Thursday, April 14, 2005

This one deserves a post all its own

A comment from the


Here are some views from a Sandian. They are intended to get LANL ready, and meant to be good-natured, tongue very solidly in cheek, Will Rogers type ramblings for your edification and for Sandia: there are worse places to work.

Background: Paul Robinson is an amiable, people-person, big-picture, intelligent fellow. He thinks in terms of stories. He works like a dog on the front line in DC, and is thus known as an affable absentee landlord. At his real office in DC, he walks out on point for all things nuclear. He has backbone and will stand up for something important (like the CTBT issue). He stays on top of the most current and sensitive national security matters, and knows many lower-level technical staff by name. Bottom line: good guy to have in your foxhole when it counts. Do not approach him with administrivial whining. He will get a deputy to run LANL day to day while he fights fires in DC and keeps you all out of jail. The deputy is the person you need to worry about. Oh yeah, and UT is the REAL spooky thing. Nothing like the Texas Mafia. They will first attempt to displace the Latter-Day Saints Church from the secret control chamber at LANL...will they succeed?

Lockheed-Martin has little if anything to do with Sandia, (to their credit, as it wasn't broke when they took over) other than using flashy PR shots in their company newspaper, or poaching small but valuable pieces of engineering technology or IP for their DoD business. They also make asinine Ethics videos we have to watch since they were busted being such crooks in their DoD biz. We can't even talk to them without filling out forms and getting permission for breaching of legal firewalls. So it should be. We do not want to go to jail. The obligatory execs get farmed out here to be senior managers.

1) How science has fared:
a) under Robinson: his role is at the highest level of getting the DOE off our backs about LDRD, or getting science-based stockpile supported... Paul likes science success stories to tell bigwigs and politicos, he is just gee-whizzed about all the cool geek magic. Don't underestimate the resolution and range of his B.S. detector array. Peer-review inside the Lab has disappeared, as no one wants to offend anyone else by criticizing. No one in management cares about the quality of the work as long as funding comes in. They promote to management all the staff that have no scruples about work quality or ethics. All that matters is funding. Second priority is the care and feeding of middle-management superstars and their illustrious careers...oh, it takes so much ability to wait every year for that big pot of government money, attend the endless internal budget meetings, hobnob in DC, fill out all those forms on the Web...what skill, what business acumen! This is why so many Sandia managers are recruited away to lead Fortune 500 companies to staggering profits...excuse me, I was hallucinating...must be the beryllium from the Z machine...have you guys heard about that? If you are identified as a golden boy or girl, you practically have to shoot and dismember someone in your office in order to get a reprimand and a possible decrease in bonus. Manage a $40 million program into the ground? Congratulations, here is your promotion to Director!

b) Science under Lockheed: again, this has nothing to do with it.
c) Science fares at Sandia as the individual Directors/VPs garner capital construction funding via lobbying the political superstructure. Most science is based on the facility, CINT, Z, etc. with a few rare exceptions. IF you are the rare researcher who can make global-quality breakthroughs with little funding and lots of brains, assuming you can get your own money, they will give you press, awards, and leave you alone. If you have trouble getting money, too bad. The patent office at Sandia is a joke. They give away millions in IP because they are too busy with a few favorite topics (like MEMS) to pay attention to anything like fair licensing or royalty deals, and never pursue infringement. What is starting to pass more and more for science at Sandia is actually junk, as "program developers" (read: Salespeople) carve out $500K chunks, parse it out 15 ways, get 300 powerpoint slides back, and call it Science to impress clueless sponsors at DARPA. I hope UT lays into that contingent with a gamma-ray laser. They have no business being at a National Lab. There are only a few organizations at Sandia where true science is done. By that, I mean experiments where the outcome is not known in advance. Yes, it is that bad. A lot of engineers here think they do science when all they are really doing is product development.

All in all, the taxpayer gets a good deal at the end of the day, because I know 2 or 3 people at Sandia who have actually saved the world from imminent catastrophe. You know, cut the blue wire first kind of thing.

2) retirement: benefits for new hires will change, as they did at Sandia: loss of UC in-state tuition for kids, replaced by UT, less vacation. The pension issue is so radioactive they will handle it on Wall Street, where Paul Robinson made his pile (he does not need the paycheck, you know). An actuarial analysis will be done, railed against by LANL near-retirees, finally accepted along with a 5+5 age and year of service incentive.

Final observation: it may not have sunk in up there, but it has been pretty clear to some at Sandia that nuclear weapons are an ugly redheaded stepchild with a proud Mommy and Daddy (USAF, USN). Our main roles at LANL and SNL are as public works projects and facts on the ground so the state of NM does not get annexed by a narcotrafficante cartel in Mexico. Chances are NNSA gets shifted over to DOD pronto once LockMart gets the helm. You folks need to think about the ramifications of having every Lt. Col. with a master's degree coming to NM to get his Hi-Tech merit badge...and the Colonels and Generals retiring to take your management jobs. That is already happening at Sandia with predictable results. I'm all for the military, but as my military lab friends have told me, they eat their labs...most of them are gone. There aren't too many Sandians who will be happy at being sent up to LANL, unless they already live up there or are married to LANLers. Or already sleeping in the woods on the mesa...

Bottom bottom line: every day you should wake up and ask yourself if you want to go to work. Nobody can force you, you know. Do a Ben Franklin: if the pluses outweigh the minuses, stay. If not, go. I stay at Sandia because I am able to contribute something real to national security. If that changes, I am gone as soon as practical. I'm one of those pesky idealists.

P.S. Don't forge your timecard when Sandia takes over. Time card fraud is a great firing tool. Note the Sandia Prime Directive: Avoid All Conflict at All Costs.
Sandia Motto: Passive Aggression Always Works.

"Or already sleeping in the woods on the mesa..."

We have at least one of those. Hey Micro Mike, wanna be a LANDIA manager?

For those Sandians puzzled by the "Micro Mike" reference:
Nothing like the Texas Mafia. They will first attempt to displace the Latter-Day Saints Church from the secret control chamber at LANL...

To that I can only say "Hook 'em Horns!"
Thanks for an insider view of life at Sandia and very likely our future. Sad but true.
The Sandia you describe is heaven compared to the hell we have been rowed to by the Boatman of the Styx. We desperately need CPR.
"Nothing like the Texas Mafia. They will first attempt to displace the Latter-Day Saints Church from the secret control chamber at LANL..."

Adm. ("Bellybuttonlint") Brooks, Adm. Robt. ("Fullsteam") Foley, and V. Adm. G.Peter ("Rick") Nanos are Mormons and part of the secret Utah Navy?
I do appreciate the tongue-in-cheek humor of the Sandian who posted the "View from Sandia".

As my own contribution to the comic relief, let me remind us that about 150 years ago, the Eastern half of NM was part of the "Great Republic of Texas" (which itself lasted maybe 2 decades).


LANL sits a scant few miles outside the border of the erstwhile Republic of Texas"
and Sandia a scant few miles inside.

Perhaps UT and GW Bush are after our "Children" (in-State Tuition to UT schools)?

They say "Don't Mess with Texas", but I have to wonder why anyone (even Texas!) wants to mess with a bunch of idiot-savante rocket-scientists (as well as the many well-adjusted, normal ones too) who know more about nuclear weapons than anyone on the planet.

... Not to mention wierd science like , superstrings, and .

Just wait until UT's computer systems turn to "grey goo" or the President and his Cabinet start to wink in and out of this Universe at random intervals?

Tongue-in-cheek. All in good humor. And a couple of timezones upstream. (5:03 PM EDT)
Sounds very much like Los Alamos over the past twenty years, especially on the non-weapons side of the house. (Except for the part about effective DC presence.)
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