Saturday, April 30, 2005
Thought you might like to see this:
May 1, 2005
At Los Alamos, Blogging Their Discontent
blog rebellion among scientists and engineers at Los Alamos, the federal government's premier nuclear weapons laboratory, is threatening to end the tenure of its director, G. Peter Nanos.
Four months of jeers, denunciations and defenses of Dr. Nanos's management recently culminated in dozens of signed and anonymous messages concluding that his days were numbered. The postings to a public Web log conveyed a mood of self-congratulation tempered with sober discussion of what comes next.
"Some here will celebrate that they have been able to run the sheriff out of Dodge," Gary Stradling, a veteran Los Alamos scientist who is a staunch defender of Dr. Nanos, wrote Tuesday on the blog.
"It might be a good idea," he added, "to shut down the celebration and form a work party to clean up Dodge City, because the new sheriff will if we do not."
The blogging comes at a delicate moment in the 60-year history of Los Alamos. The University of California, which has helped run the lab for the federal government since the days of the Manhattan Project, faces close scrutiny in Washington as to whether its contract should be renewed. And resignations and fears of a mass exodus have recently roiled the waters. Some analysts believe that now, given the public outcry, the lab will have to abandon Dr. Nanos in order to make a tenable bid to keep its contract.
Dr. Nanos would not comment. A spokesman for Los Alamos, Kevin Roark, said false rumors of the director's resignation had circulated for months. Mr. Roark added that Dr. Nanos was extraordinarily proud of what he had accomplished at Los Alamos, which employs 14,000 people on an annual budget of $2.2 billion. He called the vitriolic blogging unrepresentative of the majority of employees and said it often had the tone of a sophomoric Halloween prank.
"Everybody, I think, was a little surprised at how mean it got," Mr. Roark said.
Several outside experts said that the director's quick departure was inevitable and that the blog's attacks were playing a significant role.
"Nanos is leaving," said Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a private organization in Albuquerque that monitors weapons laboratories. "The blog changed the climate, giving people an outlet they didn't have before."
Blogs seem to be everywhere. But this one is unusual, in that the Los Alamos National Laboratory, isolated in the mountains of New Mexico, has a long history of maintaining the highest level of federal secrecy. The lab's very existence was once classified. Today, barbed wire rings many of its buildings, federal agents monitor its communications, and its employees are constantly reminded that loose lips sink ships.
The blog (www.lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com) went public in January and since then has registered more than 100,000 visits, with more than half a million pages viewed and more than 5,000 comments. Discussions run on a variety of topics, from the sanctity of retirement benefits to the likely identity of the next contractor who will run Los Alamos.
Since most messages are anonymous, there is no way to know how many lab employees contribute to the blog. Even so, from the sheer volume, detail and differing styles of the messages, the number is clearly many more than a handful. The language, often studded with obscure acronyms, suggests that the authors have a deep knowledge of the lab's exotic culture.
Furious debate centers on Dr. Nanos, a retired vice admiral of the Navy who holds a doctorate in physics from Princeton and became the lab's director two years ago. Many bloggers criticize his decision to shut down most of the laboratory last July, when he cited "egregious" safety and security violations after two computer disks with secret information were reported missing and an intern working with a laser suffered an eye injury.
The security alarm turned out to be a clerical error - the disks, in fact, never existed. Still, Dr. Nanos kept many lab areas closed for seven months, until late January. During that time, lab personnel worked on improving safety and security.
Dr. Thomas J. Meyer, a distinguished chemist and a member of the National Academy of Sciences who oversaw 2,000 employees as head of the lab's strategic research, resigned in October during the shutdown and afterward filed a long critique of the episode and the director's acts.
"He chose to transfer blame and intimidate individuals even with a staff that was often attempting to implement difficult and complex safety processes," Dr. Meyer said in his critique, which was posted on the blog. He called the director's treatment of lab employees "vindictive and abusive."
A banner atop the blog site sets the tone, asserting that the shutdown cost taxpayers "approximately $850 million, an exodus of highly talented staff members, and the loss of untold millions of dollars of funding from customers who have taken their business elsewhere."
Lab officials say the shutdown probably cost $120 million, and federal officials recently put the figure at $370 million.
Mr. Roark, the Los Alamos spokesman, acknowledged that the lab was worried about a recent spike in retirement inquiries. "We're not anticipating a mass exodus," he said. "But that doesn't mean we're not concerned about the possibility. We are."
The blog's creator is Doug Roberts, a computer scientist who is a 20-year lab veteran. In an interview, he said he was inspired to start the blog when he and his colleagues had their critical submissions to a forum on the lab's online newspaper rejected.
Mr. Roberts said it was impossible to know how many lab personnel contributed to the blog, since it was set up to protect their identity, if so desired. He estimated the vocal population at 200 to 500 employees.
The blog runs a petition for Dr. Nanos's removal; it has garnered more than 100 signers, although most have concealed their names.
One who signed openly in February was Dr. Brad Lee Holian, a theoretical physicist who worked at the lab for 32 years. He retired a month later.
"People were feeling like they were in a pressure cooker," Dr. Holian said in an interview last week. "Nanos is so abusive, not just to the general staff but his underlings. People were afraid to say anything. On the blog they could vent without fear of reprisal."
Jeff Jarvis, who publishes BuzzMachine, a blog that focuses on media issues, said the Los Alamos site showed "a new ethic of transparency" that has come with the explosion of electronic self-publishing.
"It's not just the power of the blog," Mr. Jarvis said, "it's the power of the citizen."
The battle over Dr. Nanos comes as the University of California is considering whether to bid to renew its contract, which expires Sept. 30. Two leading space and military contractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, have announced an interest in running the lab.
Chris Harrington, a university spokesman based in Washington, denied that Dr. Nanos was about to resign and defended him as "clearly understanding the mission of the lab."
Mr. Harrington added, however, that the university is doing "a thorough review" of its management options for a possible bid on the new contract.
John Schwartz contributed reporting for this article.
UC was caught off guard as was LANL senior management. Despite the LANL PR comments to the contrary, the ground swell and sheer volume of employee discontent likely altered the course of history. I honestly don't think Dir Nanos would be leaving had it not been for this blog.
LANL's PR department does not seem to live in the same world as the rest of us, but then, their job is not to report the news but to paint LANL in a good light, and their doing so is part of the contract between DOE and UC. I imagine that their job has been pretty difficult lately.
I don't think it is fair to equate LANL PR and the press. Their missions are completely different.
Betty Ann Gunther
This is fascinating! I am linking your blog at mine
Be Well & keep up the good work!
I hope we raise a (yet) more consonant voice that refutes by example, the allegations that we are nothing more than a "handful of disgruntled employees" and "sophomoric pranksters".
If we (especially the silent ones) have something more to say, this is a good time to say it.
To date I've been fairly lenient in enforcing the posting requirements for this blog (on topic and professional) choosing to err on the side of leniency at times to avoid casting a pall of censorship on this forum.
Starting from this point, however, I will be a bit more strict. If this blog is to continue to be of value, then it needs to mature somewhat. Reread the sidebar link entitled "Posting Guidelines" to refresh your memories on what is acceptable, please, and help to keep the dialog on a constructive course.
Re: posting guidelines
I agree with your decision to impose more stringent posting guidelines in the present limelight.
This also might be an opportunity to provide the visitor with a link to this Blog’s “greatest hits” by whatever criteria you deem appropriate. Examples of the criteria might be posts that elicited the greatest number of responses, or simply that reflect the best writing available, or positive contributions to discussions of the Lab’s future. In the approximately 5000 messages there is some truly wonderful stuff that can now be seen by a larger audience.
In any case, best wishes and keep up the good work, you’ve provided an invaluable service to the country.
"A neurosis is a secret that you don't know you are keeping. "
This is another success for Pete. We think they are going to pull the plug out of the drain on 5/13/05. Pete and the SET will circle the drain and disappear!
Hey that is pretty funny comming from
somebody in Florida. You guys have NASA.
Truly the most worthless organization
that exists. It has no value anymore
and really should be closed down.
LANL is not Rocky Flats. Totally different lab.
Interesting to me, because my husband has two relatives that work there. I don't know if they are part of the unhappy group or not. I would like to think they are happy in their positions, but I know it can be hell to work for some of the idiots who end up at government agencies. They seem to have reached the level of tenured professors--people who suck, but there isn't much that anyone can do about them.
So, as far as I can see, if he really was worthless, great job. Good to know some losers finally get lost completely.
The big issue is the very real exodus from the Laboratory under the threats to our retirements, the coming gutting of science, and the uncertainty the Bush administration has brought to this place. The RFP has recently been amended to allow pretty drastic cuts in employee benefits and to allow cutting personnel for "economic efficiency" - all shortly after the handoff but after the handoff so they can claim everyone is being kept and benefits will remain the same. And cuts will have to be made. Besides the cuts that are coming in the complex-wide DOE budgets, there is the matter of the $60 million that the new contractor will be paid that will have to come out of budgets already being cut due to the Iraq war hemorrhage of dollars. Los Alamos is probably going to die a very hard and public death on its way to being just another weapons laboratory run by a big-money corporation. Suck on that Los Alamos Study Group. You helped get us here.
The Laboratory is a huge National resource. There is a synergy here (and has been for decades) because there are world-class scientists from most all disciplines all under one roof that can collaborate when the Nation comes to it with a problem.
The Bush administration is about to blow that away and squander this resource at a time when this country needs this kind of resource more than ever. Something to write your Congressmen about - why are they allowing one of this Nation's most valuable assets to get ripped to shreds?
RIP Los Alamos National Laboratory. Hello pit manufacturing facility.
You brother is simply incorrect
or you are not who you say you are.
Securty is top at LANL. You need to
compare to the other labs. Everyone
has always taken security and saftey
extremely seriously. We also
do a great job in general. You
simply do not know what you are talking
How can you say security is top notch.
How do you explain when leaving an area you don't stop and show you badge anymore.
You just walk or drive through the post.
How secure is that?
To me we are going in the wrong direction lets tighten up not get looser.
I disagree that Nanos did the best job possible considering the external environment. How can the wasting of upward to $1B be the best job a person could do? Indeed, had no other untoward behavior occurred with respect to this director, that sole fact should have prompted his immediate removal. However, because the stand-down lasted for six month or longer in some cases, it will take years to fully evaluate and determine the cost of the stand-down to our national security. We certainly can document missed goals in our weapon programs but how can one estimate the impact of the potential of our having missed placing in safeguards that last kilogram of nuclear materials some terrorist might have needed to make a nuclear weapon?
Unfortunately, the abuses extended far beyond programmatic issues. People who held extensive credentials in contributing to our nuclear weapon, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs and who were absolutely innocent were scapegoated by Director Nanos to protect his friends. Repeatedly, he would intervene in investigative processes when members of the Senior Executive Team (including himself) would violate a particular safety or security provision. At the same time, he would severely punish some low-level administrative clerk who made a human error. To manage the external view of the Laboratory, he would sacrifice the careers of some of our best contributors as a matter of convenience to show the media and Congress that he was "tough" on violators even when there was no actual violation.
Some observers might find all these untoward actions acceptable. I don't. I cannot tolerate the denial to any US citizen and particularly those who have dedicated their lives to securing this Nation, the basic rights and privileges guaranteed them by the Constitution. I cannot tolerate the abuse of persons that circumstances place in the path of tyranny. The scars from such abuse are deep and slow to heal. It is our solemn obligation to help prevent them in the first instance and not to make excuses for the abusers.
Here is the XML feed for this blog.
Suggestion: Add the link to your index so others can subscribe to your site-feed.
Here's an explanation of what XML and RSS feeds are all about.
One thing that's nice about feeds is that your readers will have the updates sent to them immediately; they won't have to keep checking back.
Unlike a website where visitors have to visite the site, the XML feeds send the content directly to your reader.
If you're interested in a free and simple way to manage your comments, there is tool has an IP-block if you're having problems with posters.
Also, this tool also lets subscribers subscribe to your site comment-feed. This means that you could have two feeds for your blog: A main site feed, and another one through the comments. Haloscan does a nice job, it's free.
Also, if you are intersted in getting your site feed converted from Atom to something that is trackable, there's a free online tool that will help you track stats, and what is popular.
The tool lets you create some nice subscription buttons so that people who want to monitor your content, updates, and comments can have those comments automatically sent to them.
Good luck with your content updates.
What on earth are you talking about.
Look the fact is LANL has great security
Can someone get some real numbers before
they say we do not. Hello, facts. Go get
the real numbers and than say something.
Ok. Is that so hard? Get facts... facts.
From now on use this in your life. Think
"do I know the facts" before you say
something. We are hear to help you.
We are hear to serve you. You can help
us by getting some facts. You will
also help yourself. Everyone wins.
I see that you already have a link to your site feed. [It was hard to find].
As a suggestion, use an orange XML-button so that people can find your site feed fast; most poeple are used to looking for the XML button on the top of the index column. Here's a link to the XML-button.
People will know to look for that.
[Sorry about not seeing your site already had a feed link; I see that you are well versed in XML feeds.]
Thank you for reviewing my comments and reading my last remark.
I appreciate your taking the time to review my information and I am glad that you are doing a great job with this blog.
I hope you realize that your efforts are inspiring, and that although this is "just a blog," that it is nice to know that there are people like you who are willing to stand up for what needs to be said.
I agree with your decision to delete the previous comments which were misleading, and I wish you well. I would provide additional contact information, but that would simply be a distraction from what you are trying to accomplish.
I wish you well, and I again thatnk you for providing the information and am glad that the NYT was able to provide a catalyst for national attention to a critical national security issue.
Good luck to you and the others who are continuing with the good fight at the Lab.
Betty: this would be a good time for you to tell us how many dues-paying LANL employees UPTE has.
It is a fact that Nanos over reacted to the safety/security situation. It is a fact that we have several inept managers. It is a fact that people have been mistreated in this whole situation. It is also a fact that there is widespread concern about the contract and possible changes to the pension plan. It is also a fact that UC needs to change out the leadership.
What is different between the perspective on this blog and reality at LANL is the naivety, immaturity, and selfishness of the population. LANL staff are very dedicated, and the crybabies that you see here argueing with the whacked-out apologists for the current Director do not represent the LANL I know. These are truly the three-sigma data points.
This acrimonious discussion will not help the lab emerge from the current cris, nor will it help encourage highly qualified persons to seek the position of Director and lead this vital national asset.
I believe this blog has done serious damage to the national opinion of LANL by giving a small group of whiners, crybabies, and losers the "voice of LANL". You all should be ashamed of yourselves.
You admit to being an "outside." You didn't not to say that in your post as the content made it clean that you have never had any association with LANL. It would be better if you understood the situation before submitting your opinion.
(1) Lanl has an essential national security mission. This mission is very complex, and requires that LANL personnel perform dangerous and difficult experiments and tasks. In general, the safety record is outstanding, but certainly not perfect.
(2) Lanl has oversight from DoE, Defense nuclear facilties safety board, NM state regulators, and is a favorite target of about a dozen non-governmental groups that either oppose nuclear weapons or research using nuclear materials. This regulation is compounded by the fact that Lanl has been doing danergous stuff for 60 years, spread out over 43 square miles. In those 60 years standards changed, and regulation exponetionated.
(3) During the Clinton administration DoE changed dramatically; not only were anti-nukes encouraged to question, they were given funding and even made part of DoE thru POGO. This created a hostile environment between the mission side of the house and the regulatory side of the house.
(4) In 1992 President Bush (the first) sign a deal to stop testing the nuclear arsenal with the caveat that over ways would be developed to assure the deterrent was reliable. For many legislators this was hailed as "peace dividend", that would mean more money for their projects or priorities. However, it is much more expensive to assure a weapons will do what is suppose to without actually firing it!
(5) UC has managed the lab for 60 years. However,
"managed" means something different here. For the most part the Federal Government wanted UC involved by signing the paychecks, and nothing more. This is reflected in the annual fee paid UC by the government to operate Los Alamos -- 8 million dollars. With this management fee UC plows more than half back into research and collaboration with universities. It is a non-profit in the fullest sense of the phrase.
(6) In the mid-90s a series of crisis hit the DoE complex, and suddenly it was important to find a scape goat -- UC. The last of these was accounting corruption by a very, very small minority of criminals in procurement.
In the end, Nanos was stood up as a leader -- he failed because he is totally over his head. He failed because confronted with the compexity he relied on bully tactics. He failed because in his confusion with the task relied on hiring yes men.
All los alamos rejoices that he is leaving
Please get the facts. Look at the
Dec 2004 issue of physics today. LANL
is the safest lab in the DOE complex.
I travel to about 15 universities every year and I can assure you we
are far far safer than them. I do not
know of people who break rules.
However, things do happen. To keep
our standards high those responsible should be delt with. But I am very
proud to work the people I do who
are very safe and put security at the highest. Please everyone get the
facts. This is one of the reasons
I am let down by Nanos. He never
gave any facts to back up his claims
or defend the lab. It really made no
I am sure you do not work at LANL.
95% of the people do not support
Nanos. I do not know one myself to be
honest. As for the non-vocal people.
I am very sorry to say that the
feeling I get from a number of them
is that they have given up or are broken. They no longer enjoy their
job and are just waiting to leave.
It is very sad.
Yes I do work at LANL. I've been here 15 years (which puts me on "old" vacation plan). I have a Z#, and I hate the parking situation at TA-3.
You have mistaken my comments as support for Nanos. Yes, most of us at LANL do not support Nanos. My point is that this blog has attracted extremists on both sides. You and the rest of the bloggers are not doing LANL any good with the childish whining and crying. This blog misrepresents the general LANL population. I am appalled at the attitudes attributed to LANL staff by the clueless, childish, whiners here.
I'm equally appalled at the shameless self promotion by Gary. What a mess.
Get some class, shut up, and suck it up in support of the great institution.