Monday, May 30, 2005

DERAIL REBID OF LANL CONTRACT

My views on the contract for managing LANL have received some criticism to the effect that, by voting for "None of the above" corporate candidates to run the Lab, I have proposed a solution that does not fit into the "framework" of the bidding process. Let me expand on my comments: I believe that present and former Lab employees should mount a campaign of letter writing, beginning with comments right here on this blog, to all members of Congress that matter at all, stating that we want the whole bidding process to stop forthwith.

The entire premise of this contract rebid is groundless. For some seven years, the press has had one field day after another reporting misinformation about who is at fault for the "problems" and "scandals" that have "plagued" Los Alamos National Laboratory, beginning with the Wen Ho Lee fiasco. Every article about the Lab has buried in it somewhere, if not in the opening paragraph, the inference that LANL is unique in the history of national laboratories for its "failed" business practices ("waste, fraud, and serial abuse of the poor, beleaguered American taxpayer"), its "deplorable" record of environmental "disasters," and its "miserable" record of safety and security "lapses." The facts, when calmly examined by a cool eye, say otherwise, and they say it dramatically; the Lab is by no means a perfect institution--don't get me wrong--it needs the checks and balances of independent oversight, just like any other human enterprise, but it does not stick out like a sore thumb when compared to either Livermore or Sandia. But what it most certainly does NOT need is a complete redefinition of its mission by one or the other leading corporate member of the military-industrial complex. A nuclear weapons lab that serves the nation's interests in overseeing the stockpile--but NOT manufacturing that stockpile--and that produces basic scientific research for the good of mankind, needs to be free of the micromanagement that a profit-making entity would introduce, above and beyond the level already foisted upon it by the DOE/NNSA bureaucracy in Washington.

The best solution (but by no means perfect) to the "problems" at Los Alamos that the rebid of the contract would allegedly "solve" is to go back to something like the status quo ante. The University of California should be retained to "manage" three things, and only three things: (1) oversee the retirement system for all LANL employees, (2) oversee the benefits system for all LANL employees, and (3) oversee the scientific research aspects of the Lab, namely, run the LDRD program with true peer review and guarantee the academic freedom and integrity of the Laboratory's scientists. As in the past, UC should give advice and consent to DOE/NNSA's choice for Lab Director, particularly focusing on the Director's role as Chief Science Officer. DOE/NNSA should take over all responsibility--ALL of it--for business practices (including procurement), environmental compliance, safety, and security. Everyone at LANL should be an employee of UC--not the US Government--with accountability to UC for science and DOE/NNSA for operations. (Obviously, it may take some time for the lawyers at DOE/NNSA and UC to hammer this all out, but the suspension of the rebid process should be announced promptly, so that some semblance of normalcy can resume at the Lab, and the outflow of talent stanched.)

The rebidding of the contract is a bad idea, as it was when it was adopted over two years ago. Nanos' shutdown of the Lab for no defensible reason demonstrated the vulnerability of LANL's scientific enterprise when managed in a military way, and I fear that a similar fate may befall the Lab's science if it is managed in an industrial way. UC has never really had any true say about the operations, but the management of science is clearly better left to an academic institution. UC's management of the retirement and benefits have been unquestionably outstanding, and there is no need to change whatever works well. DOE/NNSA should treat Livermore and Los Alamos in exactly the same way, with the same setup in regard to UC's role; that way, Los Alamos ought never again be used as a political football, at least in principle.

A true conservative is one who stands up to radicals who seek to destroy an institution that, on balance, does much good. I call on all true conservatives to join in an effort to help derail the rebidding of the LANL contract.

--
Brad Lee Holian, former LANL employee

Comments:
This makes a lot of sense; however, the government is not necessarily run by people who are "gifted" with common sense.
 
Thanks to Brad for yet another well stated argument in support of the reputation and integrity of the laboratory. I appreciate that he can both challenge the many harmful acts UC has been involved in without assuming that they were the root cause of them. They may be guilty of many things but it is not clear that they started or perpetuated any of our ills except through various degrees of complicity.

I do not know if what he suggests is practical or doable in this time frame, but I do echo the sentiment.

I do not believe that the majority of the real problems LANL has are a result of UC's oversight nor do I believe that putting a defense contractor (even as second-fiddle to UC as Bechtel would start out being) is going to solve the *real* problems but rather exacerbate them.

Steve Smith
(sasmyth@swcp.com)
 
In regards to the press: I hope everyone will read Keay Davidson's (the reporter who is soliciting a "straw vote" from us). recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle and let him know how you feel about what he has written there:

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/05/29/BAGV7D0J7Q1.DTL

After reading several of his articles on the rebid, exchanging several e-mails with him and meeting him briefly at the UC Regents meeting last Wednesday, I believe he should be able to tell the difference between the popular rumors about LANL that make good headlines but bad retractions and the facts.

I challenge him to help repair some of the damage he and his fellow journalists have done through sensational generalizations and the glossing over of what should have been real retractions.

I cannot tell from this article if Keay believes that classified information was actaully lost or if there was ever actaully a Ford Mustang purchased through LANL in some fashion, but I submit that he leads the reader to believe that such was true.

I normally ignore this kind of journalism since it is so common, but since Keay has made the effort to engage with this community by soliciting our opinions, I think we should include in our opinions, opinions of the way he has chosen to depict us.

- Steve Smith
sasmyth@swcp.com
 
Great job, Brad, but who among politicians would hear to voice of reason?
 
I would have more symapathy with these arguments if they were not so obviously self-serving. Let's see: make UC responsible for salaries and retirement (translation: don't make us lose any money and don't pay us like bureaucrats); make UC responsible for the science (translation: let us continue doing technologically whatever we please); make NNSA responsible for business/operations (translation: give those nasty government folks (who don't make much money anyway) responsible for all those things we are being criticized for). All fun; nothing that could make us accountable for anything going wrong.
 
To Anonymous : 5/30/2005 02:24:11 PM, this does in fact make sense. UC has done a marvelous job in managing the retirement fund. There have been no contributions by employees or DOE since the early 1980's. As far as the benefits, the leverage of the large UC system allows good pricing on things like medical and dental (although, of late, both United Health Care and Delta Dental do have some problems). As far as the science, UC is also very good at that. This keeps the things that UC excels at.

Now, regarding the other stuff (business/operations) having NNSA responsible does make some sense. The regulations and unfunded mandates that have strangled work at LANL have come mostly from NNSA. Let NNSA consider cost/benefit before inflicting rules and procedures on LANL.
 
No doubt, the retirement system and science has been marvelous under UC. Come the new contract both will change big time. Time to move on down the road. I am not going to risk my monthly annuity to some Washington boneheads.
 
The 5/30/2005 02:24:11 PM reply strongly sounds like a DOE/NNSA employee..."don't pay us like bureaucrats" and "who don't make much money anyway". The remark by this poster, "let us continue doing technologically whatever we please" is particularly disturbing as s(he) seems greatly irritated by investigatory science...implying "let DOE prescriptively tell you exactly what science you must do and how you are to do it." This attitude from DOE will kill innovative thinking and science at the national Labs. The content in this person's post is fundamental to comments repeatedly expressed (and attitudes displayed) by DOE about LANL benefits. There is a palpable hostility and jealousy by DOE employees towards employees at the national Labs. This is precisely what makes the DOE Lab oversight relationship a very, very unhealthy one. Our nation needs to return to a streamlined oversight by an executive board such as the AEC concept. Also, ditto to remarks from 5/30/2005 02:53:46 PM.
 
Yet another myth eliminated. Here's the Basic Rates of Pay for Employees in Senior-Level and Scientific or Professional Positions.
MINIMUM MAXIMUM
$107,550 $140,300
http://www.opm.gov/oca/05tables/indexSES.asp
and here's the congressional and federal employee retirement formula, page 10. Their multiplier appears to be 2.5, irrespectivel of age, depending on years of service
http://www.google.com/search client=safari&rls=en&q=congressional+retirement+benefits&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8
 
The LANL rebid is just a diversion from what REALLY needs to happen - the elimination of DOE with missions moved off to other more capable organizations. LANL, like all the other DP labs, is crushed under the burden of opressive regulation. NNSA was supposed to solve security issues and streamline operations and focus on the national security mission. What we now have is an out of control DOE with no checks or balances on overkill regulation, and an NNSA that has failed to manage any improvement at any site in the complex. NNSA can not prioritize work. Look at Pantex and Y-12. Nice job bringing in new contractors (BWXT) that now can not even wash the floor without an incentive. How much money is being wasted accorss the complex due to inept management oversight from NNSA? Our problems at LANL pale in comparison. If any congressional staffers are out there reading - start looking at NNSA. Look at performance. Look at the failure to take unneeded work off the plate. Look at the incentive structure that forces this nation to pay twice for work at the NNSA plants. Look at the NNSA organizational structure. Look at buddies of NNSA senior management that seem to move from site to site collecting ever bigger titles without any background in the areas they manage. The NNSA system is not working well for the country. Moving NNSA out of DOE and into DoD would be a good start on recovering the complex for supporting the stockpile. Killing NNSA and moving mission into another agency would be even better. NNSA has failed.
 
What's really need is a new Department of Science & Technology that would handle oversight of the national labs and also fund basic research in this country, with DOE sent off to handle energy/oil policy issues. DOE nuclear production work would go to DOD, while the new Dept of S&T would handle the science/research side of nuclear weapons for DOD. ALL of the existing silly DOE and NNSA orders/regulations would be null and void - why is DOE inventing new regulations for biological work at the national labs instead of using the CDC to regulate the work... ask anyone who is doing non-weapons work at a UC Lab (LANL/LBNL/LLNL) how much more it cost verses research on a UC campus, all due to DOE inventing its version of existing rules (OSHA, EPA, CDC, etc).
 
The poster claims that UC is not to blame for the supposed failures laid at LANL's doorstep in the last ten years.

Beginning with Hecker's mindless notion that we can improve efficiency and productivity at the Lab by slashing support staff (a no-brainer NO-WAY idea that managed to cruise along until angrily derailed by the very deadwood it sought to eliminate), UC has sat in the passenger seat as various directors have made ongoing errors. UC failed to insist upon proper defense against the overblown criticism of the Lab for the Wen-Ho and hard-drive incidents, and then, under Nanos, sat contentedly present as the drunk driver plowed into tree after tree after tree. Now that Minnie-Me has finally shoved off, we're still left with Dr. Evil, the other so-called admiral, at UC.

We are supposed to ignore this blatant mismanagement and more-than-a-decade abuse of Laboratory personnel for, what, money? Maintaining continuity in our pension? There's a word for someone who willingly suffers abuse for money--it corresponds to the oldest profession, next to farming--and while I understand why some might embrace this role, I don't think it is an appropriate one for upstanding humans to embrace.

Perhaps with greater accuracy, we could consider whether the desire that we all to some extent feel to have this whole contract renegotiation issue just go away is akin to the battered housewife syndrome: I'm sure he'll change, he'll change for me, and I'm sure he won't do it again.

Get rid of Foley, (Decatheterize UC, the bumper stickers could say), and I'll join you in pushing for a reversal of Abrahams' prejudiced and prejudicial decision or would at least consider supporting the UC rebid. But as long as Foley remains our true boss, the abuse of and disrespect for LANL employees--and the disastrous course we've seen particularly the last half-decade under UC's management--won't change, mature reflection would counsel. If the other party of the marriage gets counseling, then there's a chance for the marriage, but UC has to look at its own contribution to our problematical relationship.
 
Foley must go!
 
to the anonymous 5/30/2005 02:34:30 PM poster: This is the real problem as how we are looked upon by the outside world, pay--retirement first--science second or some where down the line. We do not sound like a scientific institution just like a bunch of greedy know-it-alls (which we are). Good job.
 
Much clearer than your last post, Brad, but you've left some things out.

What happens to everything at the Lab that is not basic research? If everyone at the Lab is to be a UC employee, then some of them will be doing various aspects of nuclear weapons development, likely even pit rebuilding, since it's highly unlikely that there ever will be a stand-alone "Modern Pit Facility."

If there is to be another contractor for this "dirty" work, what will be the relationship with UC?

Or are you saying that basic research is all that should be done at Los Alamos? If so, dream on.
 
Getting rid of DOE will not derail the rebid of the LANL contract. It would require getting Bush out of the White House. It is Bush's expressed policy that private industry should take over as many of the functions of government as possible. UC is not private industry.
Whether you agree with Bush or not, the rebid of LANL is consistent with his policies. And it doesn't hurt that his father works for the Carlisle group either -- the chief weapons contractor in the US.
And since I don't see Bush being out of office before the rebid, I am afraid we are stuck with Lockheed Martin and will soon become a producition facility.
 
If my earlier post was too obscure, I apologize for assuming that readers enjoy, as I do, the challenge of reading the lines as well as between the lines. To be blunt, I do not look forward to the industrialization of Los Alamos National Laboratory, just as I loathed the name change that occurred over 20 years ago from Los Alamos SCIENTIFIC Laboratory. If being managed by a corporate entity means that Los Alamos becomes officially the New Rocky Flats, then there will be enormous problems for science at the Lab. One ought never to assume that such a change will guarantee funding for science as a spill-over from the bomb factory; in fact, I know this Congress and this Administration, and I predict that the New Rocky Flats will have foisted upon it seriously underfunded mandates that will translate into deep cuts in the science budget of the Lab.

I have not at all proposed that only basic scientific research be pursued, but rather that the present mix of applied and basic work, both theoretical and experimental, continue under the supervision of UC, with broad goals set by DOE/NNSA (notice that this means no micromanagement -- here you might well accuse me of "dreaming on"). I do NOT think, as I said above, that pit manufacturing should become a permanent part of LANL at all. If such an activity is done at all, I surely don't think that it should be done anywhere near the town of Los Alamos, much less under the aegis of the Laboratory. The term "laboratory" should not be confused with "production facility"; they are not even remotely compatible activities, even when you include the design of nuclear weapons as one of the duties of a laboratory. Remember that the Manhattan Project produced three (3) devices; during WWII, Los Alamos was most assuredly not an assembly line. One device was tested at Alamagordo, and two were used on Japan. There were no more, and there was no "pipeline" for any more. And Los Alamos, even at the height of the Cold War, was never a "bomb factory," as so many on the Left like to characterize it.

Now, we are faced with a major revision in the mission of the Laboratory -- "mission creep" will become cemented in by military-industrial management "partners," with UC or UT serving only as "academic" window dressing. That is why I have come to the conclusion that the entire rebid process is an unnecessary evil. It will not advance national security in the long run, because it will ultimately torpedo -- sorry for using a Navy term -- scientific research, both basic and applied, at LANL.

-Brad Lee Holian
 
Sorry Brad, we can’t choose outside the framework given us. Corporate press plays up the problems, there is a cry for something to be done, and politicians offer the corporate solution. We end up with a group of private corporations feeding on the lab, and our pension plan. Welcome to Globalization and the New World Order.

"In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
 
So...we should just sit here and take it? Just "suck it up" and "get over it"?
 
Some are trying to organize an employee association. ( see anti-union thread) The association can then can hire a lawyer to keep an eye on the new contract. There is a lot of money at stake, and room for liberal interpretation on the pension funding, etc. If you don't want to sit back and take it, you might want to join...
 
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