employees. I have seen private firms commit all kinds of attrocities to cover up safety and security problems, I am sorry to say.
5:36pm wrote: "why do employees have to give up their benefits to get a more efficient foreign travel system? None of you pro-business types have come up with an answer to that one."

I think it's an overstatement to say we're "giving up" our benefits. I suspect they'll be different, but so far nothing I've read indicates we'll be giving them up.

When I think about it, I'm on the secondary scale of 'benefits,' where I get much less vacation than earlier employees, and I get less sick leave, forever, than earlier employees. My net vacation doesn't change until after 15 years of service, because of the rediculous, grossly punitive vacation-for-holiday-vacation-grant trade. My sick leave never changes, and as another poster has pointed out, after decades of service, means earlier employees may have a lot more accrued time-in-service than I would all else being equal.

So, even under UC, we're seeing shrinking benefits. This is going to continue even if a giant miracle occurrs and UC wins the contract again...the RFP is ensuring change.

My main point, however, is it is not to get an efficient foreign travel system. It is to get a competently managed Laboratory.

The foreign travel system, as described, is but one of countless symptoms of the complete lack of competent management, especially in business operations.

The 'pro-business' people have pointed out in the blog many times that it is clear that LANL management (I wouldn't say UC, because so far as I've been able to see in 15 years, UC has really had little to do with managing LANL...and after seeing them try their hand at getting involved in the last 2 years, I'm really glad they hadn't started sooner) does not care, and has had little incentive to care, about efficient business systems now or in the past.

LANL's approach appears to have simply been to jack up the overhead rates to pay for our Rube Goldberg business systems and Groups, and our ever-increasing non-value-added paperwork, STOP training (aptly named), IWD's, stand-downs, stand-ups, work-authorization packages, ad nauseum. When there's no incentive to minimize overhead, as with an ever expanding overhead tax capability, overhead grows and grows like it's in the Little Shop of Horrors.

Private firms are profit-motivated. Profits are derived from delivering the products and services the customer our case, scientific research, stockpile stewardship achievements, and programmatic hardware.

What doesn't contribute to profits are slow, complex, business, safety and security systems with byzantine bureaucratic rules mired in the 60's paper-based society, ever-expanding overhead costs, emotionally hot-headed, irrational managers making decisions without facts, and dispondent, unmotivated, unproductive, angry employees. All these we have now.

Even though I'm sure a new contractor will bring changes that will upset me and require real adaptation, I'm ready. UC has done worse, and I see UC as having no motive, now or after winning a contract, to do better.

I want to work at a can-do place, that is efficient, safe, secure and modern, run by pros who know that what motivates employees is getting the customers' jobs done.

Spending months writing IWD's is not an 'accomplishment' as our Director lamely praised us for...our customer did not want IWDs, the customer wanted Neutron Tube Targets (now to be Sandia's job--surprise!), Stockpile Stewardship, research, development, science.

We charged these programs for writing IWDs, but we didn't work on the programs deliverables, we worked on IWDs, further wrapping ourselves in paper instead of real safety and real security.

Motivation is what a new contractor will bring. Motivation is what business is all about.
A comment on the 5:09 post. LANL managers can be removed at any time, at the convenience of their superiors. This is LANL policy since 1993. However, they can't be terminated without cause, except in a RIF action. And, until very recently, their salary could not be reduced when they were removed from a management post. Nanos, to his credit, eliminated that policy.
As to terminating LANL employees for non performance, policy clearly allows for this. The problem is that LANL managers don't use the performance planning and appraisal system in any adequate way. They are just too damned lazy, or perhaps too overloaded, to assign (and document) "real" goals and "real deadlines". Without a rigorous system of performance planning and evaluation, anyone whose boss tried to assign "real" measures felt they were being targeted, and they were. The result of all this management incompetence in appraising performance is that managers liked RIFs, where they could push people out the door for "budgetary reasons". And, they would "create" budget problems to target people for removal. A real bag of dirty tricks. Totally dysfunctional.
Unlike LANL, which always claimed "you can't manage real science", ATT and Bell Labs did exactly that, and of course they ran Sandia. Science, like any other activity can be managed creatively and constructively.
UCOP, by the way, has no history of managing science and it shows. The campuses struggle constantly, and creatively, agains the arrogant UCOP bureaucracy.
Speaking (unofficially) as a DOE guy, I want to reply to 05:21:18 PM. DOE does not require 30 days to approve travel as is evidenced by the statements from Sandia. Having worked with many of the labs, I can tell you that LANL always seems to pick the hardest way to do something. If all the other national labs are able to use the same regs and guidelines to get things done, why is it DOE's fault that LANL can not?
Foreign travel could and should be approved in 24 hours (do people still think it is 1937?) and yes DOE did require 30 days plus a ridiculous set of forms that had to filled out "just so" or they would be returned unprocessed. I know from planning a year's foreign travel to a manufacturing vendor in Europe. We had to be able to travel on short notice and the only way to do it "within the system" was to schedule enough trips to blanket the year and cancel the ones we didn't use. DOE couldn't run a laundromat well; that why they require contractors.
As a LANL TSM who generally finds DOE people to be obstructionist to doing the work they assign us, I am nevertheless compelled to agree with 4/18/2005 07:59:24 PM's post. LANL *does* seem to find the hardest way to comply with DOE requirements. I believe that this is a symptom of some sort of empire building exercises within the LANL bureaucracy. I'm hoping that LM can clean house, and convince the support orgs to actually provide support. (Suggestion: allow for customer feedback, and then tie their raises to customer satisfaction.)

wrt The Foreign Travel Issue, I have taken foreign travel, and it seems to be hit-or-miss with the LANL foreign travel people. For one trip, I *did* submit my travel paperwork within *40* days of my travel, and received approval less than 24 hours prior to departure. I found out later that the DOE guy sponsoring the trip had approved my paperwork *2 weeks* prior to my departure (he showed me the paperwork to prove it). For reasons still unknown, the LANL foreign travel office had chosen to hold on to the approval until the day before I was to depart.

Clearly something is not working in that part of the LANL bureaucracy. I submit the same statement is true of other parts, since I was never paid a visit (or offered an appt) by the HSR-2 (medical) people, nor was I offered advice by ISEC (internal security/counterintel people). I doubt that after 2002 anybody doing real work would ever be issued a "corporate" purchase card at LANL again.

After I returned, I did receive an email message telling me that my "Export Control Training" had expired while I was away.

The only way I could laugh about this would be if my boss actually had pointy hair, and I worked with an engineer named Alice.
To 6:41 -

My LANL manager flat-out refused to give me a performance appraisal for several years in a row. When I specifically demanded it from him, he asked me to write my own performance appraisal, then he wrote a two-line comment on top of it that had nothing to do with what I'd written. It boiled down to laziness on his part. It is pretty incredible how raises at LANL have nothing to do with performance. Hopefully Lockmart will do away with this broken system.
I take real exception to the blasting of the foreign travel office. They do not "hold" on to trips until the last minute. Yeah, the DOE program manager may have approved a travel request before they even received it but they (DOE) still won't enter an approval into the system until the cable is granted. And that is usually after the travel team has sent numerous emails and made numerous phone calls to remind them (DOE) that the trip is still waiting for approvals. The LANL foreign travel team processes each travel request to DOE 24-48 hours after they receive the request. They get approximatly 20-25 requests a day. LANL receives almost 4 times as many trip requests as SNL and it has the best compliance record for accuracy than any other DOE sponsored site in the country. And they do it with less people. If you have a problem with the travel system find out when your secretary entered your information and if she entered it in time did she do it correctly? Almost every request that is received has been submitted with errors which cause additional delays. Delays are also in the line management approvals. The travel team can't send a trip to DOE until it has been approved by the travelers line management sometimes this can take up to a week to get.
What I am really impressed with the Sandia system is all the extra things LockMart travel systems did: the travel clinic, the shots, the CI briefing, etc. At LANL you'll have to go around and do all these yourself; there is no integrated system that responds to one's needs.

I agree that LANL does things the hardest possible ways. I've been trying to order a computer. The right thing to do would be if I call my sys admin and he'd take care of it. But no, he couldn't do the actual purchasing and it had to come back to my group office, who also couldn't do it and must do a PR. The PR was submitted 8 weeks ago and I have yet to see the computer. LANL is certainly still operating under the "den of thieves" assumption!

And of course we can't ever fire anyone either. I had a TSM on my team whose total contribution for the entire year to the team was 4 lines of code -- 4 lines of calls to library routines, that anyone else on the team could have hacked together in an hour. I tried to get this person put on PAT but the GL obviously did not want to go through the trouble. If LockMart could clear the underbrush and get rid of such deadwoods who see their jobs as entitlements, more power to it!
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