Friday, April 01, 2005

Hold on, UC — Los Alamos isn't in bag

Lockheed Martin decides to challenge university's bid to run lab once considered a UC lock
By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER

Reversing an earlier decision, defense giant Lockheed Martin Corp. is challenging the University of California to run the Los Alamos National Laboratory, reinvigorating a race that was flagging for lack of contractors experienced in nuclear weapons work.

Almost immediately, the University of Texas, another would-be lab operator that dropped out, suggested it too might be interested in rejoining the competition, side-by-side with Lockheed.

University of California officials had estimated the chances were excellent of rewinning the contract to run the birthplace of the bomb. But the return of the nation's largest defense

contractor and the operator, in part or whole, of two nuclear-weapons labs casts a shadow on that assessment.

The sudden flush of outside interest in Los Alamos comes after federal contract officials tripled the contractor fee at Los Alamos, then doubled it again,and trails an effort by a powerful congressman to make UC compete for national labs that it has run for more than half a century without challenge.

Ohio Republican Dave Hobson, chairman of the House Energy and Water Development appropriations subcommittee, cautioned new Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman in Feb. 8 letter that the competition

seemed to favor the university with a greater emphasis on science than on management. Hobson and other lawmakers have taken issue with the university's management of finances, safety and security at Los Alamos.

Before and since Hobson's letter, federal contractor officers have been proposing removal of what they call barriers to competition. They boosted the fee to about $60 million a year, or seven times what UC is paid now for running Los Alamos. They recommended a longer contract period, the creation of separate legal entities to run the lab and the creation of a separate pension fund for Los Alamos, apart

from the $40 billion University of California Retirement Plan.

Potential challengers requested all those changes, and Lockheed officials said together they made for a very different competition.

"It made our business people go back and take a look and say, 'It looks like the things they added make it a decent business opportunity,'" said Don Carson, a Lockheed Martin spokesman.

Nine months ago, Lockheed officials dropped out of the competition, saying that it would have to wager too much in money and management personnel to reform Los Alamos, compared to the risk to Lockheed's reputation.

"You have to make sure you can do it and do it well," he said. "We feel under the terms of this contract we can do it and excel."

Lockheed Martin runs Sandia National Laboratories, the sole U.S. nuclear-weapons engineering design lab with campuses in New Mexico and California, and is part of a team running the sole British nuclear-weapons lab, known as Aldermaston AWE.

On Thursday, the University of Texas issued a brief, enigmatic statement recalling its agreement with Lockheed to share academic expertise with Sandia labs.

"The UT system welcomes further discussions and dialogue about ways to build

on our contribution to the science and security of our nation at the national laboratories," the university said.

Contact Ian Hoffman at

I am a UC employee and hope that UC will prevail if the UC Regents give its proposal team a green light to proceed. Frankly, I do not believe that my hope will be realized. Lockheed Martin is a formidable challenger with a track record in managing nuclear research facilities that is far far superior to the University's recent record in managing Los Alamos as evidenced in its blind retention of our failed senior management team, its abandonment of basic fairness in its own administrative processes, and its acquiescence in the destructive and costly stand down of Laboratory operations.

If the University can get its act together and begins to show again the sparkle of discovery and it unselfish commitment to public service, then maybe the UC will prevail. I am certain, with new leadership we will all emphatically pull together to get this institution back on track.

If not, I am certain that I personally will enjoy working for Lockheed Martin and adapting myself to that new culture. I see not other competition on the horizon but I cannot speak for others.
I have two observations about Lockheed Martin.

1. Their record is by no means perfect. I believe that they lost the contract for managing Y-12 following criticality safety problems.

2. I don't see any jobs for scientists on the Sandia web site. They may not be good at managing science programs.
One of the biggest problem I see is that the lab has no one to pull around these days. Bring up any of the known scientists and you end up with a long list of this guy is crap. Bring in someone from outside, and people will say he doesnt understand the culture.

Whoever gets the contract will have to deal with all the backstabbing and infighting that has built up of over the years since testing and 'free' budgets went away. It will definately mean a big winnowing of the population and a tougher slog than the last year. I would expect a 'no whine' policy with various free-spirits given the boot over conformity. [I expect this even if UC keeps the contract under the LLC. The extra regulation and oversight in that case would make sure that Nanos was looked back at fondly.]
I cannot conceive of any scenario in which Nanos will be looked back on favorably. Had he been more of a defender of the virtues of Laboratory and less critical and more supportive of the 1,000s who are trying to get product out the door, safely, securely, on time and on budget, we wouldn't be in this programmatic meltdown and morale wasteland. I agree that we need to put down our sticks and stones and coalesce around someone who has shown sustained successful leadership here at the Laboratory, who has the stature in Washington to make a difference, and who has the confidence, courage, and verbal skills to excite and capture the imagination of others. I would be surprised if any such person could be found in the Administration Building.
I was down at SNL a couple years ago in the badge office lobby and overheard one of their buyers talking to a salesman.

"All OUR buyers have MBAs," she asserted. Well la dee dah! I though, "What a waste of a degree." I suppose that it was a Bell Labs legacy, that the organization was so credentials-conscious that they were using people with master's degrees to do purchasing. Is this the sort of foolishness we have to look forward under Lock-Mart?
Why would the SNL buyers need MBA degrees?

Where did they get those MBA degrees?
University of Phoenix is my bet.
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