Sunday, May 01, 2005

All los alamos rejoices that he is leaving

From Anonymous:

The publicizing of the Blog to the outside world is unfortunate -- the blog as been a great forum for discussion within the LANL community. However, dropping into this discussion without background, a critical eye for what is real vs whinning, and understanding what los alamos does means that external posters/readers get a very filter view of why the blog is here.

(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

Comments:
Excellent factual summary. The only thing I would add is that the new contract is proposing $60M per year rather than the $8M per year that the University of California received. Is DOE finally admitting that UC was given an unreasonable (if not impossible) assignment? Also, there is concern among LANL employees that the "for profit" bottom line of a corporate partner will overshadow the science and technology mission that LANL has had for decades.
 
Don't forget the devastating policy changes on security made by Hazel O'Leary during the 1990s. We still reap problems from her ignorance on security.
 
LANL There are many problems at Lawrence Livermore as well
 
The summary is very biased, but is useful in that it reflects the LANL view of itself.
Two of the "facts" deserve some expansion. The UC fee reflects the fact the UC, not the DOE, insisted on a "no loss, no gain" contract. UC, by definition, makes not even $8 million per year, it makes zero, in keeping with its claims that it does this as a "service to the nation". The flip side is that it is not liable for damages from mismanagement, so we can't bill them for the shutdown costs. UC is a model for the failures of a management structure without proper incentives. The increased fee proposed comes with increased liability, thus attempting to create a rational incentive structure.
As for "O'Leary's" failures on security, this is a LANL prejudice. In fact, she attempted to reform security, which was long overdue. LANL was central in blocking the reforms, which were suggested by a DOE Security Task Force. The Wen Ho Lee case showed that the proposed reforms were necessary, as the very issues which the O'Leary task force identified, over classification and poor protection of real secrets, were factors in both the Lee case and the "hard drive" case.
The LANL staff seems to remain in profound denial of these facts. Which leaves us to wonder about reforms....
 
5/1/2005 12:01:48 PM Let’s examine your “expansion”. 1) Of course the UC insisted on a “no loss, no gain” because they are non-profit. However, I would hardly say that the $5M+ penalty levied against the UC three months ago supports your implying that they have no culpability for mismanagement. That episode is particularly egregious because DOE ensures failure by its smothering bureaucratic policy. 2) I personally attended a briefing from Hazel O’Leary proposing asinine reforms. Some of O’Leary’s profound reforms that you reference included something as fundamental as the removal of page numbers from classified documents. How wise is that? Fortunately for our nation LANL succeeded in “blocking” this kind of ignorant foolishness proposed under the guise of “reforms”. It is interesting that you reference both the Wen Ho Lee case and the hard drives. You obviously have not sat in classified briefings of the cases or you would not have used those as shining examples of your logic.
 
In response to the 12:22 post;

The $5 million "penalty" cost UC, and the State of California, nothing. Nada! Any earned fees must, per the contract, be reinvested in LANL That is the meaning of "no loss, no gain". activities. The contract is available at the labs.ucop.edu website, for your perusal.
For a clear overview of the security issue, and the O'Leary reforms, see; www.fas.org/sgp/congress/2000/aftergood.html

O'Leary was not operating in isolation; the need for reform was well established, and blocked by LANL and others.
A common factor in both the Lee case (as testified by Richter and others) and the "hard drive case" was that mishandling of information was related to misuse of the "PARD" classification by LANL; some of the information classified as PARD should have been SRD or higher. As to LANL security briefings revealing some "higher truth" in these matters, LANL security can be self serving, as revealed in the referenced cases, where lies were common.
Wen Ho Lee, as Judge Parker noted, was screwed, by LANL and the Feds.
 
Who can forget one of Ms. O'Leary's more enduring and important reforms - making all Lab badges green so that some folks wouldn't feel discriminated against by the color of their badge. Afterwards, of course, it became impossible to tell a person's clearance status by a glance at their badge. Even Secretary Pena thought that was peculiar. It took years to reverse that "long overdue" reform.
 
I am no great fan of Hazel O'Leary, to put it mildly, but come on, folks -- that's in the past. We have a present to fix and a future to live in. Let's concentrate on that rather than on the foibles of a bad past manager, except when they help us move into the future. If we get to a year into the hopefully-soon-to-start post-Nanos era and are still investing as much time ripping him as we do Hazel, I'm not sure we'll be doing the important stuff, namely recovering from all the damage he has done. Priorities!
 
Those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it. If we are given an opportunity to fix our severly crippled system the damage that O'leary did will need to be addressed at the same time the devastating damage that Nanos has done is addressed.

In 2005 LANL still does its inventories with pencil and paper. There are many technical upgrades that could help to avert the errors that plague this place. LANL always writes more complex and conflicting procedures that cannot be followed because the rules are at odds with one another. They never bother to implement engineering controls and streamline procedures to increase efficiency and accuracy. If we continue on this path, as we have even after the shutdown, there will be more problems on the horizon. Nanos has fixed nothing.
 
I grew up around the nuclear power industry. I have to say there is a profound myopia on the part of the scientists and engineers involved in it that borders on monomania. If there is no one within the system who can manage compartmentalized information, manage disparate staff with varying goals and agendas, and prevent public catastrophes, then the solutions will be imposed from without and they will not be to the liking of the pocket protector brigade.
 
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