Sunday, May 01, 2005

Acrimony between LANL scientists and director blogs its way into public view

From Anonymous:


Acrimony between LANL scientists and director blogs its way into public view
From http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/01/national/01alamos.htm (to log in, as usual, use the cypherpunks01 or infojunkies user/pass if you want to avoid being individually cookied)

Remember all those Chicken Little news reports last year, breathlessly telling a rapt public audience that the Los Alamos National Labs had "misplaced" two removable storage devices containing DoE-classified (ie, Sigma-class) nuclear weapons information? It was all an inventory error. But apparently, even though the guy who made the error had already been sacked, and had personally admitted to his error, the Director of LANL, a petty management tyrant, wasted six months leaving the labs closed and giving the employees he disliked everything from tongue-lashings to dismissals, using the "incident" as an excuse.

However, the Net has once again come to the rescue of those who are otherwise intimidated into silence; the employees at the normally highly secretive research lab have broken their silence and posted hundreds, thousands, of posts and comments criticizing the leadership of the lab. Now it looks increasingly likely that Nanos will be "reassigned" elsewhere - ie, the University of California, which runs the lab for the Department of Energy, has been embarrassed into acting.

For anyone who still thinks that all anonymity should be banned... consider whether the truth about the real abuses of power at LANL would ever have come to the public's attention without the ability for those who Nanos held power over to criticize him without fear of reprisals (which, allegedly, he dealt out capriciously, vindictively, and prolifically).

Not only that, but it's a juicy blog, full of all kinds of little tidbits of life inside a world-class government lab with thousands of employees and billions of dollars in budgeting... surprise, the same infighting, backbiting, and petty human interpersonal friction goes on there as does anywhere else. It's just that there, the stakes are a lot higher - if LANL is mismanaged, whether by unnecessarily shutting down its many useful and groundbreaking research projects, or by intimidating skilled and valuable scientists into resigning, it's not only wasting our money, it's endangering us all. That lab is a key component of the US's lead in technology, weaponry, and secure nuclear material recovery and storage, and it's got a hell of a lot of responsibility.

To see that some pointy-haired Dilbertesque boss is in charge of it just reaffirms my agreement with KMFDM's statement: We don't run Washington, and nobody really does.

The blog itself is at http://www.lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com/ ; now that it's gotten such widespread public attention, who knows how long it'll hold up under the rush of visitors, or the pressure of management on its author, who, remarkably enough, is a LANL employee and doesn't hide his own identity. Brave, but I bet he's updating his resume and checking job postings. But if they fire him for it, it'll just make matters worse.

All in all, a very interesting bit of human drama at what most of us perceived as a monolithic unemotional piece of government machinery. Surprise, humans are still humans, no matter how advanced their degrees, how white their lab coats, or how tall their ivory towers.

( At Los Alamos, Blogging Their Discontent )


Comments:
Here is a quick tutorial for those non-LANL types visiting this site. LANL employees are used to being coddled. They do not like to follow rules or structure, they usually just do as they please. It is a long-term and ingrained entitlement mentality of feeding from the government trough. They are very upset that the director raised his voice. At LANL the culture does not allow accountability or conflict. All decisions need to be “socialized” to ensure no feelings are hurt. If you go to http://upte.org/losalamos/salaries/salaries.html and look at the pay they receive for their “work”, I am sure that you will be more sympathetic to their plight.

They are generally good people, just out of touch due to years of isolation on "the hill".
 
To the author of the 12:52:

I am suspicious of broad generalizations. There are (or were) 14,000 people who worked at LANL and for its contractors. The range of "coddling expectations" represented by the staff at LANL is no different from other places I have worked. Some need lots of it, some don't need any.
 
ONE LAST TIME: Not everyone who works at LANL is a SCIENTIST! I'm sick of every news report implying that everyone at the Lab is a scientist. There are THOUSANDS of support people who are UC employees as well as the unfortunate "CONTRACTORS," who get robbed out of UC benefits but who still "do the work." Nanos is not the only problem at the Lab.
 
The author of this article is correct that LANL has become very Dilbertesque (actually, that's an understatement). But he's got the casting of the Dilbert characters wrong. Nanos is not like the bumbling but mostly harmless pointy-haired boss. He's more like Catbert, the evil HR director -- vindictive just for the fun of it. Now imagine Catbert promoted to CEO with dictatorial powers. Get the picture?
 
Remember Ratbert? More like that I would say.
 
To the 01:04:16 PM poster I whole heartedly agree with what you said.Its not just all about the scientists. There are some that are good and some that are not just like in the support organizations.
 
To Poster 12:52.

Please back your statments up with facts.
What you say in not true. LANL empolyees
do follow the rules. LANL has the best
saftey record in the DOE complex. Look
at the Dec issue of Physics Today. LANL
employees do not feed from the goverment
trough. LANL is ranked 2nd in the United
states amongts scientific organizations
in terms of publications and citations.
We have done and continue to do both
vital basic reseach and weapons reseach
for the good of our nation. In basic research front work done on materials
science, dynmical systems and HIV have
a very good chance of winning the Nobel
prize in the future. We educate countless
postdocs and students who go on to
faculty positions in the US. The people
at LANL are very hard working dedicated
people. It is reflected in our safety
record, securty record and research
impact. The poster in 12:52 does not
nor ever gives the facts. I suspect
that it was someone who was fired from
the lab. He always complains about our
pay. However, our pay scale is on target
with comparable industry jobs and
research Univerties. Again this can all
be looked up. Please poster 12:52
get the facts before you make public
statements.
 
Thanks 12:52:09 for yet another broad and rude dismissal.

While I've seen some of the behaviors and situations that might lead you to say these things, they are not nearly as pervasive or extreme as you imply here.

I am sorry that you have such a bad feeling about Los Alamos. I know a few folks who have left the laboratory very frustrated and angry. I'm sorry that you feel you have to try to tear down the whole place and everyone in it over that. If you are a former employee, you might have a little more sympathy for others here who are just like you. If not, I can't imagine how you think you know so much.

Every institution has it's issues and yes, LANL is isolated and Los Alamos is a one-company town.

Some scientists, being as focused as we often are, might put their nose deep in their research in the 50's and look up the next day to realize this is 2005 and not have a good grasp of the changed political context they are in.

So what? I'm proud of those who have been able to work hard in their chosen field for decades without having to worry too much about how "marketable" they or their specific specialty is.

Money and power can be very corrupting. I see more harm from those whose constant attention to what is in vogue in science, what is popular, who's paying for what this year than I do from those who are loyal and dedicated to their chosen work.

As another poster points out, a lot of folks at the laboratory are not scientists or engineers but technicians, administrators, clerical staff, guards, janitors, graphic designers, photographers, food service workers, librarians, etc.. Many of these people, like those living everywhere, are just doing their jobs. They are just happy to have a relatively stable and safe job to go to.

Others excel at what they do, they make an art of their work, and while many of them could do what they do here elsewhere, they have homes and families and lives in the area too. They might be well paid by regional standards but does destroying their jobs or undermining their job satisfaction help anyone? Those good jobs help to provide other good work for their friends and neighbors.

While some people were born and raised in the area, others often come from all over the country and the world, from academia, private industry and other government agencies. Overall, we are anything but insular and out of touch.

What we are is offended, threatened, inscensed and outraged by any number of things which have been visited upon us. By outside political forces pursuing hidden agendas that cause us harm. Whether it was the pursuit of a "spy" after it was clear that the compromised information could not have come from here, or an abrupt overreactive shut-up-and-sit-down manager that might well be doing it under the direction of our (conspiracy theory) political enemies.

Many of us have used the salary list you referenced as a way to recognize that we were "underpaid" compared to other parts of the high tech industry. Some of us thought that it was just our own individual circumstance that had us making 20% or more less than our peers in the larger world. A huge effort was made to realign (upwards) Computer Science salaries to prevent a bleedout of talent that was happening.

When interviewing new hires in CS I had to go to bat to get fresh graduates starting salaries that matched or exceeded my own, so they would actually consider our offer!

I did not and do not work at LANL for the high salary. I concede that it is a good salary in these uncertain times for the high tech industry after the bubble collapsed, but that is not why most of us are here.

We are here because we like the work. We are here because we like the area. We are here because our families and friends are here. We are here because we believe in the advancement of science, not just the pursuit of economic gain.

Many of us are no longer here because we like our jobs... our work still maybe, but no longer our jobs. Director Nanos' shut-up-and-sit-down(on your hands) exercise was handled very poorly. The contract rebid is being handled very poorly.

While all this mishandling could somehow be incompetence or plain arrogance and meanness on some people's part, it looks like part of a larger conspiracy to some of us.

And we are taking it personally. Imagine that.
 
Did anyone notice that he first comment did not mention scientist, yet many subsequent posts assumed they were the subject. I wonder why?
 
My comment that not all LANL workers are SCIENTISTS referred to the HEADLINE of the original article.. and also I noted that up to a year ago more than a QUARTER of the workers were not even UC employees--and many are stil not.
 
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