Saturday, April 30, 2005

Corporate carcinoma

From Anonymous:

The effects of a massive retirements are compounding. First, the institution loses a significant fraction of its total corporate knowledge. Say that 2,000 people leave with 25 years of experience, 50,000 person years represent a lot of experience walking out the door. Included in that number will be almost everyone who has felt the ground heave under their feet following a nuclear weapon explosion underground. Second, because of the time required to get employees vetted for their security clearances (now running up to two years in some cases but averaging over a year) the organization has no way of transferring that corporate knowledge to the next generation of employees. These employees will have to live on overhead or do meaningless work for that period. Third, the current policy advocated and implemented by Director Nanos will prevent retirees from being called back to work at the Laboratory to mentor and accomplish or close-out critical work. This process is sometimes called "corporate carcinoma" because productive cells leave faster that they can be replaced and remaining cells feed on resources without being productive enoungh to provide a net positive influence on the survival of the organism. This disease is sometimes caused by excessive draining of swamps.

Not only are the people walking out the door a loss in themselves, but much classified and unclassified material about the nuclear weapons program was never written down. Teams of young people are now combing through archives trying to find what was done and why it was done that way in the weapons program. Many of the people who wrote it down are already gone. The ones fifty-five and up can remember some of this stuff or where the answers might lie, but DOE has never been willing to spend much money on archiving old materials relating to the stockpile.
Nor is the only thing that is undocumented. There are few drawings of the buildings and where the electrical, gas, water and sewage lines are. From time to time a contractor or a most unlucky trades worker, drills or digs into one of these. One would think LANL would be hanging on for dear life to those who still remember all this stuff until they get it written down. Instead, LANL and DOE are busy vilifying and driving away the corporate memory. Plenty of these people are retiring not because they want to but because they would lose too much financially by staying.
Gee what foresight!
At Winds of Change we have been talking about the loss of some systems engineering experience and skills.

What should those over 50 in aerospace programs be doing to document and pass along what they know?
Go ahead and leave. There are people standing in line to take your place. All we law abiding American citizens ask, is that you please not jeopardize our national security. Have a nice day :-)

DB Cooper
If DB Cooper only knew the comparison of knowledge and experience between those walking out the door and those "standing in line". Apparently, ol' DB did, indeed, lose his parachute and received a nasty blow on the head.
DBC: The next time you jump use your parachute and not your knapsack.
DC Cooper

The problem is that there is no
one standing in line to come in. Physics
is ging out less than 50% of the
Ph.ds to US nationals. Additionly
because of how bad LANL is the
better people will simply not
be comming. Also Universties are doing
lot more hiring now due to the large
waves of old profs retirements. So
there will be even less people to come
to LANL.
The people just are not
there. There just are no replacments.
Sorry. Have a nice day.
Please, please, please get over yourselves. You give new meaning to self importance and arrogance. There is no one at LANL that can not be replaced. Period! Now it is your turn to elaborate on how important you are. I’m waiting!!
8:48 poster

Please tell me who is going to replace us?
Where are they? Who are they? Come on
name some names. Where are they comming
from? Do you know what you are talking
about? I sure do. People at universities
are now having a hard time getting postdocs
because there are so few. Who on earth
is going to come to LANL? Please let
me know. I was at meeting with 5000
people with Ph.ds in physics. They will
not be comming. Sorry. About the extra
100 postdocs. Not gonna happen. Well
of course you could hire racoons or
something but somtimes zero is better
than finite number if you catch my drift

It is time to start living in the world
of facts baby. It is a free market.
They are the cause but we shall be the
I agree with the other "anonymous" posts. As a leader who makes decisions about budgets for bureaucratic money holes (valuable or not), I know what I would do about LANL. First, evaluate if Dr. Nanos is really the "scum-bag idiot" this Blog claims. (Which I highly doubt, and suspect most of you are a bunch of overpaid self-righteous prima donnas that don't like being made to get shipshape.) Nonetheless, if he is a scum-bag idiot, then the whole place needs to be closed and the research funding need to be transferred elsewhere. If he is NOT a "scum-bag idiot" then I would still be inclined to close the place unless he gets you losers under control and fires a large segment of the belly-aching geeks who presume themselve to be irreplaceable.

What you highly educated bunch of morons fail to realize is that we have heard the "irreplaceable" baloney on a hundred other occasions. Furthermore, everytime without fail we have found that when we can your lazy self-righteous asses, what we lose is more than replaced by individuals with drive, desire, hunger for achievement, and an ability to work as a team rather than a bunch of spoiled brat individuals.

When you losers send out your resumes, there is one CTO out there that wouldn't make a hire from LANL unless Albert Einstein or Dr. Nanos personally showed up to recommend you.
Have we got a deal for you, 10:12: It just happens to turn out that Dr. Nanos is available. You can have him for a song. I'm sure you and he will be very happy together.
4/30/2005 10:12:31 PM is right.

Even if you ---the technical research people--- "win" and get rid of Dr. Nanos, it is not like you will be better off. Politicians and bureaucrats don't work that way. It is not like you will get to choose your own boss. They ---the politicians and bureaucrats--- will either send in a reformer, likely to be worse than Nanos, or they will just quitely cut your funding and begin to "reassign" and "transfer" critical functions to other labs.
You might win the battle but will lose the war. It is a crying shame that the people with the real brains never realize that the chessboard is bigger than the eight squares immediately around them.
10:34 -- You seem to be suggesting that we at LANL should have just quietly put up with Nanos and his abusive, destructive behavior. You clearly don't work here, because if you did you would have realized that this simply was not an option.
As a Navy veteran, I can tell you that a person who achieved Vice Admiral is NOT person who would ever legitimately be considered abusive or destructive.

This situation really does sound like belly-aching civilians that screwed-up one too many times and now cannot bear that someone is enforcing alittle of the necessary discipline required to safely and securely do the business at of a National Lab..

Add me to the list of those who do not sympathize with the "fire Nanos" crowd.
10:53 is clearly a person who has never stepped foot on LANL property, much less had the pleasure of being abused by that petty tyrant, Nanos. You should consider limiting your opinions to situations where you have some experience.

You refer to "individuals with drive, desire, hunger for achievement, and an ability to work as a team."

LANL has lots of those people. They are the ones that Mr. Nanos famously referred to as "arrogant cowboys." Drive, desire, and a hunger for achievement were the very qualities Nanos sought to stamp out in his drive for "culture change."

Perhaps you haven't been following the LANL story from the beginning of the Nanos shut-down saga, so let me remind you of some facts: Mr. Nanos threatened to fire anyone caught doing science, talking to a customer, attempting to achieve any contractually agreed to programmatic goal. The people he specifically singled out for punishment were those who believed their work was important and who worked above and beyond the call of duty to achieve results. He lectured the entire workforce to instill in us a new "culture," a culture that holds that our national security work is irrelelvant and unimportant, that we do not owe the taxpayers anything in the way of concrete results, that, instead, our prime mission is to fill out bureuacratic forms to "demonstrate" our compliance with security and safety rules.

You see lots of complaining by LANL scientists on this blog. What you seem to fail to recognize is the underlying source of our grievances: LANL's scientists and engineers are extremely dedicated to their work, extremely hardworking, and take their responsibility for America's security very seriously. But Mr. Nanos has done everything in his power to prevent these dedicated individuals from doing their work. He has cost the American taxpayer at least half a billion dollars by his ill-conceived work stoppage, to the serious detriment of national security. That is the source of our anger.
Wow folks! 4/30/2005 10:12:31 PM is "a leader who makes decisions about budgets for bureaucratic money holes (valuable or not)". I don't know about the rest of you, but with those credentials he sure has convinced me. Clearly he is a thoughtful and logical individual because he would shut LANL down if the employees were wrong AND he would shut LANL down if the employees were right. This is a person of unique and innovative strategy. Not to worry though because he has a crowd of “individuals with drive, desire, hunger for achievement, and an ability to work as a team” that is over-flowing with extensive experience in nuclear weapons to certify the stockpile to the President. Whew! I will definitely sleep better tonight, thanks to this “leader who makes decisions about budgets for bureaucratic money holes”.
The Man in the Glass

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father or mother or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass.
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

You may be like Jack Horner and chisel a plum
And think you’re a wonderful guy.
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

He’s the fellow to please-never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear to the end.
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass.
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
Wow the last post was out there.
It is getting kinda of postmodern
and that is never a good sighn.

Ok to 10:21 poster. I am not sure
what a CTO is. However the people
at LANL will be leaving for University
jobs and already this year a number
of top people will be going. I turned
several university positions to
stay at LANL beceuase of the oppurnities. However it looks I too
will be leaving and I am sad about that. Next year a large number of people will be leaving. As for giving the work to other labs. The
problem is that those places are
starting to have man-power issues as
well. In the end the US is going suffer. The people at Los Alamos
are great people. They work very
hard. LANL is not like a coporation.
What is done here cannot even be
done at a corporation. If I was
a young person that did want to work
at a corporation why would I go
to New Mexico. You just cannot get
the people here. You cannot replace
the people here.

Look I need to be blunt. A lot of people are over 50 and they can retire. The good people can go
to universities. What are you left with? Not a whole lot. You cannot say to good people are highly educated morans and expect them to stay. We have options. Sorry. By the
way there is not a large portion of
losers. It is simply not the case
nor has it ever been the case.
LOL! Nice to see we all can get along so well...

I don't know what is going on with this situation any further than what is being displayed on the site, but it certainly seems worthy of at least further discussion rather than the trashing that seems to be transpiring.

Has anyone considered the possibility for an outside arbitraitor to work with senior management addressing these concerns? I would think considering the level of security these people operate within, Dr. Nanos could possibly have motives beyond what any of us know and we will never know if he is not allowed opportunity to explain.

Judging the mental accounting abilities of our leaders in both corporate and government is a tricky business today and I tend to err on the side of caution when making executive decisions as what I suspect Dr. Nanos has been forced to make over his tenure.

Either way, good luck with your efforts. This is a fascinating way to use blogging! LOL! ;>)

Sadly, the New York Times article seems to have had a very unfortunate effect on our blog. It brought in a bunch of clueless outsiders who are actively polluting and defacing this blog with irrelevant comments.

In this thread, in particular, it seems that most of the posts came from either bored high-school kids who are unsuccessfully trying to impersonate LANL scientists, or just crazy lunatics. I can see that the 11:02:47 pm post is genuinely from LANL; most of the other ones, before and after, are not. They were made by external hooligans who have nothing whatsoever to do with LANL. These people are here just to cover this valuable LANL resource with their graffiti. "A leader who makes decisions about budgets for bureaucratic money holes (valuable or not)"?? Please!! A riffle-shooter with "2 BS, MS, PhD"? BS indeed!

Doug, if this continues, you may have to change the posting rules here, to keep the imposters-polluters out! I’m not sure how this is best done… Maybe we could ask them freshman math questions, say, to compute something like \frac{(\int_{-\infty}^{\infty} e^{-x^2} dx)^2}{\int_0^\infty 1/(1+x^2) dx}, before they can post here? ;-) Can even give them a hint that the answer is a number. ;-) Wait, that wouldn’t work, as it would also exclude the entire upper-level management!
Let me boil it down for Joe Public out there. This whole blog is not about whining, it is about winning. There is a war on out there (can you say Sept. 11th?) and we WMD scientists are increasingly forced to choose between the egos of men like "Dr." Nanos and National Security. Fortunately it looks like this battle is going to the good guys this time. The public should be happy about their ability to sleep safely tonight. Nonetheless, stay tuned...
Thank you so much for posting this is truly scary what the general public does not know that effects us in ways far more serious than some stupid episode of Survivor or Desperate Housewives...
if companies were run for the benefit of the greater good none of this would be happening..but petty politics is the my profession as well.
Thanks again. You are performing a great public service
Popularity is at times the enemy of logic. Many of the more recent posters are idea kleptomaniacs that haven't a clue about what's going on here or even where Los Alamos is. I have read better arguments scratched out on bathroom walls. Possibly, as one of the previous posters suggested, we need to install an IQ test as a precondition for participation, not a hgh bar but a simple question like, what is the square root of one? That'll take care of most of the posters with nothing to contribute but empty hot air.
You continue to believe that someone cares if you leave. Just do so, quietly with some dignity. Do you really think it matters to anyone? IT DOES NOT!! Get your attention elsewhere.
To get the idiots off the blog, how about requiring a CryptoCard login for those who wish to post or comment?
That is a great idea. Then all of the like-minded folks can march lockstep, off of a cliff together. There is no reason to consider an opposing point of view.
Returning to the important question:

"Please tell me who is going to replace us? Where are they? Who are they? Come on name some names. Where are they comming from?"

As a Caltech grad student I can say with confidence that the people who will replace you will not on the whole be coming from here. The federal R&D budget in real terms is roughly half what it was at the start of the 1970s (for figures look up PCAST), and it's only inertia that has masked the effects.

Those effects are now beginning to be felt in academia as so many of the profs are retiring and there is not the money to replace them. In the Jet Propulsion Center where I work (the group that started JPL many years ago) there used to be three or four profs. Tsien was deported to China, Marble retired (though he's still around), and another died about 7 years ago. The last prof, Fred Culick, retired last year and none of them have been or are going to be replaced, because there is no money to replace them. It's the end of that field at Caltech. The rest of fluid mechanics is not faring much better, though some of it will go on in the context of biofluids.

This funding situation is not for lack of trying either. Professors spend much of their time writing research proposals, and despite that most of my non-class time as a grad student I've spent writing research proposals too. So I can also say with some confidence that the funding agencies (a) don't have as much money as they used to, and (b) are spending what little they do have elsewhere, and (c) don't really seem to care or aren't vocal about the ideas that are being lost.

Frankly, I'm not sure where that money is going, but it's certainly not coming here, and other departments are feeling the pinch too. They may be able to turn out an appreciable fraction (40-80%) of the students they used to, but instead of a deep research experience these students will have most experience at writing research proposals, coursework, being teaching assistants and writing simulations of the experiments they would have done if they had the money.

Still, very smart guys all the same. I suspect places like LANL and others will keep the numbers up by hiring people from adjacent fields, like biology and computer science. The other metrics are less obvious so I don't expect those to be addressed as quickly.

I don't think retirement will be a decisive blow to LANL in the near term, as in the absence of ruthless managers many engineers enjoy working and are projected to do so well into their 70s. Let's hope for NASA's and DOE's sake those projections are right. But hope is not a plan.

Good assessment from someone on another facet of the issues. Thanks for your perspective. Like we have said, there is not a lot of expertise in the "pipeline".
Frank Marble - that goes back. I remember having him as a prof as a grad student back in the 70's at Caltech.

A PhD in engineering - what a poor choice of a degree in hindsight. The only people I can honestly recommend it to, are those from the lower to lower-middle class who are the first in their families to graduate and immigrants.
"The only people I can honestly recommend it to, are those from the lower to lower-middle class who are the first in their families to graduate and immigrants."

Why so? Because it's a poor preparation for what you wanted to do, because the engineering culture is bad, or because the funding and conditions are poor?

In my own case I was a physics undergrad who went into engineering because all my motivation to do what I do flows from space exploration, and to contribute to that I decided that propulsion was the key. I don't think there's a one size fits all answer here but one good approach is to study the thing you're motivated by. You learn more and and it's more fun! I see so many grads just drift through with no motivation but the piece of paper at the end (even to start with).

Returning to the issue of where all the replacements are coming from, I should add that my housemate is in the physics department over here and we had a discussion on the decline of engineering vs. physics. Physics is starting to have issues too, but they're not as far down that road as the engineering departments yet.

This being said, there is a 20% cut in the DOD basic research, applied research and advanced technology development budget for next year ( - that will no doubt have a (proportionate?) impact on the education pipeline too, even in physics.
12:59 See my comment on the "LANL after Nanos" post.
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