Friday, April 29, 2005

A few observations

I would like to conclude my interactions on this forum with a few observations, then I will turn in my soap box.
o What A Great Place To Work!- This is a great place to work, we have a sense of mission, and most of us are having a great time. LANL has outstanding science. Our science has to be focused on our mission, but there is a lot to do and we still have a lot of latitude. The world has changed, though it is still threatening and is evolving in a very disturbing direction. There still is a lot to do for our national security. LANL has been entrusted with tremendous resources, about $2.2B/yr. We must perform our mission with integrity, even with the complications we deal with.
LANL is no longer a reservation for the free-ranging, wild scientist. The Laboratory reminisced about by Harold Agnew, Stirling Colgate, Ben Diven and Jay Wechsler in the Operation Castle discussion required responsibility and competence without a lot of oversight. The stakes were high, the mission was urgent and was not controversial. We work in a different world.
o Accountability- We work now with more accountability, more oversight and a hugely different regulatory environment. The better we handle our responsibilities, the more we will be trusted to manage our affairs without intrusive micromanagement, and visa-versa. Our level of regulation and oversight is partially our fault. Because we have not met government expectations, we have to "act our way out of the perception" that we need micromanagement.
Note, someone has to develop regulations and IWDs. They can make sense and be efficient, or not. We cannot stand back and wait for "someone else" to solve our operational and process problems. "Someone else" may make it worse. It is better to engage in the process, thinking thru what is needed and proposing efficient and effective language. Our continual and positive engagement in solving our problems to improve our processes (like travel, IWDs, procurement, safety, security, etc.) is termed "Quality" management and includes us. (To the many remarkable scientists here: You are awesome. But really smart and powerful people learn the processes and interactions required to accomplish their mission, not just stand back and take pot shots at others because things did not miraculously happen.) It is complicated and will take time. Our process refinements have lagged the changing requirements, but good, dedicated people are working this issue. I have hope, not cynicism, for the success of the Enterprise Project. Be patient as the bugs are worked out. Do not be cynical or discouraged. We can do this!
o LANL is at Risk- Some influential people are ideologically hostile to science, to nuclear weapons, and to LANL. We are seen as the linchpin of a number of key issues, including issues of money and power. Diverse forces are concentrated on weakening LANL. We should all be savvy to that, avoid activities and statements that give our adversaries weapons to use against us, and "reduce our radar cross section" by doing our work and processes better.
o Rocky Flats-Type Shutdown Vs Suspension - I have suggested non-punitive reasons why the "Suspension" appeared so urgent to the guy at the helm and why the Startup was so long and difficult. A number of people, coming from different directions, have told me that Deputy Energy Sec. Kyle McSlarrow was poised to shut Los Alamos down in what could have been a Rocky Flats type shut down. Serious. Brad Lee Holian's discussion of the safety data is interesting, but perceptions, not data, would have shut us down. Nanos and McSlarrow had enough negative data on their battle monitors last summer to justify drastic action. Thankfully, Pete acted first. To say at the post-mortum, "But his ticker was in great shape!," would not have brought us back to life.

Some of you disbelieve that the nation could do without LANL and your particular project. You cite the pit mission, the LANL weapons in the stockpile, the long tradition of great LANL science, the entitlement of Northerner NM, etc . Reread the bullet above. Our adversaries are diverse, but are equal-opportunity. Rocky Flats was the only pit manufacturing facility in the nation when it was shut down for doing what it had always done. We have a bunch of good guys here from Rocky. Ask them how unbelievable their experience was. I understand that a few years ago Brookhaven National Lab's contract was changed over a safety problem, across a weekend, retroactive to the previous Friday. If you think that LANL could be immune to a similar action, you do not understand these things:
o The string of incidents attributed to LANL, true or not, fair or not, add up to "credible" evidence in the minds of some that LANL is too risky. In a political arena, appearances count more than truth. The media, and some in politics, NGOs, are pleased to inflame misperceptions and smear our name.
o In the eyes of many, the unwillingness of some LANL staff to toe the mark by respecting regulations and requirements, citing their own competence to manage their own affairs show that LANL is unmanageable. (This blog has exacerbated that perception.)
o LANL is viewed as arrogant and headstrong by some in power including some in the Pentagon, Congress, DOE, NNSA, EPA, NM State Government, etc., not to mention the press and therefore John Q public.
o Not everyone cares about Northern NM.
o The loss of capability to sustain the stockpile would be a plus to some adversaries.
o The our sister lab, with her great sales force, is standing in the wings, eager to take over (though her congressional delegation would have heartburn).
o Pete Nanos- His plusses greatly outweigh his minuses. In a time when the lab needs strong leadership, decisive action, and a vision, he has supplied them. His effectiveness in representing LANL interests and establishing the national vision of a way to go forward with the nuclear weapons mission is heroic. I wish he were smoother in dealing with conflict. I wish that he and his staff had been more effective in communicating that vision internally to the laboratory staff and in dealing with the events of the Shutdown and Startup. Separate out the man and the issues.
o The Blog- Congratulations to Doug Roberts on his courage in establishing and supporting this blog. However, anonymity has resulted in several very serious deficiencies. (He could/can identify participants here through an alternate process.)
o First, anonymous comments have no standing. Readers do not know whether they come from respected members of the community, from psychotics, or from enemy "ringers" trying to further enflame the situation. We have heard from all three categories.
o Second, anonymity enables irresponsibility. People should be accountable for what they say to other responsible people. Irresponsible comments are picked up by the public and press and can be distributed to a wider audience, to the determent of LANL and our nation's security.
o A Better Way- LANL could have provided an open, but responsibly moderated, forum for the exchange of ideas on important issues that affect our LANL community. I believe that open discussion of workplace issues can be effective in annealing out workplace tensions It is necessary for management to use fair and transparent processes to build trust and verify that integrity prevails. Retaliation is contrary to the LANL code of ethics, and generates unintended and painful consequences.
o Lunch- I appreciate those of you, supporters, antagonists and observers who stopped by on Thursday. The pecan sticky rolls were delicious, to my good wife's credit. I did not have a lot to say, but heard a lot. Topics included: Pete Nanos, problems with workplace processes, opportunities to do great science at LANL, retaliation anecdotes, some IWDs being overly prescriptive and out of sync with other regulations, laser safety, and so on. A few timid souls cruised past our door in a dead-end hall to catch a glimpse of the meeting, but dared not to come in and talk.
(The caterer and the errant cart of food was NOT part of an undercover surveillance team trying to identify malcontents ;-). It was just an ARAMARK mix-up.)
o Inveterate Malcontents- A few here do not have the temperament to be productive in today's LANL environment. They should find a place to work where they can be as happy as possible and not burden an already difficult transition.

I appreciate the many e-mails and personal discussions thanking me for adding a thoughtful and positive dimension to this blog. I particularly thank those here who have weighed in to counter ad hominem attacks. My arguments stand or fall on their own. Separate out the man and the issues. Lets deal with the multifaceted, multilayered issues within our reach.
Gary Stradling

Attacking the Person (argumentum ad hominem)
The person presenting an argument is attacked instead of the argument itself. For example, the person's character, nationality or religion may be attacked. Alternatively, it may be pointed out that a person stands to gain from a favorable outcome. Or a person may be attacked by association, or by the company he keeps. This usually occurs when the antagonist is emotionally but not cerebrally involved. Should never happen at Los Alamos.

"Pete Nanos- His plusses greatly outweigh his minuses. In a time when the lab needs strong leadership, decisive action, and a vision, he has supplied them."

No doubt where Gary is coming from. Also no doubt as to why he is in the definite minority here. It is sad how a person can be so lacking in perspective. The inability of some people to distinguish cowardly, abusive behavior from strength is truly amazing.
I am sad to see Pete Nanos fail, but fail he did. Temper tantrums by the person in charge scare children, poorly educated people, and people with no choices and induce them to shut up and follow the rules, but the tantrums make people afraid to act for fear of setting off the abuser again. Yes, temper tantrums are abusive to the people who are trying to work with the fit-thrower.
On the otherhand, temper tantrums don't work on people who feel they have options and/or intelligence and even among the people they work on, stiffle hard work and creativity.
I believe LANL will think harder from now on about safety and security -- assuming the next head guy cares about them. The sad part is that Nanos put us in a very bad place with the press and the politicians and ultimately the latest shutdown has sent LANL to the feeding troughs of Bush's campaign donors.
UC should have reigned Nanos in right away, and sent a competent manager out to take his place when his rants became well known. They didn't. The very freedom that we have so enjoyed has done us in.
I always loved working at LANL. The work was fascinating, even though the personalities were challenging, at best. I feel we have lost something important while Nanos was here, but I have to admit, a lot of our troubles started before Nanos even showed up.
Yes, Gary, there are many good things about LANL, but Nanos is not one of them, in fact he failed the institution and its employees severely.
I appreciate Gary's "Swan Song" here... even if I disagree with his Nanos apologetic stance and am put off by his sometimes smarmy style (I apologize if this sounds mean-spirited... just trying to be descriptive). He's been earnest and genuine in my opinion... that is worth something.

Many of his points have merit. If, in fact, Nanos saved us from being shut down harder and worse, that is good.

If LANL was an organism with Cancer and Nanos was our physician, then the radical surgery and radiation and chemo therapy we just went through might somehow be considered "good for us".

I'm not sure LANL was cancerous as implied by my analogy (or by many of our detractors rhetoric)... it is more like someone outside of us decided we had cancer and put us through treatment just for show... just to make sure... just to weaken us, maybe kill us... for the sport of it. Not a pretty picture.

The insult of the "treatment" may yet kill us, if whomever prescribed it doesn't simply do it again, find another way.

But if we have a chance of recovering from our "involuntary round of cancer treatment" then it is in the same way the body recovers after cancer treatment. Once cell, one organ, one system at a time, flushing toxins, repairing damage, regaining balance.

Most of us didn't ask for the "treatment" but nobody else but us can heal/recover from it.

Perhaps we can use Nanos "leaving the building" as a time to shift gears...

we still have to weather the contract bid and possible handover... but for those of us who still hope there will be something left worth doing, I say let's get on with it.

And in response to Gary's condemnation of anonymity... I appeal again for at least moving to psuedonymity... we can then treat anonymous posts as those of ringers or casual observers, not serious participants who are willing to stand by their words over and over again. You don't have to expose yourself in the real world... just to some level of self-consistency here.
Gary, you seem to have no appreciation of the enormous damage done to this institution and its employees by your obvious idol and champion, Pete Nanos. Tyranny can thrive only in the dark shadows of ignorance and accommodation. This blog was the light that made those shadows disappear.

Because, you have hitched your horse to the post of opportunism, I would strongly suggest that you consider packing up some of your wife's sweet rolls. You and Nanos could gallop back to Washington where your mediocrity and his might still go unnoticed and where yours was unnoticed for most of your career. We will truly have open skies here when that happens, no shadows, no tyranny, no Nanos.
I want what he's smoking.
7:05 -

Thank you. I had been trying to put my finger on exactly what it was about Gary's whole "persona" that put me off. It wasn't just his blind adoration of Nanos, hard though that was to stomach. It was something else. You helped me identify what that "soemthing else" was: Gary truly has attempted, to borrow your phrase, to hitch his horse to the post of opportunism.

I believe that most people are perceptive enough to eventually recognize the opportunism that underlies Gary's posturing. Maybe not immediately, but it eventually does come through, as this last post demonstrates.
It was baked into those sticky rolls... you shouldn't have missed the lunch get together...

But don't touch the grape koolaid... it's wicked -grin-.
It took years to build the mess we are in. It can't be blamed on Nanos alone. Nanos can be blamed for mishandling the mess he found himself in. On the other hand, I expect he panicked when he realized how deep the problems at LANL were.
There was no uniform system for tracking CREM. Safety rules were sneered at and ignored, but even worse, not in place.
Retaliation was, and is, in place for punishing those who dared to point out safety and or security flaws or even to voice dissent against any manager. Racism and sexism had continued for years and DOE supported unconditionally any suit to punish racism and sexism.
And there are more monsters, still not uncovered, waiting to bite. The sad part is that one reason there are so many monsters is that DOE and the Congress were unwilling to demand and pay for the systems necessary to maintain the level of accountability we all agree should have been maintained. In buildings and in weapons, documentation should be maintained on how they were designed as well as how they were built. That didn't happen and still does not happen.
Had LANL spent the money up front to create and maintain the security and safety systems required by commonly accepted standards, there wouldn't have been enough money to do any work at all. But management felt it couldn't scream without getting fired.
I can understand why Nanos flipped out, at least that is my interpretation of his behavior, when he saw the sad state of safety and security. I hope that the next director of LANL will prepare for the shock of 60 years of flying by the seat of the pants, and no documentation. I don't approve of what Nanos did, but he may have been the first director to take a deep look at the safety and security problems at LANL with the eyes of a person caring about quality. Nanos frequently mentioned the quality movement. I gather he believes in it.
I have the deepest respect for the employees who got caught in Nanos's temper tantrums and got fired or disciplined or quit in disgust. I suspect, LANL will lose some lawsuits and arbitrations over the way these people were treated. I wish I thought DOE cared. I wish Congress would spend more time cracking down on the amount of money DOE spends on lawyers defending bad cases, than on the number of days of vacation employees can take after being sent overseas on Lab travel.
I wish LANL would quit blackballing fired employees from every company and university in the world. Why does LANL need to spend its time preventing these people from ever working again? How does this serve the American people?
Nanos didn't do the right things, that is for sure, but I wonder if the next manager will do any better. It is difficult to impossible to get accurate plans of any building at LANL and where the electricity, gas, water and sewer lines lie, not to mention the plans for lines carrying such potentially dangerous substances as chlorine and oxygen. How will the new guy solve this for the old buildings and the ones now in process?
Nanos mishandled employees. Browne mishandled crises. Hecker mismanaged civil rights. What monsters, long kept in underground cages, will arise to bite the next Director. It is a glorious title, but it carries with it a tasks way beyond the abilities of most human beings. If I were a new company looking at managing LANL, I would worry.
Gary can say what he may. However, I say in response to Pere being fired: "See you later butthead!" You have done more to destroy the economy of northern New Mexico and, indeed, national security than any person in the history of Los Alamos.

When did you collect your last data point? When was the last archival paper you published? When did you do your last IWD? More than a decade. You have a lot of advice for someone who is so disconected from actually doing real work.
Gary, I hope that with a careful reading you can see how questionable your arguments are: For example, first you declare, "Inveterate Malcontents- A few here do not have the temperament to be productive in today's LANL environment." Then you declare, "Attacking the Person (argumentum ad hominem) The person presenting an argument is attacked instead of the argument itself.

These self-conflicting arguments demolish a person's testimony and credibility. Such a witness is "res ispa loquitor" impeached. The other sections are similarly conflicted in more ways that I desire to discuss. However, you develop a particularly strange conclusion in "LANL at Risk." As I read it, you seem to be saying that we should keep a low profile and not speak the truth if that truth might jeopardize the Laboratory standing. I fear that you have been working to close to others who subscribe to that cover-up philosophy. In sum, you need to read what you write and not ramble into misleading and contradictory conclusions.
At the heart of Gary's text we read: " In a political arena, appearances count more than truth."

Science is about truth. This is why illogical statements are rejected on the Hill. One CAN NOT build anything valuable or long lasting on lies. If this is the current course in Washington, we need to protest and fight, in the name of something much more important than our workplace. This is also why Gary's option is not acceptable.

In a long run nothing, in any arena, counts more than the truth.
I see very little resemblence between LANL in July 2004 and either Brookhaven in 1997 or Rocky Flats in 1989. LANL has solid support in its congressional delegation while Brookhaven had none (I don't know about Rocky Flats and its local support but I suspect that it wasn't strong). Brookhaven was seen as unresponsive to radioactive contamination of the only water supply that eastern Long Island has available. Rocky Flats was raided by the FBI for suspected violations of environmental laws (the FBI was wrong - again), but plenty of problems were discovered during the shutdown period. Rocky Flats was closed because DOE thought (in 1992) that it didn't need any more pits (the DOE was wrong - again). LANL still has a number of compelling missions and is not seen as being unresponsive or in flagrant violation of environmental laws. I believe that LANL was not in any danger of closure. This opinion is supported by conversations that I had last summer with various people around the country.

I invite those who know more about the Rocky Flats closure to share their knowledge and correct any misunderstandings that I may have expressed.

When Nanos has surrendered his badge, I will post using my name.

Nanos lied right before us. He said
Physics Today did not have the facts.
They did. So who is right. Either
Nanos lied or is a total idiot. Either
way he needs to go.

By the way Gary. Who are you? Do you
have any ability at all. How did you
get hired in Los Alamos?
7:58. Ditto. I couldn't have said it better. You hit the nail right on the head.
The bottom line fact is that Nanos is not fit to lead. We have all seen him in mtgs. when he has lied, berated, intimidated, etc. A true leader knows
first and foremost you can't lead if no one follows. His approach to problems (real or imagined) was in most cases inappropriate - neither thoughful nor tempered.
So whatcha all gonna do iffen yor director goes way like yall want? I dont hear no plans here comin outta you alls heads.
There are no plans. They will have to create another issue to complain and whine about. You know “the poor us” victim attitude so pervasive at LANL.
uh, sorry dude. We didn't create Nanos. We did take care of him as well as he took care of us. I plan to get back to work.
Regarding the last few comments addressing what are the plans for after Nanos is officially departed, the reality is that our interim leadership will be one of "don't rock the boat". UC will not make any major changes to any policies, nor to upper staff management because to do so would be to admit that mistakes had been made by their former darling, Nanos. The order of the day will be "Tread Water".
Hey folks,

I'm one of those "members of the public" that Gary mentioned - I have followed the safety issues at LANL since they became public issues and form my PERCEPTION the Lab has a pattern of ignoring safety and security procedures - and that pattern has hurt our national security.

Correctly or incorrectly that is my perception and I/we don't care about the happiness of the employees , really - it seems like you are all taking your director to task for a harsh style and ignoring the fact that you made your bed and he is doing his national duty to fix it.

The impression I get from this blog is that you don't want to be managed and object to people telling you the "right" way to do things.

Overall, from an observor's standpoint I would applaud any amount of rough treatment the members of the lab receive until there are no more security and safety lapses - you are a national interest, not just a corporation.
5:24 poster.

The problem is part or your PERCEPTION
which is wrong came from Nanos. Nanos
should have said what are safety record
really is which is one of the best.
Nanos should have also said what are
security record is which again in
reality is outstading. In other words
our director should have used REALITY.

By the way happy people at a lab
means a safe and secure lab. The
good people will leave. You will be
left with junk and the place will be
less safe and less secure. However,
your PERCEPTION may be that it is
safer and more secure.

The point is PERCEPTION means nothing
facts mean everything when it
is time for things to count. PERCEPTION
counts in Hollywood. That is not how we
should be judged. In the end the
public will suffer.
5:24 poster.

The problem is part or your PERCEPTION
which is wrong came from Nanos. Nanos
should have said what are safety record
really is which is one of the best.
Nanos should have also said what are
security record is which again in
reality is outstading. In other words
our director should have used REALITY.

By the way happy people at a lab
means a safe and secure lab. The
good people will leave. You will be
left with junk and the place will be
less safe and less secure. However,
your PERCEPTION may be that it is
safer and more secure.

The point is PERCEPTION means nothing
facts mean everything when it
is time for things to count. PERCEPTION
counts in Hollywood. That is not how we
should be judged. In the end the
public will suffer.
Look, anybody choosing an ex-military type to run a civilian research facility is just asking to fail. Nanos would not expect to ever have to justify any order given, he would just naturally expect everybody to leap to attention and rush off unquestioningly to do as they were told. The very notion of employing somebody wih his background is bizarre.
To the 6:06pm poster.

Who are you? I think you some ex-LANL
person who was fired. You just keep
posting like you are a different person
each time.

Well the good people will be getting
new jobs. LANL does have some of the
best people in the world in science.
If these people leave it will be a huge
blow to the United States. Science really
has made the US what it is today. Additionly the weapons work has kept us
safe. Look there will be no replacments
for the people here. US citizens
do not get Ph.d in physics anymore. It will be lost.
The US public will suffer
Nanos can only be redeemed by his
I have to call into question the assertion that perception is nothing. Coming from a policy perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. I'm certain that you have noticed that the government of the United States is run primarily by career policymakers, politicians, and bureaucrats. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in that these people are, through their lack of specialization, able to take on a broad range of issues relatively effectively. Unfortunately, these people also depend on a vast number of other policymakers, analysts, media, and NGO's to learn about these issues and make decisions. They have no educational or professional background by which to evaluate the information and opinions that they receive. Their perceptions are not directly molded by fact, but rather by the interplay of analysts and interest groups that try to provide perception for them.

When policymakers are required to make decisions with significant budgetary, emotional, or ideological baggage, such as the survival and mission of LANL, the media, NGOS, and other interest groups with a vested interest in the outcome will atttempt to twist perception to meet their ends, whether that involves truth or not. For evidence of this, look no further than LASG and POGO. This is bad enough when it's only one policymaker setting policy, but remember that there are thousands of policymakers in DC (of which only a handful have the understanding and interest to stand up for the Lab) who will have a hand in whether LANL continues to exist in the next ten years. Those who are not intimately familliar with LANL or the national security needs we fulfil depend on the NY Times and sources such as this blog to shape their perceptions. If we are sending the message that we are rebellious, whiny primadonnas primarily worried about our pensions and conspiracy theories, they have no reason to believe otherwise. Gary, BlogBrethe, 07:58:16, and 08:12:07
have the right idea.

On another note, I've been surprised at the vitrol spewed at Gary Stradling on this blog. I've had the chance to work around him, and while he can be abrasive, obnoxious, and genuinely frustrating on occasion, he is also completely honest - he will not back down from what he thinks is right whether or not it benefits him. He will stick his neck out for you whether or not he likes you if he thinks you are right. I find it difficult to believe that he saying what he says as a suck-up or an opportunist. AS far as his credentials, (and since he hasn't seen fit to address ad hominem attacks himself) Google provided the following:
I would be interested in the perceptions of those who work around him, but I hesitate to entrust my perception of anyone to comments like those I've found here.
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