Friday, May 20, 2005

'Chaos' predicted for new lab team

MIT expert sees rocky transition no matter who runs Los Alamos

By Sue Vorenberg
May 20, 2005

Culture change - and maybe chaos - is coming to Los Alamos National Laboratory.

No matter who wins the bid to operate the lab, its management style, business practices and daily operations will shift, says Hugh Gusterson, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies the political culture of nuclear weapons scientists and labs.


Full Story

Fascinating article comparing the bidders, with only a few errors. Heretofore I have been pretty neutral on the bidders, but I must say that Paul Robinson said more in this article to support Los Alamos and its employees than UC has said in months. I have to rethink my neutrality.
Robinson is a savvy guy, and he knows how to run a lab. We would be
very lucky to have a man like him as our Director. As time goes by,
I find myself leaning more and more towards LM and away from the
disaster that has been UC. I also find it interesting that S&T is
going to rate 320 points, but the oral presentation by the candidate
Directors will rate 250 points. Imagine giving an oral presentation
for a multi-million dollar bid with that type of pressure riding on
your back. It also feels good knowing that whoever wins, we'll likely
have a Director who is far more qualified than Pete Nanos. Just
thinking about him these days makes me want to shudder.
I got a very favorable impression of Robinson as well from the article. He has been at Los Alamos and also away from Los Alamos. This may mean that he may be able to merge good features from both environments.
I am sceptical of UC and the current management team for the lab (shudder).

I was struck by strong emphasis on the oral presentation by the director in the press conference announcing the RFP. The point I took away was that the choice of the future director will be a very important factor in awarding the contract. They emphasized and reemphasized this point. That is a good sign given the last couple of years.
The juxtaposition in the article between Robinson's opinion of the 9/80 and Foley's remarks following closely about having made management mistakes recently is dramatic and entertaining.

Right now, UC's team in comparison with LM's team strikes me the same way as the Clampett's trying to relate to Beverly Hills.
I joined the old AP Division shortly after Paul Robinson moved out and up as a new AD. Although I never met him, I heard nothing but affection for him from those who had worked under him. I would expect a Paul Robinson directorship to be very good for LANL
I have to separate my judgement about who would make a better future lab team into two sets of issues:

1) What is best for the institution (LANL) and large, publicly funded Science itself.

2) What is best for me personally. What fits my personal needs and interests.

To the extent that I am "typical" of many LANL employees, these are entertwined. What works for me as an employee, as a scientist, as a member of the local community also supports what is good for the institution.

But these also may be at odds in a few ways.

With the RFP out and a very real chance that my own UCRP vestment won't be gutted (25+ years at age 48!) after all, I am less personally concerned with UC keep ing the contract than I was before. It was a selfish, but not unmotivated position.

Robinson, as mouthpiece for LM is apparently making a good impression on a lot of people. People feel like they would like to work for him. To whatever extent Sandia is making sense, LANL under LM might make similar sense. This might be very good for the institution and the people who are trying to get their work done, at least for the moment.

Northrop/Grumman seems to be an unknown (untested?) player. They are a defense contractor as is LM and Bechtel. More on that in asecond.

UC is a known (evil?) and I do not accept most of the negative rhetoric here against them but to believe they have failed us in a number of ways. Some of them may have been completely out of their control however...

UT is academic. It is a big system (but not as big as UC). It has a chance of providing some of what UC has provided. On the other hand, I think (and I am sure others have strong opinions about this) that UC has a *much* stronger science offering than UT. Part of this may be *because* of the long-standing relationship between UC and LANL/LLNL/LBNL?

UC continues to run LLNL (for another couple of years?) and is renewed (for many more years?) for LBNL. this is a good argument for UC keeping LANL.

My biggest concern personally, and for the sake of my ideals about the institution and big science in general is that any defense contractor will take us in a direction that is wrong for us. LM/UT clearly has LM first and I believe UT is not as strong as UC scientiically. NG does not have a University partner? And UC/Bechtel clearly has UC first. They have the experience, the track record, etc.

I hope UC retakes the contract, even in bed with Bechtel, but I fear that no matter who takes it, we are already losing ground on basic science in favor of commercial and military goals.

I'm mostly resolved to make the best of whatever comes along next, but it is not without personal and professional trepidation.

We've entered a new era with all it's challenges and opportunities.
There is no doubt that Robinson's remarks are far more palatable to almost any LANL employee than Foley's remarks in this article but even worse when he was here for the last all hands meeting.
Foley probably did more to help Sandia/UT than they could have done themselves.
The fact that the weighting for the bid is Science and Technology 320 and Oral Presentation 250 points is outrageous. What that means is that a company's ability to do science and technology is only barely more important than its ability to send in a fast talking salesperson. If Foley makes the oral presentation UC will be out in a heart beat.
One thing bothered me in Robinson's description however. He said that Sandia's retirement plan is as good as UC's. We have all seen the retirement factors for Sandia's retirement plan on this blog. They are definitely not as good as UC's. So I find myself wondering if Paul Robinson is not, in fact, that slick talking sales person. Seems to me it is a big mistake for him to tell us a lie, just as it was a big mistake for Foley to behave like an absolute jerk in the all hands meeting at LANL.
It is hard to get very excited about either side. What is it they used to tell English women? Lie back and think of England?
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