Sunday, May 15, 2005

More on culture

A comment from the


The DOE/NNSA composite "cu***re" (in keeping with the suggestion in 5/14/2005 10:54:00 PM) seems to be anti-nuclear, anti-science, and anti-lab. This cu***re appears to prevail regardless of the party in power. This observation strongly suggests the cu***re is the consensus position of the permanent DOE/NNSA bureaucracy. The net result as previously reported here on this blog is that the USA has the most expensive and least productive nuclear weapons program in the world. In short, we spend the most money of the declared nuclear weapon states but Pakistan can built more pits than we can. China has a new criticality safety complex while ours sits in boxes awaiting shipment to Nevada. China also has modern scientific complexes to support its smaller program while we have people stuffed into some structures dating back to the 1950s. India can make more tritium for its weapons and we can. Finally, several nations have experimental test programs that seem much more advanced than ours. How can this difference be explained? The answer is that we spend enormous sums of money accomplishing often inane and repetitious orders and regulations that add little and in many cases nothing to security, safety, or environmental protection. The seeming purpose of these orders and regulations are twofold. First, they serve to maintain the employment of a growing bureaucracy that once but no longer oversaw the world's largest industrial complex. Secondly, the orders and regulations focus on shifting responsibility away from the rule makers onto the scientists, engineers, technicians, and support staff that are trying their best to sustain our nuclear weapons in an absolutely reliable and absolutely safe condition without being allowed to actually test them.

The truth about cu***re sometimes hurts but it must be said. However, I must say that I have many, many friends in the DOE/NNSA bureaucracy that fully understand what has happened and are as frustrated and as aggravated as I am.

The question is what can we do about it?

This comment boils down the problem to its essence. The poster is exactly correct. The workers at the laboratory want to do their tasks efficiently but they are hamstrung by the bureaucracy that exists only to perpetuate it's existence.

It now takes six months to complete tasks that only took one month 15 years ago. This is not progress. The reason for this is all because of the stringent, and as the poster stated, inane and repetitious orders and regulations we are forced to abide by. This comment should not be construed as a complaint about doing ones work in a safe and secure manner. The complaint should be read as one that expresses the deep frustration that accompanies these useless rules and regulations and that increases the cost of doing business without any added benefit.

The data supports the fact that Los Alamos takes security and safety seriously but it is in spite of the myriad of rules and regulations that we must abide by not becauase of them. If the money we spend could be used by true professionals in the safety and security fields the things we could accomplish would be astounding. As it is the system exists to supply unemployable bureaucrats with employment and the fences around us exist not to keep the secrets in, but to keep the public from finding out how incredibly dysfunctional our processes have become.
Anybody know where we can pick up a pack of "LANL - The work free safety zone" bumper stickers?
Actually, the bumper sticker reads: "LANL - A Work-Free Safe and Secure Place."
This reminds me of the “Great Light Bulb Hunt” of a few years ago. I don’t know why the hunt was on or if there was a DOE order, but because incandescent light bulbs have a drop of solder (contains lead) on the bottom they were deemed to be hunted down and interred (for appropriate disposal somewhere). So our Health and Safety people emerged from their cubicles and went on a hunt to spend hours on hours looking in various drawers and cabinets for our spare or unused bulbs. I wonder if people at Sandia were so lucky as to have had the same fun.
To 5/15/2005 09:53:00 AM: Magnificently succinct description of the real issue. America, the LANL employees (like most at our sister national laboratories) are extremely hard-working, safety conscious, and security vigilant. However, we are suffocating under bureaucratic paperwork, forms, alleged "requirements", poorly conceived "guidance" documents, empty rules, and ever-changing new hoops we must immediately jump through in the form of Directors Instructions, edicts by emails, and unofficial requisites lacking any change control. Good documentation is a value-added best management practice. That is NOT what we are talking about. We are buried under redundant, and even contradictory, mandates, plans, audits, reviews, inspections, assessments, investigations, and forms, forms, forms, and more forms. On-line forms at LANL number in the hundreds. I am frequently angered as a taxpayer, but if I complain as a LANL employee then I "don't get it", or I am labeled as a whiner, cowboy, or butthead. Passive agression and/or retaliation at LANL, have been refined to an art. As a nation, we should demand critical review and streamlining of new policies prior to implementation. DOE/NNSA has shown very little understanding of what the technical work REALLY warrants in the way of safety and security. The mindless "requirements" they have foisted upon the technical professionals across our great nation demands an investigation and, possibly, dissolution of the DOE/NNSA.
Perhaps it is time to seriously consider removing the defense labs from
DOE control and place them under DOD. It's hopeless to think that DOE
can in any way be reformed. Once removed, the DOE can then be downsized
to fit its smaller mission. DOD is the user of our products. They have
a vested interest in seeing to it that the nuclear defense systems work.
DOE has very little vested interest in seeing that a product goes out
the door. It's time to ditch DOE. I'm sure there are many in Congress
who would support this idea.
DoD's track record in managing its once great laboratories is abysmal. I would argue that the solution is not DoD oversight but a truly independent NNSA, in the tradition of the AEC, managed by a real professional administrator and staff as opposed to someone who holds the position by default. I think this was what Dominici had in mind in establishing NNSA. His vision, once NNSA was embedded in the DOE quicksand, was never realized although the original language that established the NNSA provided for that option.
Everything DOE touches turns to dust. It would be nice to have an
independent and functional NNSA overseeing the labs but that will
never happen. Therefore, going over to DOD control is our best
solution. You engage in broad generalizations (i.e., "DOD labs
are failures"), but don't defend your argument with facts. Given
a choice of being under DOE or DOD, I'll gladly cast my lot with DOD.
"Perhaps it is time to seriously consider removing the defense labs from DOE control and place them under DOD." Just remember: The DoD labs provided precisely the management training ground for Nanos.
Early poster said:
Anybody know where we can pick up a pack of "LANL - The work free safety zone" bumper stickers?

Way back in February there was a link on the blog to this rendition.
Good point 5/15/2005 01:53:54 PM in re management styles: The defense labs were once at the top of their particular sciences, e.g., materials, avionics, propulsion, and computing. The Air Force Materials for example gave us graphite reinforcements, epoxies, polycarbonate, reactive coatings, advanced abrasives, and alumina whiskers. Beginning in the mid 1960s, outsourcing of research began and the technical staff became contract monitors with decreasing time for research. Budgets for the laboratories dropped particularly for basic research that had formed the basis for the success the laboratories had demonstrated. This trend continued with the disestablishment of the Research and Technology Division of the Air Force System Command (AFSC) which itself no longer exists.
To poster 1:53pm -

Nanos' damaged personality was not a product of the DOD. He is a man
of his own making. There are many good people in DOD, and the vast
majority are nothing like Nanos. Why do you continue to use a
broad brush in denigrating DOD. Do you have something against the
military? Our working under DOE is a proven dysfunctional solution.
I, for one, don't want to see it continue. The DOD at least offers
a chance to escape from the broken management of DOE. Besides that,
DOD is the end user of our products. If they are unsafe or unreliable,
or if brain-dead regulations are stopping critical weapons work, who
better than the people in DOD would want to see this rectified?
If you want to continue attacking DOD, please use rational arguments.
Please don't get me wrong. HUD would be an improvement over DOE and DOD would be a vast improvement even with the record that I talked about in the my 5/15/2005 02:42:49 PM posting. I'm afraid however that little proponency for nuclear weapons exists within the DoD outside of STRATCOM. There a thought, maybe we could be a STRATCOM Laboratory.
LANL is far more than weapons, and hopefully will bo more facing in this direction. Weapons now are still important but in a few years they will be loosing again. Going to DOD is suicidal for LANL. The future for LANL are, besides other thing
How can we convince Congress and the Administration that the nuclear weapons program must be removed from DOE, NNSA abolished and replaced by a small AEC-like entity to oversee the program?
The DOE was a mistake from Day 1. ERDA was a mistake from Day 1. It takes more knowledge to manage nuclear labs than to manage energy (although the current energy managers are pretty clueless).

Should NNSA spin off from DOE as a separate entity, like the AEC was, to manage nuclear labs? I don't think so because NNSA is the originator of much of the useless paperwork the last 3 years. Although I worked at LANL (LASL?) when the AEC contracted with UC, I have no first hand knowledge of what the interaction between the AEC, UC, and LANL (LASL?) was.

When Bush I appointed Admiral Watkins as Secretary of the DOE is when LANL (LASL?) really started the downhill slide. He was another bad example of a career military person being in the wrong position. His only concern was cleanliness; he "inspected" LANL with a "white glove" mentality. What a waste of taxpayers' dollars.

Kerr brought us matrix management; Hecker was too impressed with DC; Browne, I think, was in part brought down because he hired some incompetent managers. However, I can't see Browne treating anyone as unfairly as Nanos treated the DX personnel. Browne was perhaps too kind to be Director. However, again Congress and the media jumped on LANL before any investigation had taken place, and UC and our Congressional delegation were silent.

Until LANL is purged of all the "mini nanites", those who have supported his every edict as the gospel, those who have attended his management classes, those who bully others, LANL will not serve the country well. In just two years, the Nanos "cu***re" has a foothold at LANL. Those are the people who need to be weeded out.

I suggest that the new director take a look at the Nanos management class lists and have a frank discussion with each of them about the right way to manage.
1:53 here; 2:43, I think you misunderstand me.

I have dealt with DoD labs for a long time and have friends at one that Nanos used to run. I intend no disrespect to these labs or their people. However, they simply are not comparable to Los Alamos National Laboratory, in mission, scope, management philosophy, or much of anything else. They are there for different reasons: dealing with specific, highly mission-oriented problems that are far less cross-cutting than our profoundly interdisciplinary, multi-role institution. In general they are good at their jobs (better, in some cases, than we are at ours), despite the problems that 1:22 justly cites.

And in the context of *those* jobs and labs, Nanos may not have been that bad, and is certainly not unrepresentative, from what my friends there tell me. They've had bosses with better personal and management skills; they've also had worse ones. But they say that Nanos was reasonably well thought of there. Did he undergo a massive personality/morality atrophy when he left there for here? Or was it that a management style that was outrageously inappropriate here was tolerable there? The latter seems more likely, and it can be true without in any way denigrating the DoD labs.

My point is simply this: Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.
I think this blog should continue to push for POSITIVE change. There is no clear-cut answer to our problems. The DOE IS dysfunctional--the DOD is dysfunctional--the NNSA is a joke--what does semi-autonomous mean, anyway?

So, folks--what do we want by way of management? We are some wierd combination of NNSA and DOE/OST as we stand now. Lets put our "fingers" (voices) to this to make our country greater--instead of shirking in the shadow of some new contractor.....
I agree with Anonymous @ 5/15/2005 04:30:31 PM.

Those DOD labs are intellectual vacuums. Check out Gomer Pyle. That is what they are about!
I just realized how wonderful it is to talk about something other than Nanos and his cu***re wars.
Yeah, In my view the next target should be HR Division. Worthless and clueless bunch.....
To 5/15/2005 10:17:06 PM: Careful about generalities; HR, like many organizations in the Lab, has some good people in the trenches just doing what they are told. Once again, terrible management wounds many good people.
Found the following blurb on the web (comes from way back in 1997):

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) is expected to propose a plan this year
that would eliminate DOE but also boost the profile of the national research
laboratories: Two are, after all, located in his home state. In a
back-to-the-future move, the responsibility for nuclear weapons and
energy research would be put into a new civilian organization, the
same as it was before the Energy Department was created in 1977.
This would undoubtedly give research more visibility since it would
no longer be buried in the mammoth DOE bureaucracy. Will it happen?
Some say yes; some say no.

Well, we got NNSA, but it is fully under the DOE's control. Nothing
really changed. This all fits with what another poster said was
St. Pete's original intention (ie, a completely separate agency), but
the plan somehow went awry.

What perplexes me are the well-made points in the original post.
We have, indeed, atrophied in many of these strategic capabilities.
Third world countries are now more active in their strategic
weapons research than the US. The strange thing is, no one in the
political leadership of the US seems to care about our lost
capabilities. Perhaps, as another poster stated, our only strong
voice in the military is STRATCOM. Maybe the rest of the military
brass could care less about nukes. The ability to execute fast and
agile "mop-up" operations is were the military strategy seems
to be headed. Nukes are a Cold War anachronism in the minds of
many politicians. If so, then the future of the DOE defense labs will
probably continue down their present death spiral path. The decay will
continue slowly, so that no one will ever become overly concerned over
any expertise that is being lost. It seems highly unlikely that we
will ever be taken out of the DOE's clutches in this environment.

Talk of working under DOD or under some independent agency appears moot.
We can dream about having better masters, but it is highly unlikely
it will ever happen. About the only thing that might turn this
situation around is if the lab Directors decided at some future
point not to sign the yearly certification that "all is well" with
our nuclear arsenal. But there is huge political pressure for
the lab Directors to sign-off that "all is well". And while the
non-proliferation programs (ie, terrorist nuke detectors) look promising,
they can't make up for the bulk of the weapons program work. If
the slow death scenario is correct, then the DOE defense labs are
definitely not a wise career choice for any bright, young scientist
who are about to graduate. Is their anything else that might turn
this situation around? Are we destined to be the last maker of
buggy-whips (bomb pits) in the US, and nothing more?
I just noticed that the way the original poster wrote cu***re (for "culture" the word that we are not supposed to utter)is very symbolic. Remove the "three star" and you have a "cure." The "three star" was removed today and hopeful the "cure" will begin. We can at least hope that will be the case.
This exchange sets a new standard of unreality. LANL is not the innocent party, far from it.
As noted, the US currently does not produce pits, while other countries do. I suggest that the reason is that LANL fought, with Domenici's help, to produce pits and they were chosen over SRS for this task. Since then they have missed all their deadlines and budgets and extracted large sums of money, and produced no pits for the stockpile. Everyone who knows LANL could have predicted this. Now there is talk of a new Pit Facility, which is some years (and great expense) away. LANL, and Domenici, should have stayed out of the pit business, but the chased the cash, at the expense of the country.
As for Adm Watkins, he did what was needed and the "Tiger Team" had a good effect on the DOE complex, except at LANL. LANL resisted the whole project, including the Corrective Actions, and buried it in paper without actions. This was completed with the 1995 RIF of the team assigned to track the corrective actions. They kept finding that corrective actions reported complete, weren't, so they had to go. Other DOE sites. including Sandia, did their corrective actions, and moved on.
LANL spends more time and effort resisting DOE than it would take to simply comply and move on. That is the lesson of comparing Sandia and LANL. The problem is not the DOE, though they certainly have problems. The problem, as illustrated by the (non)pit facility and the Tiger Team episode, is LANL.
Of course, all organizations have problems but Los Alamos has to carry out
its work and address its problems in a sea of unfunded mandates, under the
cloud of the NNSA philosophy of running facilities to failure, and within a
flood of regulations the majority of that add nothing to efficiency,
safety, security, and environmental protection. I refer the readers to
5/16/2005 08:59:09 AM and rest my case.
I tend to agree that Admiral Watkins was doing what he thought was needed to keep the Lab viable. It may have been overkill, but it certainly wasn't the staff who resisted the Tiger Teams. I was very briefly group leader of what was then M4 when the Tigers came. The staff absolutely broke their backs to comply with any whim of every Tiger. It was management that resisted. That %$#^% Tim Neal, then the Division Leader, handed me my head for issuing an order that paper booties would be worn on firing sites.

That's how I know how unfair all of this crap is. There is not a group of people more dedicated to doing whatever is required for safety and security than the good folks at DX.
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