Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Congress to Hear Update On LANL

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer

Congress to Hear Update On LANL

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer
Less than a week before its government contract competition officially gets under way, Los Alamos National Laboratory will again be the focus of a congressional hearing. Lawmakers will gather in Washington on Thursday to hear testimony about ongoing management concerns at the weapons lab.

The upcoming hearing will be the fourth since 2003 held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations dedicated to the topic of LANL and its management under the University of California.

Officials with the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, charged with overseeing the nation's nuclear programs and their security, are expected to answer questions and update House Energy and Commerce lawmakers on improved management and security at the New Mexico weapons lab.

Next week, DOE and NNSA plan to release a final request for proposals outlining their requirements for the future manager of LANL.

So far, defense contractors Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are the only companies that have announced their intentions to compete for the contract. University of California officials have said they are preparing as if they will compete, but a final decision won't come from the school's Board of Regents until after the final request for proposals is released.

An aide with the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations said the hearing is meant to be about "routine oversight" and an update on issues raised during the subcommittee's March 18 hearing by LANL director Pete Nanos, NNSA chief Linton Brooks, and DOE's security and safety director Glenn Podonsky.

At that hearing, Nanos told lawmakers that LANL officials "identified more than 3,000 issues," ranging from safety compliance to permitting, that needed to be fixed over the coming years.
Posters on an independent Web blog started by a lab employee have predicted in recent weeks that Nanos will soon resign as lab director. But University of California officials have said they continue to support Nanos, and lab spokesmen say such rumors have been floating around for months and are unsubstantiated.

A witness list for Thursday's hearing has not been released, but LANL spokesman Kevin Roark said neither Nanos nor any University of California officials are expected to testify.
LANL has been the focus of congressional scrutiny since late in 2002 following a series of financial and management problems. In 2003, DOE announced it planned to put the LANL contract up for competitive bidding for the first time in its 62-year history when the University of California's contract ends in September.

LANL's security over classified information was brought into question last summer, when lab officials announced they couldn't locate two computer disks that investigations later concluded never existed.

The first questions from the Congressmen for Linton Brooks should be: "What
happened to those three classified disks from the DOE ABQ office that were
reported missing last summer? Who in the DOE ABQ office was punished for
this matter?"
The first responder seems to ignore some data, namely the 3,000 issues that surfaced during the restart. An earlier contributor from DX Division (the site of the security issue) laid out the profound management problems in that Division; which accounted for the very slow restart of DX. DX managers were removed, apparently for good cause. And, although the CDs in question did not exist; this does not excuse the lies told about their existence. The lies, of themselves, would seem to justify the terminations of those having custody of the disks.
Ignoring the (3,000) very real problems at LANL, and blaming it all on Nanos, seems a "head in the sand" approach, which will only cast doubts on LANL's ability to manage its own affairs, and may well make new (non UC) management, seem not only desirable but essential.
I hope the Congressmen focus on the content of the upcoming RFP, and assuring a fair and open competition. This would seem to serve the nations interests.
10:55 poster.

I would tend to agree with you. Hover to be absolutely fair we should know exactly how does LANL really compare to the other DOE labs. For instance if a similar check was done at LLNL would 3k or 10k problems be found? I have no problem with fixing problems and improving security and safety but we need the facts. About that 3000 problems. How many of these are actual problems versus souped up junk to justify the shut-down? How many of these problems where already identified and being
worked on? The environment is always changing with technology so new problems by definition are showing up. I simply want an accurate accounting of the real facts at LANL. Nanos does not give them.
I also think there is a highly probability
that the stand-down the way is was done pronely brought about a very insecure and unsafe environment for a time.
I bet you will not hear about that.

Also you should get your facts straight about the DX restart. I would say to you this. The nation will absolutely be served in the best way possibly if the true facts about Los Alamos is brought to full light about the security, safely and scientific value. The problem is people like Nanos and Brooks care about themselves and
not about what is really is best for the nation. Before you jump on my
case fundamentally these people are politicians and that is they way the
think. We need real leadership on all levels. Men with honor, dignity,
a real work ethic, sense of responsibility, and pride. If you have ever spoken with Nanos or Brooks you will know that these people have none of these traits.
I assume, if people found 3,000 issues, that there is a .pdf somewhere, right? Wonder where that is?
After the Congress and others review the matters, will anything really change? I'm not holding my breath.
So here is an example of one of the 3000 issues found and not yet remedied:

In our hallway there was a set of steel fire doors. They are held open by electromagnets which release when the fire alarm goes off and allows the doors to close.

During the first days of the standdown a zealous staff member decided that these doors are supposed to be shut all the time, otherwise, how can they provide a proper "firewall".

This issue was raised to group and then division management level. Building and fire personnel were called in to consult.

Meanwhile the doors were kept closed, "just to be safe".

Others of us tried to explain how the system worked and why it wasn't a problem. We were told to "get with the program".

Anyone passing through them had to push them open with significant effort, often jamming them into someone reaching for the handle on the other side.

Some of tried to explain why *this* *was* a problem. We were told to "get with the program".

As far as I know, nobody has been hurt badly but the last time I was in that hallway, the doors were closed and there was still the big handmade sign, saying "Fire Doors, do not prop open!"

I may not have the whole story and maybe they were tested and didn't work, or maybe nobody knows how to test them, or maybe the tests are not formalized and accredited.

Last time we had a group meeting, safety was brought up, someone asked "about those fire doors" and were told "it's been taken care of" in an intimidating tone.

I wanted to ask what that meant, "taken care of" but the tone of the meeting was already negative...

This is what intimidation down the chain of command gets you. I'm glad this is a very small issue and that most people are able to cope with the consequences of what is probably a bad management overreaction.

Where else might this kind of management by intimidation be going on?
How many of those 3000 issues actually reflect vague or contradictory DOE rules that we are just trying to follow as best we can?
Expect another complete whitewash by our elected representatives. Worse yet, Nanos will have a national forum for a farewell speach full of distortions and ego-riffic statements. Makes me want to write in "Alfred E. Neuman" on the next congressional ballot.
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