Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Los Alamos Oversight Up for Bid

Critics Fear Nuclear Facility Is Becoming For-Profit Venture

By Rick Weiss and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 18, 2005; A15

The federal government is preparing to put up for bid the management of the legendary but troubled Los Alamos National Laboratory for the first time in the facility's history, with potentially great ramifications for the high-stakes field of nuclear science.

The New Mexico laboratory, famous for developing the atomic bomb but also widely revered as the world's leading nuclear science lab -- only about half of it focused on weapons -- has grown into a $2.2 billion operation. Its 8,300 employees work for the University of California, which has managed the facility since 1943 on essentially a not-for-profit basis.

[...]

Full Story


Comments:
A very good article, mostly correct. Indeed, DOE has made a mess of things in terms of the cost of the LANL Contract. The additional costs of the nearly eight-fold increase in the management fee ($8M increased to $60M) and the elimination of the self-funded UCRP pension will certainly exceed $100M. Indeed, if the pension costs about 7% of payroll, which is typical, then, for the ~$800M total LANL/UC salary cost, the pension cost would be $56M.

Then there is the loss of the exemption from the State of Mew Mexico Gross Receipts Tax, estimated to cost in the range of $60M to $120M.

So, depending upon which estimates are taken, the DOE has now added costs in the range of about $160M to $220M with absolutely no benefit to the work.

Now, think back to all of the noise made over the supposed purchase of a $29K Mustang. Don't forget that those addtional $160M to $220M costs must be paid EVERY YEAR!

Remember that those two lying ex-cops that were terminated and characterized LANL as a "Den of Thieves." Well, these added costs would certainly justify classification of the DOE as a "Den of Idiots!"
 
Next question would be: Where is that $160-$220M going to come from?

I don't recall hearing about a plan in Congress to pony up an additional amount to run the Lab.
 
"But the government ... is now insisting the winner must create a separate corporation with its own pension plan, a system that would pull millions of dollars from the lab's budget".

This is the same bunch of losers that decreed that Medicare cannot negotiate drug costs, so that pharmaceutical companies can make obscene profits, and support their reelection campaigns.
 
A poster asked " Next question would be: Where is that $160-$220M going to come from?". Probably no more LDRD. There goes the science.
 
The perception of LANL is now being drawn from the many posting on this blog. Maybe we are not all thieves but the two ex-cops did not lie. They were hired to do a job and they did it, and besides it was a Los Alamosian who finally blew the whistle with proof. We were caught so let us take the responsibility and quit blaming and whinning--this is in the past. If we can't get past this the Lab will be shut.
 
i thought there were 14,000 employees... where'd they all go?
 
3:47 poster

Those cops where idiots. There was so little theft at Los Alamos it was ridicules. We are owed an apology. In fact I think LANL should sue those cops for slander. We need a comparison to the facts. I saw the one cop on TV. He seemed like moron. John Brown should have gotten on there the next day and attacked those guys for being corrupt and inept. We need people fighting for us. By the
way we have to keep going back to the past. We have to vindicate ourselves. We did not have problems with theft. Never did. We are the safest lab. We are the most secure lab. We need to pound
this into them over and over until they break. If we do not this lab will be shut down anyway. If LANL is shut down the United States loses. We cannot sit back we must rise now and show them facts.
 
We are not seeing unusual numbers of staff retiring or terminating. We are not seeing ...

Oh, wait a moment, that was last week's Management Mantra.
 
To the last commentor:

There are ~8300 UC regular employees,
about 1500 post-docs, GRA, and UGS, plus about 2500 contractors (KSL, PTLA, COMFORCE, BUTLER, etc). That adds up to more then 12000 people getting a paycheck every year.
 
RFP alert!!!

It comes out at 11AM Thursday.
 
This is an epic battle. The lab finally got rid of an abusive leader, but the real battle is about to be fought. Although many posters seem not to care for UC, and think that LM or Northrup will make life better. Unfortunately, it is not about life being "better". UC is so ingrained in LANL that we don't seem to understand the academic model is the very definition of how we do our jobs. The very fact that we value fundamental science, the scientific method and the socratic method is because we have UC's "culture". Make no mistake that life under a defense contractor would make different kinds of decisions. A couple of examples: one element of the RFP will ask how the contractor can save money to make up for the 120 M lost to profit and gross receipts tax. LM is likely to say shut down LANSCE and significantly downsize LDRD. This will immediately remove a large component of science from LANL. In turn, this will remove customer base, and a feedback that will erode the scientific capabilities. Make no mistake, this is a battle for LANL tomorrow, five years and ten years from now.

The new Lab director (Kuckuck) understands this - he also knows that his job is to satisfy all the stake holders, even those vicious critics. I hope that LANL employees can buy into Kuckuck's vision and understand the conditions that he must operate in.

It is clear that some of the Lab management does not buy the vision of a "science lab". In particular, Tarantino and Beck would prefer a defense contractor -- pit production is so much easier to projectize than basic science. Seestrom is just over her head. Wallace and Beason seem to understand the science vision. This means that on "average" the leadership is neutral to UC.

I urge the lab population to evaluate what they are and what they want to be. You can influence the outcome of the bid. You can influence the nature of the Lab leadership.
 
To the commentor at 5/18/2005 05:07:15 PM, isn't that manana?
 
To 5/18/2005 06:15:23 PM:
"... Tarantino and Beck would prefer a defense contractor -- pit production is so much easier to projectize than basic science. Seestrom is just over her head. Wallace and Beason seem to understand the science vision. This means that on "average" the leadership is neutral to UC."

You fail to mention Immele, Bowles, & Sharp. What about other senior managers MArquez, Gibbs, & Kaye?
What is your take on them, their influence, longevity, positive contribution, etc...?
 
Immele is retiring in September -- he has worked very hard behind the scenes for some very good things, but he is largely ineffective (partly because Nanos marginalized him, and partly due to his passive nature).

I did not talk about the non-technical leadership -- they don't set the defining marks for the Lab. It is true that they make a TREMENDOUS difference in how the lab runs, but they don't define if we are a science vs production lab.

That aside, I suspect that Marquez will be around -- he brings a number of things to the table, although he is considered a somewhat abusive boss. He is very, very smart, but mostly about self preservation.
Gibbs has had a dozen jobs at the Lab, does not set the leadership in anything, He will be around no matter who wins.

The CSO office is problematic. Tom Bowles is reviled by some TSM because of his obvious close connection to Nanos (Tom is the ONLY scientist that Nanos listened to). Tom works extremely hard, but really is a Don Quoxite character. CSO seems to be fumbling the LDRD and can't really point to an accomplishment. He believes in the science lab, and will fight the good fight.
 
Are Cobb and Mah retiring as well as Immele?

UC has to propose that Director's Box and the boxes immediately attached such as ADs, etc. I agree with the above poster. In many ways the people UC bids in those boxes will set the tone for the future LANL.
 
Thought salary was more in the 50-60% range of the Lab's budget? That would put it in the $1.1B range.
 
1:44:02
The new contractor will be able to come in and cut the fat by a 20-30% reduction in staff over the next year or two. That will result in huge cost savings and they should be able to increase productivity at the same time.

6:42:44
All of the current senior management team will be replaced after contract award.
 
Rich Mah is retiring -- he will not be returning from his assignment at the contract office. Cobb has said he is retiring, but he is really the source of much of the crazy operational stuff forced down our throats. Cobb has zero idea on what it is like to do work, and thinks by fiat he can make things change. Over and over he has said Operational Efficiency will start immediately. When pressed he is clueless on what is going on.

I suspect that Kuckock is going have to figure out which managers and processes work and which don't.
 
Where will that 20-30% cut in staff come from?
 
Poster 7:21 says 20-30 percent of the staff....guess what! This is defense contractor response. Cut the deadwood science, keep the manufactoring, collect the 60 million per year management fee. Try and convert as much intellectual property to cash before LANL turns into Pantex west.

Listen, the idea that cost saving can be had by firing 2000 people means ONLY one thing....getting rid of science, and guess what, those program dollars go away.
 
Poster 7:21 -- is that you Dave Beck? How is the MBA degree working out for you? It is obvious that you have PhD envy.....Just imagine a life of a huge CMRR pumping out replacement pits. High would be good.
 
To contradict the 3:47 poster-It was a sub-contractor that blew the whistle. That posting seems typical of much of the self-congratulations that fill part of this blog. It might be worthwhile to reexamine some of the other postings, particularly the messages that seem to say that the big LANL programs have been successful even though they’ve been shut down without so much as an epitaph. The rest of the scientifically educated nation knows scams when they see them. I’m sure that some of the readers can recognize worthless programs, too. Why don’t they speak?
 
7:31:15
How did you know?
 
Dear 6:15:23

Closing LANSCE, in my opinion, would be a step in the right direction. The Lab is dying a death of a thousand budget cuts. Every budget is short by at least 15% to 20%. The time has come to either put up or shut up. If inadequate funding is available to fully fund a safe and compliant operation, it is time to close it down. If LANSCE were to close, the operational funding could be used to fully fund other operations. There are times when amputation is necessary to save a life. Let's get real, shoestring budgets represent too much liability in today's world were mistakes are no longer acceptable. I say, fund it or close it. In the case of LANSCE - amputation is the answer for the sake of the patient.
 
Interesting -- but it is not really this simple. LANSCE is underfunded, but in my opinion it is due to mismanagement. LANSCE has a very high ORG tax, which covers lots of unfunded staff. Move those out, and LANSCE operates within budget. The idea of shutting it down will not REALLY free up funds because RTBF will be cut.

Although LANSCE maybe should be shut down, it would be better to ask if this is good for science and the nation. Your reference to a thousand cuts is correct, but a huge part of this comes from added requirements from regulators (and sometimes Cobb!).

A contractor will shut down LANSCE because it is not about profit....so consider this.
 
9:11, and where do the unfunded staff go? This is zero-sum.
 
LANSCE Chief of Staff = $166K. Pah-leeese.
 
Where are they going to cut people? The answer is: A who;e bunch of em are going to do it for them by R E T I R E I N G
 
Anonymous 5/18/2005 07:20:12 PM said...

"Thought salary was more in the 50-60% range of the Lab's budget? That would put it in the $1.1B range."

NO! That is payroll. UC Salaries total about $800M. Benefits (FICA, medical, etc) add about 21%, so that brings labor costs of UC staff close to $1B. Then, if you add about 1500 post-docs, GRAs, and UGS, you get to $1.1B range.
 
On the matter of the Org Support rate at LANSCE: it's not so much the unfunded TSMs and TECs that causes the high Org Support rate. It is the bloated LANSCE Division Office, the Facilities Support Group, and the Technical Mission Support Group that causes the high Org Support Rate.
 
5/18/2005 09:20:51 PM said the there are all of these people retiring and that will fix any budget problems. Yes, that is true unless anyone is concerned about getting work done. The June retirees will be mostly age 55 and up, mostly direct-funded TSMs and TECS each taking a minimum of 20 years LANL work experience with them. There has been absolutely zero succession planning. However slow the pace of work has been due to the standdown and subsequent administrative barriers, things will slow down further with the departure of these people. One hope is that with Admiral Butthead gone, his stupid policies on hiring retirees may be fixed.
 
The posters complaining about LANSCE overhead should take the time to understand what it takes to operate a complex accelerator facility involving significant radiation and other safety and security hazards in this day and age, where everything is compliance driven.
 
To contradict the 7:59 poster--no one said a Labbie just someone from Los Alamos.
 
Not noted by the Post article and not understood by the bloggers is that Sid Drell was the first head of the "President's Council on the National Laboratories" at UCOP 1992-1999. The UC management failures at LANL, related to inadequate oversight, trace directly to Sid and the Council.
Upon leaving the Council he helped write the "Rudman Report" which created "world's greatest science" and "crown jewels" for our use. The report, critical of Lab security, was a "puff piece" for Lab science. The media never seems to catch on.
So, we have Sid Drell, Council Chair 1992-1999, and Kuckuck (first head of the UCOP Lab Admin Office 1992-1994); the very folks who helped to create the problem, now trying to save the situation.
How bizarre! And the media is so pathetic.
 
The first blogger seems upset about the GRT tax, which the Lab might pay under the new contract. Certainly New Mexico should collect the tax, and the Feds should pay it. Why should one of the poorest states subsidize the Feds to the tune of $60-70 million per year? It will be paid by the DOE, as overhead, as they pay all taxes. The LANL operator will simply pass it on. Sandia pays the tax, and they are in the same business as LANL.
Why should this historic, and ridiculous subsidy continue? It should have been ended long ago. When asked to defend it LANL is reduced to mumbling about "layoffs" and such. In fact LANL would simply , as Sandia does, pass the bill to the DOE. The only rationale for this absurd LANL resistance is that it makes them "more competitive" with other labs as their overhead is lower.
Come on now. LANL's bloated overhead is a bit much, but this is due to mismanagment and loading the Divisions with "good old boys". Time to pay the tax, and use it for New Mexico schools and kids. And, time to clean up the mismanagement.
Why, as New Mexicans, do we think LANL should not pay the tax, especially as Sandia does?
 
Speaking of bloated Division Offices, check out LANSCE with a Division Leader, Office Leader, two DDLs, Chief of Staff, three Senior Advisors, plus admin staff.

The accelerator was conceived and built to operate for 20-25 years. Multiple single points of failure can be found throughout the facility. The machine is in it's 33rd year of operations. As a result, the Technical Support and FM groups ought to be staffed to meet the radiation hazards and address the complex and aging infrastructure due to safety considerations.

As the 5/18/2005 09:11:06 PM poster comments, the facility suffers financial strain due to mismanagement. After a quick salary check, it's hard to imagine paying much more for "mismanagement" than identified above.

Neutrons can be found at SNS. Time for LANSCE to hit the D&D program for the good of the Lab and the taxpayer.
 
It’s amazing – I have been reading the LANL blog since about 5:00 a.m. (I am at home – off the DOE defense contractor’s clock.) I hate to think that you all are having so many of the same problems we suffer from.

The management teams are a disgrace for the most part. I’m not sure if the blame is lack of human compassion, lack of real management skill or such instilled fear of making a wrong decision that they are rendered useless.

Add to the mix contract renewal – do we want to keep that same incompetent management or do we want to turn our future over to the unknown? Because face it – the unknown may not be better – it could even be worse. From what I have been reading on all the various threads you people at LANL pride yourselves on your superior research endeavors. If you relinquish the reins to a defense subcontractor, I am quite afraid that you will lose that research edge that you have maintained for so many years. Defense contractors of present day have one thing in mind – making lots of money quickly and getting out fast – your ideas will belong to them and they will stifle scientific independence – can you say “research mill”. Correct me if I’m wrong but I was under the impression that some of the most ingenious, scientific minds worked at LANL – you will not like operating in a production facility where more more, more is required not quality, quality, quality. Just like “puppy mills” it makes for bad breeding.

I’m not saying that you should accept poor, bad or abusive management, I just think you may want to explore a more compromising situation for all involved. UC top management (not necessarily lab management) may be in a more receptive mood now that the bidding has begun to listen to some suggestions from the backbone of the lab. They may not but it has to be worth a shot –

I’ll be watching the updates and praying for your futures
Sincerely
Scared for our jobs everyday at a DOE defense-contractor-run-facility.
 
If there were some doubt about the seriousness of this blog, I would laugh! 5/19/2005 10:36:47 PM thinks that SNS has neutrons so LANSCE should close. Livermore designs nukes so LANL should stop weapons work? Universities do basic research so LANL should stop doing it? Should there be only one facility relating to any one topic, especially when this facility has so many other diverse types of neutron and proton physics? What nonsense!
 
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