Saturday, May 07, 2005

From the 5/6/2005 posting entitled “Auditors say lab too costly”:

From Anonymous:

“The Energy Department has questioned $14 million worth of shutdown costs as unallowable under its contract with the university. In an unrelated audit, the agency’s inspector general found that the Energy Department and the university miscalculated fixed payments allowed to government contractors for home office expenses. For the last five years, the overpayment has totaled $21 million and escaped the government’s attention in part because it never asked the university for itemized expenses, according to the inspector generals audit. For that same reason, the government never noticed that it mistakenly had agreed to pay $8 million in university operational expenses of no benefit to federal taxpayers.

Energy Department officials appear inclined to surrender any claim to the $21 million but may seek reimbursement from the university for about $880,000 in clearly unwarranted university charges to the government. These included $140,000 in costs for student recruitment and donations.”

Excuse me. Did I read this correctly? DoE, because of its sloppy oversight, let UC get away with $28 million in unallowable charges, and now doesn't intend to ask for them back…and Congress is going to let them get away with this?? Is there a sweetheart deal going on between DoE and UC? If so, just how fair is the lab recompetiton? You reporters out there reading this ought to follow this up. Something very, very fishy is going on in the DoE, and perhaps in Congress. Is there a quiet deal with the California delegation somewhere? If a company doing business with the government was found to have overcharged by $28 million, you better believe the GAO would want it back, with interest and perhaps even penalties. So how come the DoE gets away with it?

Which leads to another related question: Los Alamos Lab and the University of California have come in for a good deal of public criticism from Congress and others, some of it fair, some not. But conspicuously absent in this finger pointing has been the DoE. In the end, the DoE owns the lab, UC just managers it. So the DoE is ultimately responsible for the poor management of the labs, and has clearly been complicit in covering up problems there for years. And the DoE concurred on the long lab shutdown, which must have cost the taxpayers close to a billion dollars, though the DoE is trying to low-ball the costs by not counting everything. So how come no one is talking about firing the DoE staff that is supposed to have managed the lab and UC. How come no one is proposing closing down the DoE, who after all haven't invented anything of use yet?

Seems to me the real ire of Congress and the public ought to be focused on the DoE, where the buck really stops, rather than on UC and the labs.

Comments:
Excellent comment! DOE is frequently the source of the bureacratic nonsense that wastes tax payers dollars, mandates inefficiencies through redundant (and sometimes contradictory) requirements, and smothers productivity through reams and reams of required paperwork for the simplest of tasks. But, as usual, they appear to be Teflon coated. Very little has been said about DOE's security failures. However, DOE is always quick to jump into the picture and take credit on the successes of the national Labs but even quicker to distance themselves and join the "blamers" when we stub our toe.
 
If I had information to protect and the future of the country depended on its security, I would keep the information at Los Alamos, Sandia, or Livermore rather than at the DOE offices in Germantown or the Forrestal Building, at the Congress, or at any other agency in Washington, DC. If I had something that I wanted to cover up and hide, the converse would be true.

The DOE is truly trying to develop a Non-nuclear Nuclear Security Administration, the real meaning of NNSA. This organization is rapidly atrophying into an administration with no pits, no testing, no tritium, no criticality safety facilities, no category-1 facilities, no plutonium research facilities, no designing of weapons, no dangerous materials, no common sense, and no vision of its role in securing this Nation.
 
Has it ever donned on anyone that, if DOE/NNSA (and its predecessor organizations) knows how to run the Laboratory better than we do, then why don't they run it. The fact is they couldn't do it in 1943 and they can't today. Instead they shackle us with arbitrary weighs and run up and down the sidelines throwing insults and beer cans at us hoping that we will lose focus and fumble the slippery ball they gave us for the game. They also spend a considerable effort to changing the yard markers and redefining how many points we get for scoring a touchdown, safety, or extra point(s). If we come close to fumbling the ball, they take all the points that we have scored off the scoreboard and give them to the opposition.

In spite of this, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (the real name) has more Heissman Trophies, more league championships, more Superbowl rings, and more All Stars than any of the competition. Because of our success, the DOE/NNSA (LA Area Office)is pissed and fires our cheerleaders. At lest that is how an independent observer might see it.
 
And just where are those three classified disks that the DOE's ABQ office
reported missing last summer? Still not a peep about them. I wonder why?
Perhaps it was more than just an "inventory error" like that which occurred
at LANL. Should we now assume the worst?
 
Its not too hard to judge the DoE’s ineptness. The draft RFP for the lab recompetition was so flawed and slanted to the incumbent that all the major competitors withdrew from the bidding. Issuance of the final RFP is now almost a year behind schedule and still slipping.

And yes, what about those three missing classified disks for the DoE office. How come that hasn’t been a major news story and the subject of Congressional inquiry?
 
It's not $21 million, it's almost $40 million that UC was overpaid, and that NNSA doesn't think they will ask UC to repay. Does this mean that the next managers of the lab, whomever they are, can expect NNSA to forgive them up to $40 million in overcharges, or is this just a one-time special deal for UC?
 
It's high time that Congress figures out what bloggers know, and what most LANL employees have known for years. DOE is the incompetent partner in this three-way marriage. Got a safety problem? Bury it in new procedures, put a band-aid on it, send out a lessons learned, even though no one learned anything! Have a security problem? Put in place more incomprehensible procedures. Don't invest in a red LAN or anything that would bring us into the 21st century! Don't hook up the other Labs or Washington either, make it simple for spies to get at our classified information!

If DOE would just dictate WHAT we have to do, and let us figure out HOW to do it, efficiency might reign. Every good parent knows that works best with training children. We scientists aren't really that dumb, just buried in too much work for too little pay. The longer you stay at LANL, the worse it gets too. Want to fix morale? Fix that age discrimination problem first, and some of the old-timers might just consider staying (we'd really like to make as much as the new recruits).
 
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