Friday, May 27, 2005

The issue of hiring foreign nationals

From Anonymous:

Foreign nationals, postdocs and students
I want to highlight the issue of hiring foreign nationals at the Lab. I discovered, very pleasantly, at a conference in 1998 that LANL was one of the few places that hired foreign nationals, even if they were from sensitive countries. I chose a postdoc position at the lab over a high paying tech sector job and never regretted it. I still think that one of LANL's plus points over SNL is its hiring of foreign nationals, and its postdoc and student program. Although I said in a comment to the straw poll that I support LM/UT, I would like to see Lab employees express strong support for continuing the policy of hiring foreign nationals and for maintaining a strong postdoc and student program. If enough people voice their support, LM might listen.
Thank you
A foreign national TSM

You are a foreign national (or former foreign national) and support LM? Wow - good luck. The UC policies and push back to DOE is the only reason that los alamos has been effective in hiring the best and brightest. The LM (and all corp structures) plan only includes foreigners in the most extraordinary circumstances. To quote Pace Vandever, LM Sandia VP -- "they just are worth the trouble".

Don't suggest that a "teaming" with UT will change this. The teaming gives no real leadership to the university.

There is no question that UC management has flaws -- really big in some cases! However, I am dismayed at what staff think UC does not bring....academic freedom and individual value.

To the poster -- glad you got your job....if LM shows up the days of the global search for talent are done. This is a FACT -- just look at the sandia work force (less than 50 Foreign nationals) and LANL (more than 600).
This is a very real issue that needs to be addressed. The foreign nationals at LANL and at most universities do all the real science. If a limit is put on them at LANL there will be no more science at LANL. It is just a fact. In theoretical physics less than ten percent are from the US. Now maybe it is possible to make some kind of fast track for foreign nationals to be become US citizens. The point is if there are no foreign nationals there is no science.
To anonymous @ 5/27/2005 08:22:43 AM, you are very wrong. Yes, the foreign nationals at LANL do a lot of the science. Indeed, we seldom hire them into positions other than at Post-doc level. But, to say that the foreign nationals do ALL of the real science is nonsense.
Poster 8:22

" Indeed, we seldom hire them into positions other than at Post-doc level"
What are you talking about? Most recent staff hires in P, T, and MST are to foreign nationals. This is particularly true in T-division which publishes about a third of all publications in
Los Alamos. P, and MST maybe more than a third. So indeed the foreign nationals
are doing most of the science. Also with the retirements coming up there just will not be any US citizens to hire. They just are not there. Now a number of people in say T-division came as foreign nationals but have become US citizens. However this can take a long time. I should not have said all of the science done at Los Alamos is by foreign nationals but it is indeed most of the science and it will become increasingly so. This is true throughout the United States just look at any university and see where the recent hires are and who the graduate students are.

By the way what division are you in? My understanding is that the real science
is in fact done by MST, P, T, C, and B. The rest are applied divisions. Nothing wrong with that but they are not really basic science divisions.
Can we stick to the original post and discuss what is good for the lab instead of sniping at each other
Foreign nationals are critical to this Laboratory. With the Wen Ho Lee incident, we took a big hit with respect to foreign nationals and haven't recovered yet. This was a failure of UC to provide the right oversight to prevent the loss of foreign nationals. Bad things were done by managers to drive foreign nationals away and to discourage their coming to the Lab (this was long before Nanos). As long as the they are carefully screened, bright foreign nationals frequently are a double win in that they remove their talent from the foreign country and bring it to the US for our benefit.
Wen Ho Lee was a citizen, not a foreign national. The last foreign national I know from Los Alamos who handed over secrets was Klaus Fuchs!
The point raised here about who might replace all the people that are/will soon be retiring is an extremely important one. True, a lot of science nowadays is done by foreign nationals, but that’s only part of the story. Let’s look at a more complete list of relevant factors:

(i) Bureaucrats, both at LANL and at DOE/NNSA would prefer US citizens. I’m not sure exactly what percentage of Ph.D.s is awarded to citizens these days, but let’s say it’s 50%.
(ii) A prospective candidate should not have strong moral objections to working at or near “a bomb factory”. In my experience, at least 50% of young physics Ph.D.s have such objections. The remaining 50% can be attracted here, provided they can be promised they are coming to do science, and not design “bombs”. If NNSA/LockMart were to say tomorrow that all of the work at LANL must be “relevant to the mission”, I would estimate that the fraction of interested Ph.D.s would drop down to 5-10%. For the sake of this argument, let’s hope they won’t do something THAT stupid. (I could be proven wrong on this one…)
(iii) A prospective candidate must be willing to live “on a mountain surrounded by the desert”. I would guess that at most 40% of the people would agree to this.
(iv) A spouse must also find employment at Los Alamos, or in Santa Fe, or be willing to stay at home. I’m guessing that this cuts out about 70% of all candidates.
(v) At last, to feel completely comfortable in this town, the applicant must be a republican and a devout Christian (since almost all social activity in town is centered around churches). Among physics Ph.D., I would estimate that no more than a quarter would fit this description.

Please feel free to make your own additions/changes to this list.

Now comes the punch line. If I simply multiply the corresponding probabilities, I get that 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.4 x 0.3 x 0.25 = 0.0075, or less than one percent of all graduating Ph.D.s would be a “match” for LANL. Of course, there are correlations between some of the items on the list, such as (ii) and (v), so the percentage is likely higher than that, but still very likely below 10%...

So, I’m DEEPLY worried for our Lab. If a large number of people retire from the Lab now, the net result could be a lot of empty offices and a severe blow to LANL productivity. More ominously, if the management decides to quickly hire their replacements (to keep things “fine on paper”), they won’t be able to find people of sufficient quality and the Lab would be flooded with third-rate “C students”. That would mean nothing short of death to our institution.

The bottom line of all this is that only 1-10% of all graduating Ph.D.s fit the profile of a LANL scientist. We could probably replace our retiring people over a sufficiently LONG period of time, but not in one year. The management may find itself under political pressure to try to do the hirings in one year. That would be catastrophic.
There is a lot more science research than basic science research and there is a lot of research in engineering. This includes a very large part of the Lab and most of the TSM population,
not simply the divisions you indicated. It certainly is true that we have moved into more engineering tasks in recent decades, but there is nothing wrong about this from a research perspective. Foreign nationals work in engineering sciences, too.
Foreigners make vital contribution to LANL scientific activity. If LANL is supposed to be a scientific institution, one more reason UC is the only alternative. If it is to become a bomb fabric, just hire robots, and LM may do a grat management of them
Of course Wen Ho Lee was a citizen, but the fact that he was a naturalized citizen started all the unwarranted paranoia about foreign nationals despite the fact that the Manhattan Project would never have succeeded without foreign nationals. People seem to conveniently forget history want to do the politically expedient thing even though it has long range impact on the Lab and its research. I have a number of stories to tell in this area, but am resisting doing so for a number of reasons.
During the days of the Manhattan project the foreign nationals who came here wanted to come and help America because we were the beacon of hope for the world. Now many of the foreign nationals come here only to take advantage of the riches of this country and to work on projects that their countries cannot afford to undertake. They still maintain strong ties to their homelands rather than coming here to make America their home and first love (Wen Ho Lee made frequent trips back Home). I have heard many derrogatory and even hostile remarks from some of these people with respect to this great nation and now they are saying that there would be no science without them. How arrogant and ridiculous a statement is that?

Careful screening of foreign nationals is not paranoia it is simply common sense. In my opinion we have not been strict enough in this regard. Wen Ho Lee should have never worked here. He belongs in prison to this day.

The reason Los Alamos is not first in the world in science is not because we don't have more foreign nationals working here. It is because DOE and NNSA have destroyed the ability to do research with inane and useless regulation that has raised the cost of doing business far beyond the reach of most customers.

This country has and still does produce many of the worlds greatest minds. Unfortunately they are overshadowed by the corruption and rhetoric of dullards like Nanos, Foley, Domenici, Udall, Stupak, Barton, Kennedy, Dynes,.................
I think there are too many generalizations in your 10:41 response. Certainly people have many different motives for working at this Laboratory and many foreign post docs come to learn some "trade" and begin their careers. I've seen many become strong US citizens dedicated to the Lab. The turning away of foreign nationals is a symptom not a cause of the problem the Lab has. Certainly we should be cautious with foreign nationals but that doesn't mean that we should have a policy of turning them all away or discouraging them from coming.
In my original post, I was specifically considering asking people not to make comments like the 10:41 poster. Same goes for the person who said FNs do all the science. These are extremes.

Let me offer some thoughts and then offer a suggestion for action in a separate comment.

(a) US institutions are unable to find enough PhDs to do science (I know one group that had a really tough time finding a US citizen for their work).

(b) FNs do contribute EQUALLY to the lab's mission and scientific capabilities, even if their purpose in coming here is to jumpstart their career in science (not that most of the others are coming here motivated by purely by altruism).

(c) First generation FNs __DO__ have strong feelings for their home countries. So what? Thats where their life was shaped initially. That does not mean, however, that they will jeopardize the security of the nation that gave the opportunity to follow their dreams. I know of FNs that were approached by their home country "agencies" and therefore, they have not gone back to their country in years!! Still, whats the point of mentioning that someone visited their country of birth every single year? So what? Some people visit Paris every year - doesn't mean they are swearing allegiance to the french flag and selling secrets to them!!

Perhaps we should formulate specific set of questions to the two teams regarding the issue of FNs. We know UC's response. We don't know UT/LM's thinking. Is it really possible that they will axe hundreds of FNs? Or perhaps they will try to decrease the number of FNS that they hire each year.

I would really like to see a set of constructive questions on this issue and sent to the bidders, particularly UT/LM, with enough weight behind it.

Please no jibes and snipes. Sniping is easy - constructive work is not.
How about a question for the foreign nationals: "You are here to help,
in some small way, with the safety and security of the United States. Do
you have a problem with that?". If the answer is "Yes", then they should
not be here.
To 12:21 How about the same question to all US citizens working at LANL. Finally, if we observe what a mess some US citizens did at LANL makes you think what their real intentions were.
To 4:14 pm, I assume you are implying that those who "messed up" at LANL
are spies. How outrageous! BTW, cleared employees ARE asked question
about their devotion to the safety and security of this country. However,
you wouldn't know this, as you obviously don't work at the Lab. Go find
another blog on which to post your drivel.
To 8:36 It is almost impossible for a foreigner to get clearance so question proposed by 12:21 looks like an insult towards them. In 12:21 probably you mentioned that question should be about safety and security of US. The fact that some people do not follow this is far away from implying they are spies, so it shows only you are sick with hatred towards foreigners and should contact doctors rather than write on any blog. I hope you do not work at LANL; otherwise it is one more cut in the thousands on it.
I am absolutely convinced now that the only thing most people contributing to this blog are capable of doing is whine and snipe. It is amazing to see how only a handful of people, out of maybe a few hundred or a thousand LANL employees that participate in the blog, are able to engage in any meaningful conversation. So, I think I will take this conversation elsewhere; perhaps the people participating in the "Scienceatlanl" blog can engage in a more adult conversation? Pehrhaps?

Meanwhile, my next comment will contain some questions for Dr. Robinson and Dr. Anastasio
Questions for Dr. Robinson and Dr. Anastasio

Dear prospective directors,

Foreign nationals have had a long and rich history at LANL right from its inception. We are concerned about the future of foreign nationals (FNs) at the Lab. The one thing UC has done well is to attract and retain FNs who go on to citizenship and a long, fruitful career at the lab.
We wonder how each of you will address the issue considering that companies are typically averse to hiring FNs. In particular, LM at SNL has had a poor record of this. When I graduated LANL offered me an opportunity while SNL policy forced it to shut its doors on me, even though I was perfect match for one of its groups. We desperately hope that LM or Bechtel will not institute policies that will diminish the contributions of FNs at this wonderful place and strongly urge you to continue the previous policies regarding FNs. Contrary to popular thinking, FNs are seldom the security problem they are made out to be - they cannot be, as they never come anywhere close to any sensitive material. They do, however, require more paperwork, but if an institution is willing to pay that small price the benefits are enormous.

Here are some specific questions for the two teams:

1. What will be your policy toward current Limited Term and Permanent Technical Staff Members who are Foreign Nationals?

2. Will you continue to encourage the hiring of new FN graduates as postdocs?

3. Will you continue to encourage the hiring of FN postdocs as Limited Term Staff Members and support their eventual conversion to permanent positions?

4. Will you ensure that new, excessive controls are not placed on FNs that they will leave out of frustration (source of funding, excessive justification for their hiring beyond normal competency considerations, etc.)?

Thank you
To poster 9:02 pm -

The lab pays a good salary to our foreign nationals. If you cannot answer
a simple question like "do you support the safety and security of the US"
without feeling insulted, then, perhaps the United States should not be so
generous with its money. It's a simple question, and not an insult. After
all, you ARE working next to a Lab that does classified nuclear work for
US defense.
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