Sunday, May 08, 2005

Nanos' Exit Good for Lab

Albuquerque Journal North
Sunday, May 8, 2005

Nanos' Exit Good for Lab

EDITORIAL: Los Alamos National Laboratory director Pete Nanos is
stepping down next week— perhaps not coincidentally on the same day the new
lab management contract is expected to go out to bid. He was brought in
almost 2 1/2-years ago to tighten things up in the wake of procurement and
security scandals. Measured by journalists' crude standard— if you've made
everyone on every side of the story mad, you've probably got it about right—
Nanos could be said to have done a good job.

Lab employees, outraged when Nanos publicly characterized them as
"cowboys" and "buttheads" who couldn't be bothered to follow routine
security procedures, continue to complain loudly on the Internet about his
hard-nosed management style. Members of Congress, judging by Michigan
Democrat Bart Stupak's tirade on the subject Thursday, appear unconvinced
that the lab's problems can ever be fixed and are talking— surely only that—
about closing the place. Meanwhile, University of California officials, on
whose watch the scandals occurred, went into a snit when federal officials
questioned the wisdom of their 60-year monopoly on the lab management
contract and continue to play coy about whether they'll bid on the new one.

The problem, of course, is that making everybody mad may be good
journalism, but it isn't often good management. A retired vice admiral,
Nanos already had one strike against him when he took over— Los Alamos
scientists have resented military interference since the earliest days of
the Manhattan Project. And as Department of Energy officials found out when
they began talking about letting private industry take over running the lab,
those scientists correspondingly treasured their historic association with
the country's premiere intellectual institutions, including the University
of California, and were prepared to desert if the link was broken.

It remains to be seen who bids on the LANL management contract. But
Nanos' departure (for, appropriately, a Defense Department job) may augur
well for the future of the lab. So, too, his replacement, a veteran UC
administrator from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who may be
better suited to restoring collegiality on The Hill.

The "lab's problems" are not that great nor are the "unfixable." BUT, who is going to fix the problems with the DOE and with Members of Congress shooting off thier mouths without any willingness to understand the facts?

As far as Nanos "having one strike...," that is not correct. When Nanos became Acting Director in January of 2003, most at LANL expected leadership from him befitting a Navy Admiral. What we were unprepared for was his abusive behavior and unwillingness to listen to anyone.
Amazing how the Journal seems utterly ignorant of LANL and its problems. They never look to the source of the problems; the "no loss - no gain) nature of the contract and the absurd UC "management" arrangement" which pretty much leaves LANL management to themselves, until the mess hits the papers, then UC flies cover and helps them to avoid reforms. A serious look at this absurdity, by the Journal, would be welcome, and is long overdue.
Nanos probably had little choice about the stand down; if he hadn't done it, DOE likely would have. As the press conveniently forgets; it was not about simply a missing disk. It was about a serious laser incident, which reflected a profound problem with the LANL safety culture.
The stand down was likely out of his hands. My criticism of Nanos is that he, and LANL, did not address these problems during the 1 1/2 years BEFORE the stand down. If he had, the whole thing could have been avoided.
Don't expect much from Kuckuck. As Pete Stockton, of POGO, comments (in the LA Times piece), Kuckuck is a very poor choice. A Good Old Boy who helped to create LANL's problems.
The 5/8/2005 11:37:32 AM poster is correct in that Nanos really had no choice about having the standdown. BUT, he did have many choices in how they carried it out.

I would not put much credence in what POGO has to say. They are rather cluelessa about what goes on at LANL.
The only person I've heard say that Nanos had no choice but to shut down the lab last July was Nanos, and I don't believe him.
I looked up Robert Kuckuck today and found the following:
1. His academic record is undistinguished, ending in a master's degree.
2. The on-line classified holdings show no papers written by him, only reports relating to his management of the LLNL nuclear testing program.
3. Michelle Doggett, a Livermore whistleblower, is bitter that Kuckuck did not protect her against retaliation ( A situation very much like Peter Duffy and Pete Nanos at NAVSEA in Newport, RI.

My conclusion is that the UC is not going to compete seriously for the LANL contract. Otherwise they would have found a stronger interim director. I have been told that they have been trying since last August. Too little, too late.
5/8/2005 01:13:58 PM: You didn't do a very thorough literature search on Robert Kuckuck. In fact, his academic and professional background is much more extensive than what you've reported. Good thing you posted anonymously; I wouldn't want a LANL employee to develop a reputation for carelessness...

"Bob Kuckuck was raised on Wheeling Island and graduated from Wheeling High School. After receiving a B.S. degree in physics from West Liberty in 1960, he went on to earn an M.Sc. in physics from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in physics/applied science from the University of California. Kuckuck spent the majority of his professional career, 38 years, as a physicist at the University of California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. His early career at the Laboratory was spent developing new measurement techniques for diagnosing the performance of underground nuclear explosions. He then moved into scientific leadership positions in which he was responsible for, among other things, leading the Laboratory’s underground nuclear weapons testing program, providing technical support to U.S. nuclear weapons treaty negotiations in Geneva, and developing new techniques for verifying foreign compliance with nuclear weapons treaties. Kuckuck retired as Deputy Director of the Laboratory in 2001. After retirement Kuckuck spent two years in Washington, D.C. as the first principal deputy administrator of the newly-formed National Nuclear Security Administration, the agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories and is responsible for the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile. For this effort, he received the Secretary of Energy’s Gold Medal, the Department’s highest civilian honor. In his early years at Livermore, Kuckuck taught science and mathematics in the evenings at the local community college, developing new courses focused toward the layperson. He also created the Laboratory’s first program for assisting physics teachers from minority colleges, both through summer appointments and continuing involvements upon their return to school. Kuckuck is married to the former Marilyn Kiger of Wheeling and has three daughters and six grandchildren, all living on the West Coast."
I'm glad to learn that Bob Kuckuck developed new measurement techniques for underground nuclear tests. I would be even more glad if those techniques were written down so that his sister lab could learn about them. Citations, anyone?
Here's a scenario:

UC decides to quit being the whipping boy for DOE, and who knows who else at LANL and chooses not to bid.

LockMart and Bechtel and Halliburton and Enron and Northrop fight over the spoils, see who gets the not-so-lucrative contract that has many hidden perks.

One of them cozies up real well with UT (is it already in the bag that LockMart/UT are a couple?) and the "Texas Republicans" fill their pork barrel with the pork that used to come to the "New Mexico Republican", Uncle Pete Domenici.

They win the bid. LANL employees, especially those well vested in UCRP start making other plans. Big time. Retirements max out.

UC offers LANL employees an easy, graceful way to keep their UCRP. All LANL employees get a no-fault termination on the very last day of their contract with DOE. After all, UC doesn't need them anymore. Maybe UC works a sweet deal for those within a few months or years of 50 to carry their insurance with them on the same terms as if they've retired. Is there much skin off their nose. Or how about an "emergency" 5 years combined retirement incentive like they did to avoid RIFS? 45 or older have much better choices than they did the day before.

UT/LockMart or Halliburton/Enron hasn't had time to play favorites and can only plan to "rehire" all comers in the first days of their contract. Cleared, qualified employees who already have shown a commitment to living in an out of the way place with limited citified qualities.

Just a fantasy.
Here’s a slightly different scenario

- UC decides not to bid. They already know that California is in financial trouble and will probably not be able to pay out the UCRP Defined benefit over the long term (Can you say United Airlines?) The Governor has already tried to steal PERS – can UCRP be far behind?

- Various contractors fight over the spoils and one or two get the contract. A commercial and for-profit company wins the bid. LANL employees, especially those well vested in UCRP start have already made other plans. Retirements max out.

- UC dumps any New Mexicans as quickly and as cheaply as possible. California and UC won’t do us any special favors. This is the real world and UC-daddy won’t take care of New Mexicans anymore..

- The new contractor takes over LANL. Guess what – they DON’T hire back many or even most of the petulant retire-es.

- Work focus changes from science to production. (Stockpile and Simulations were just all reports anyways.) The new contractor uses real management techniques, including Project Management for ALL projects (not just construction) and quality production management. PMD Division expands and work becomes more efficient- at least for production work.

- People leave in droves. Housing prices drop & I can finally by a home on the hill.
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