Thursday, May 05, 2005
Advice to the bidders
Advice to the bidders
A first step in any significant management decision is a strategic situational analysis, commonly known as a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). Here is one insider’s view (non-management) of the situation at LANL just prior to the release of the RFP. Give it the credence you see fit.
§ A large Q-cleared workforce. Replacing a cleared employee takes two years for recruiting, relocating, clearing, and training and five years before they can become effective in many of the highly specialized fields. Having a large pool of already-cleared workers facilitates quick responses to changing work requirements.
§ Uniquely skilled scientific and technical support personnel. LANL has people who have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do things done nowhere else in the world. This applies to both TSMs and technicians, as there is nowhere else to learn the specialized skills required at LANL other than OJT. These people are not fungible goods, and their skills are not easily duplicated elsewhere.
§ Support facilities and equipment that would difficult or prohibitively expensive to duplicate elsewhere.
§ An attractive physical location and a positive academic reputation help to recruit high-caliber personnel.
§ A national security mission (especially as regards to nuclear weapons and effects) human knowledge base (tribal knowledge) that can’t be replicated elsewhere.
§ Scientific personnel with extensive personal relationships in the international advanced physics, chemistry, and biology communities, facilitating informal communications channels and collaborations. These relationships reduce the delay between scientific discovery and implementation.
The principle weaknesses at LANL are with the existing management, an area where a new contractor could have an enormous positive impact.
§ Failure To Manage Employees
o Internal Communications. Senior management is seen as disconnected from the reality of the workplace and is unable to communicate a consistent, empowering corporate vision of LANL’s future to the rank and file. Employees are in public revolt against current senior management.
o Completing bureaucratic paperwork has become far more important than getting the job accomplished – we have become the work-free safe zone. Technical employees are frustrated by a focus on that places CYA paperwork higher than technical accomplishments and high-quality work output.
o Unionized support trades are expensive, inefficient, and demoralizing to the non-unionized workforce. They are seen as an obstacle to success rather than a partner.
§ Failure To Manage The Organization
o There is no consistent organizational development plan to grow supervisors into managers and instill a culture of managerial professionalism up and down the chain of command. While several functions have the term “leader” in their title, few actually lead.
o LANL needs a two-ladder professional development system, one ladder being the technical side and the other being the management side. In too many circumstances, senior technical people are promoted into management positions due to their technical skills and fail because they don’t have the organizational and people skills to be effective. Having a PhD. in the hard sciences doesn’t confer the skills required to become an effective leader or manager.
o Newly-promoted people spend far too much time in “Acting” positions. The time to decide if a person is qualified for the job is before they are promoted, not after they are in office. Conversely, there is no effective way to identify and remove or reassign under-performing personnel.
§ Failure To Manage The Business
o Strategic Planning. The LANL vision statement is a cornucopia of Dilbert-speak platitudes. There is no strategic planning, but there are many management retreats. Yes, part of this is the political vagaries of the appropriation process, but part of it is that LANL management has been unable to lay out a clear vision of the laboratory’s national mission, concrete steps towards what needs to be done, and then deliver on the promises. Mismanaging technology projects (e.g.: DARHT, LANL’s NIF) with a “cost plus” attitude has destroyed credibility with the funding organizations. Management focus is on CYA paperwork and fear of audits rather than on deliverables and meeting commitments.
o Marketing. LANL management has failed to diversify aggressively into homeland security, biology, and other up-and-coming areas to broaden the laboratory business base and cultivate Work for Others (WFO). Developing new customers (and maintaining existing ones under WFO is left to individuals and is unsupported by the organization. Contracts for WFO are not treated as a corporate commitment, driving customers away and leading to a nuclear weapons monoculture at the lab.
o Bloated Overhead Functions. There is a wasted duplication of support functions because centralized support organizations are non-responsive to mission needs, creating an “underground economy” in indirect labor. Forcing support functions to develop a customer-focused attitude and consolidating functions will reduce overhead and eliminate many “almost full-time but not quite” jobs scattered about the organization.
o Financial Management. Unstable and arbitrarily-adjusted budgeting diverts attention and manpower away from program execution. Management information systems are crude and obsolete. Arcane (and arbitrarily applied) overhead rules that change in the middle of the fiscal year damage budgetary credibility.
§ Failure To Manage External Relations
o Management has failed to sell LANL’s role in national security to the body politic. They should take a lesson from NASA and reach out not just to the academic elites but also to the general public at the Scientific American level. No need for cartoons, but publicity on how LANL supports national science and national security would help counter the negative publicity of past years.
o Manage the quality of LANL-sponsored papers and presentations at conferences. Many of them are science-fair show and tell posters rather than real research.
§ The contract recompetition will provide the opportunity to restructure the entire organization along corporate lines, consolidating many now-dispersed and inefficient overhead functions and breaking up the little fiefdoms.
§ The new contractor’s fee and payment of NM GRT will probably hit the budget for $100M, or equivalent to perhaps 750 FTEs. The promised exodus of near-retirement UC workers will affect not only the technical staff, but also many of the support people. A retirement incentive program targeted at support personnel would help bring the overhead rate under control without invoking a RIF. Turnover at LANL under UC is well below national norms, leading to people “retired in place.” An opportunity to replace these people through retirement will revitalize the organization.
§ Recent crises have brought attention and money to fix long-standing problems such as RedNet. Exemplary execution of the RedNet project will improve LANL’s credibility with NNSA/DOE.
§ A new pit manufacturing facility at LANL will bring stable funding but will require a huge capital investment and long-term congressional commitment. LANL must resist being forced into pit manufacturing in the existing TA-55 facility as it is unsuited to the task and will be more hazardous than a purpose-built manufacturing facility. The argument must be based on embracing the MPF mission and doing it right, rather than undertaking a high-risk activity at a facility ill-suited to production flows.
§ Anti-nuclear forces are gathering political support to shut down anything associated with nuclear weapons, including LANL. These people are working in concert with a vocal minority that has a strong resentment towards people of academic achievement. These anti-academics resent the market-matching salaries that LANL personnel enjoy.
§ Environmental cleanup will consume an ever-larger portion of a gradually-declining operating budget. In this zero-sum game, shortchanging science will become the norm, driving away the best researchers.
§ Pete Domenici’s retirement will provide opening for opportunists like Hobson to cripple the nuclear program. Heather Wilson as his heir-apparent will have zero seniority in the Senate and will not be able to “bring home the bacon” that Domenici does.
§ The mass exodus of experienced personnel will take their tribal knowledge with them. Experienced people are already soured on Nanos’ double-dipper edict and many will take their knowledge with them in July.
RIFs are usually more costly than they appear. People can be sent off for retraining in new programmatic specialties more cheaply. As a 1987 RIFee with access to BUCS, I pulled the numbers and discovered a net loss to the Lab, which would have saved money by sending its degreed RIFees for a year in grad school and RIFed graded series for technical training (Yup, travel, temporary change of station, &c. included) instead of tossing 66 people and the LANL investment in them to the sidewalk.
Business streamlining would be good- but allow non-technicals time to retrain, if they are so inclined.
Don't hold your breath for a retirement incentive.
Many of our time consuming directives come from DOE directly- so don't forget to put some blame there. (weakness?)
Shame on GPN for not draining the real swamps at LANL, many of us had high hopes when you were first appointed director. The public bullying and temper tantrums have only made you lose further credibility and support from dedicated employees.
LANL needs a two-ladder professional development system, one ladder being the technical side and the other being the management side. In too many circumstances, senior technical people are promoted into management positions due to their technical skills and fail because they don’t have the organizational and people skills to be effective. Having a PhD. in the hard sciences doesn’t confer the skills required to become an effective leader or manager.
First, LANL does NOT need a "two-ladder" system. One of the nice features at LANL is that ALL Technical Staff Members are of the same rank: TSM. LANL is not the NAVY. What is NOT needed is some incentive for employees to do the things required to get promoted to the next TSM level rather than just do a good job.
Secondly, LANL employees are NOT "promoted to management positions due to their technical skills." Specific examples include Lisa Guetierrez, Micheline Devaurs, and Fred Tarantino.