Wednesday, June 01, 2005
DEADLINE EXTENSION ON STRAW POLL:
I'm extending the deadline for votes in the San Francisco Chronicle's straw poll of present and former Los Alamos staffers until 10 am New Mexico time Wednesday, June 1. The reasons are:
1. The situation unexpectedly changed Thursday (May 26), when Northrop-Grumman announced it was dropping out of the race. Hence, I want to give people who previously voted for Northrup-Grumman the opportunity to change their votes should they wish to do so. (No obligation.)
2. FAR more people voted than I expected, and many of them sent very long, thoughtful and detailed explanations of their reasons for voting the way they did. Honest to God, I need more time to read through them all and to decide what material to use and what material to exclude from my final newspaper story. (I can't begin to use it all!)
I welcome additional votes in the interim, should anyone else wish to jump on the already crowded bandwagon. Again, the vote is open ONLY to PRESENT OR FORMER Los Alamos staffers!!! Full instructions on voting — including the important question of whether you wish to retain anonymity (be sure to let me know!) — appear in my previous e-mail, posted at this site on Friday, May 27.
Thanks to all of you who have already voted.
— Keay Davidson / Science Writer / San Francisco Chronicle
Here's my take on NNSA's (or DOE's, if you prefer) contract for managing Los Alamos National Laboratory. First of all, UC has never really "run" Los Alamos; it has only lent its cachet of academic freedom and scientific excellence to the institution, and has gotten back in return considerable prestige from LANL's own scientific output. Scientific research at LANL is a spin-off from the military-industrial program, and it has absorbed only a tiny fraction of the largesse that has been thrown at the Lab by Congress. But the benefits to the nation from this research far exceed anything that has been gained over the years by having on the order of a hundred times more nuclear weapons
than the country has ever really needed.
As to the current choices for managers of LANL, I vote for "None of the above," but only because our "ablest" politicians have decided that leaving things alone is not an option. My reasons are as follows.
NO to UC and Bechtel: UC has shown itself to be clueless and spineless in the face of the horrible damage that former Director Nanos did to the institution, and to the science produced therein, when he unwisely shut the Lab down. Bechtel is a slimy corporate entity whose main claim to fame is being second only to Halliburton in greedily soaking up tax dollars in Iraq.
NO to Lockheed Martin and the University of Texas: LockMart's candidate for Director of Los Alamos is quoted in the papers yesterday as saying that only a corporate entity like LockMart can cure the "problems" in security and safety that have occurred at LANL, even though, objectively speaking, there have been no more safety and security problems at LANL than at Sandia, which is a national lab run by -- you guessed it -- LockMart. Even reputable newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle have fallen into the trap of saying that there have been security and safety problems at Los Alamos, when in fact, the real problem at LANL is public relations. UC has handled the PR in a most incredibly inept way, but that has little to do with science itself. Whereas LockMart will substitute factory production for science at LANL and will cover up any safety and security breaches that might occur much more skillfully than UC ever could, the scientific credentials of UT make it a lame substitute for UC as an academic partner.
NO to Northrup-Grumman: Another greedy member of the Carlyle-Group military-industrial complex, whose only claim to fame is making nuclear submarines on which Los Alamos-designed nuclear warheads reside. Not even an academic pretense here.
So who should run Los Alamos? I say the buck should be made to stop where the real responsibility for political and bureaucratic buffoonery originates, namely, the Department of Energy itself. Cut out the
middleman. Since there would no longer be any need for a bloated manager's fee, that money could be used to roughly double the amount presently spent on basic research at the Lab. Let DOE/NNSA, the entity that has always run LANL, be exposed to the light of day, without any window dressing of a corporate "manager." And if science is no longer valued in this country, is there any need for the window dressing of an "academic" partner, either?
Note that my "endorsement" of DOE/NNSA running the Lab should be taken with an enormous grain of salt. My point is that DOE should be nailed for the political mess they've created and the damage they have done to the Lab. UC should be blamed for letting them get away with it and not saying a word in the Lab's defense. As to the stand-alone retirement system, well, that's a transparent attempt to line corporate pockets, and the effect of all this nonsense is to prompt more people to retire early -- as I did -- just for self-protection.
-Brad Lee Holian (retired LANL staff member)
Postscript: I notice that yesterday Northrup-Grumman withdrew in favor of the Carlyle Group partner LockMart. No loss there. The bottom line is, this whole thing is a mess -- an entirely unnecessary mess. A rational Director, a sensible DOE bureaucracy (OK, oxymoron!) in Washington, a sensible Congress, and a UC bureaucracy that valued the Lab -- any one of these things -- could have prevented the catastrophe that has befallen Los Alamos.
I am Keay Davidson, a science reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. Doug Roberts, the Blog manager, has given me permission to poll Blog users on the question: “Which competitor for the next Los Alamos contract deserves to win?” I invite BOTH PRESENT AND FORMER Los Alamos staffers to pick their preferred winner:
— UC and Bechtel
— Univ. of Texas and Lockheed Martin
— Northrop Grumman.
— alternate candidate (your choice).
PLEASE EXPLAIN WHY you voted as you did, at any length. I might quote part or all of your comments in my newspaper story.
I realize that many respondents will wish to remain anonymous, and I shall honor all requests for anonymity. However, to ensure that no impostors try to impersonate present or former Los Alamos staffers, I request that respondents who are comfortable being identified in print provide the following information: Your name, your role at the lab (past or present), and your phone number (just so I can confirm your identity, if necessary; I won’t share the phone with anyone else).
Naturally, I am likelier to quote respondents who are willing to identify themselves.
I must emphasize that the vote is open ONLY to people who are present or former Los Alamos staffers. Even if you send your response to the Blog, please send a COPY of your response DIRECTLY to me to ensure that I see it by deadline. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I need all responses no later than 1 PM FRIDAY, MAY 27, New Mexico time.
(Mr.) Keay Davidson
San Francisco Chronicle
I can report the following anecdotal observations about the contract and how I estimate my neighbor's and coworkers support for the various options to be (many will disagree with these observations):
Avidly Pro-UC ~5%
Long time UC/LANL employees. Well vested in UCRP and still able to remember LANL before Wen Ho Lee, the fire, and the standdown. Completely invested in science as an ideal.
Guardedly Pro-UC ~50%
Similar to the above but much more jaded by recent events, especially last year's standdown and the complicity of the UC Regents, President and Vice President Foley. Vested in UCRP, plenty to lose if that does not go well. Loyal to the ideal of science for science sake. Uncomfortable with defense contractors (fox) running (guarding) LANL (the chicken coop).
Rabidly Anti-UC ~5%
This camp seems to be people who have felt directly harmed by UC's policies and failures. These people are bitter about specific things and may very well have good reason to be. These people are convinced that private corporations run much better and treat their employees better. Or at least, "anything" is better than UC.
Avidly pro-Lockheed ~ 10%
There is definitely a contingent who specifically wants Lockheed to take over. These may be former Sandia or other Lockheed employees or recent arrivals at LANL who believe the defense-contractor model of management to be inherently better. These are more likely to be engineers than scientists. This crowd blends with the anti-UC at times.
Pro Northrop ~ 0%
I've not heard a single peep in favor of Northrop. The closest I've heard to it are the "anything but UC" crowd. I assume Northrop is a ringer invited in to make it look more like a race. To cover up for the conspiracy to sweep UC out and install Lockheed, or perhaps to re-install UC after pretending to make a contest out of it. I don't know what motivated Northrop to play. I suspect they were "solicited" strongly.
Rabidly Neutral ~30%
Nearly a third of the people I've talked to or overheard have had enough of all of this. They just want it to be over. If they are well vested in UC, they are prepared to eat whatever loss comes their way. If not, they just want to know how to consider their retirement plans. They just want to get back to work. They just want to quit having to worry about everything from one end of the spectrum to the other. This crowd blends into the guardedly pro-UC crowd as well as the pro-Lockheed at times. "Whatever" is commonly heard muttered.
my "vote" -
I'm guardedly pro-UC.
I believe that UC is the best for the science we can and should be doing. I do not want LANL to become merely a weapons-shop, a weapons-plant. If that is where it is headed (and why do we not know that?) then UC might not be the right manager, but nobody is openly saying that, yet their denials are somewhat anemic. The Bechtel alliance is very disturbing. While I think UC/Bechtel would be very different than LM/UT, the need for a defense contractor in the mix is very disturbing and portends a possible change in mission for LANL that is not welcome. A mission of production and proliferation.
I came to LANL as a young man, more dove than hawk but believing in the necessity of Mutual Assured Destruction. 25 years, the end of the cold war, the fall of the Soviet Union and being left the only superpower, the worlds policeman, and possibly the only bully on the block, has made me even more sure that our responsibility as a Laboratory is in aggressive non-proliferation, starting with our own stockpile. Once the Soviet Union fell, we had no more reason not to begin "unilateral disarmament". We have no reason to maintain a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. We let this genie out of the bottle, we can't stuff it back in, but we do have a responsibility for it.
UC might help keep us honest, none of the other players seem likely to even pretend to.
Unfortunately there is probably a lot going on behind the scenes. That many things are not what they appear to be. I wish I could be sure one way or the other. But the conspiracists have some good points to offer. That is another story, perhaps the real story.
- Steve Smith
25 years TSM at UC/LANL
speaking as a private citizen
I see SNL riding high, effectively managed, effectively contributing to National Security, and effectively defended on those rare occasions they are attacked.
I am basing my favor of Lockheed on the relative records over the past 10 years of SNL vs. LANL.
I feel it's a red-herring to claim UC is the only contractor that can support science, and Lockheed cannot or will not.
We only have to see what UC's failure to manage LANL, and specifically LANL's support and business operations, has done to the ability to get science done at LANL. It has damaged it measurably.
It is not just 'newcomers' that support Lockheed. It is people who see competent management enabling science and technology, and incompetent management, as we've seen from UC, stopping science and technology development in its tracks for months at a time, repeatedly.
There's no question that some in the civil service are unfireable incompetents, but there are places where excellence does occur in a GOGO setting (parts of NIST, NRL, NIH, and NASA come to mind). People at such labs have the advantage of not having to justify their entire financial burden plus some arbitrary overhead every year, or being thrown out on the street. The FFRDCs, and not just the ones under DOE, suffer badly from the "anything for a buck" syndrome and the wildly shifting priorities of the principal funding agents.
[Phuds contruibute 3 cents in opinion polls. Remember you get what you pay for.]
I'm a former LANL person [maybe a
demi-person, as I was a post-doc and one of the only two women of 140-some post-docs. However, I was ideally placed to be a scientific participant–observer of Los Alamos National Laboratory culture.] I would vote for "none of the above" in the contract results. If history matters in the 21st century, then UC gets half a point.
The University of California has not considered LANL as an equal campus (their community reps and lab liaisons in the 90s have come only from California. Employee children used to get out-of-state tuition until the 80s, I believe.) The University has not supported scientists or science against DOE. [did they do better against ERDA and AEC?]
[I have always tried to stress UC-LANL and not just LANL, partly to twist the university's nose to make them realize that LANL is supposed to be part of the university and partly for UC to live up to their institutional responsibility towards LANL.]
Unfortunately, I don't have a succinct version of why I have come to this conclusion, with the proper verification and evidence (I don't believe anyone does. Any actual research into "culture change" at LANL has always been truncated. A lot of my LANL notes are in storage.)
My "thing" is that—
* culture matters, that science matters. In particular, people matter [especially those who aren't at the upper social strata of the Lab and UC but who are and were absolutely essential to what UC-LANL brags on itself.]
* Science really is a human activity.
*I also continue to find that more is at stake than some current retirement plan. When it is Los Alamos laboratory, the whole world is at stake.
Reiteration of major "cultural upheavals" leading to the current situation—
**The initiating (and fundamental) change was about 1978 when the laboratory management was shifted from a science model to a business model. By 1984, the negative effects on quality of the workplace were clearly apparent.
**This continued in the early 1980s (1984-85), when Congress decided without significant evidence that the Lab was vulnerable to certain classes of terrorists and initiated infrastructure changes which then clearly marked the areas of concern for the public at large.
In addition, instead of funding long-term (forward-thinking) research, the emphasis was on annual funding and on funding programs through commercial contracts and private enterprise—science as a commercial product. This led to instances of "research" conducted only because DoD had the money (research which would not qualify on scientific grounds and which was outside the purview of LANL's own mission—e.g., trying to set off high explosive charges next to Bandelier National Monument and piping the noise directly to soldiers ears to see what happens to humans. Or, the $125K 24-page "study" of how to fight future WWII battles in mind-controlled uniforms which could withstand nuclear-chemical-biological warfare. "Even" the techs were embarrassed that the Lab scientists were after science fiction and not science.)
DOE pressured scientists to withdraw or alter their publications for partisan political reasons (unclassified research).
**The Tiger Team in the early 1990s under Adm. Watkins. This was the major devastating process, low morale, early retirements, etc.
The destructive trend which was noticeable in 1984 and obvious by 1990 has continued and the pairing with commercial enterprise just seems to be a final acknowledgement— UC-WMD, Inc.
There has been a consistent, long-term mindset. It was fostered under Republican administrations (which may or may not be coincidental). It is part of a general US anti-intellectual bias (scientists don't know what they are doing. See also the latest in Kansas) as well as internal biases—
***locals (i.e., Hispanos and Pueblos).
Both Laboratory senior management and the University have these biases, which are manifested especially in the refusal to use good scientific procedures to evaluate management changes or community involvement.
Both senior management and the University have consistently refused to understand what the Laboratory community is and how it functions (at the minimum, the community has or had a geographic radius of 100 miles.) It is not simply Los Alamos County.
Why is this important outside of current Staff (sic)? because the nuclear weapons industry is inward looking and nearly self-replicating [acknowledged to me by a senior analyst in a DC think-tank when I was working on Nuclear Winter: the Human Effects].
About the only brake is/was Los Alamos National Laboratory, regarded as the pearl of the national weapons labs. And that has come from a genuine community developed from the history of Nagasaki and Bikini Atoll, shaped by the ecologically-based culture of northern New Mexico.
[Star Wars was a Livermore/Teller project, not a Los Alamos project. ]
It is crucial now more than ever that we apply good science to the correctly identified problems. Proximately that is the Lab; but it is also international security.
[as example, remember the Golden Fleece awards of Sen Proxmire? One was awarded to "silly" research about some obscure religious cult in Southwest Asia. The following year or so, that religious cult had overcome the US Embassy in Tehran. Wasn't the recent second Iraq war over in a few months and the privitised nation-building turned over to a grateful people? And Al-Qaeda crushed by that action against S. Hussein?]
I also encourage any of you who find his reporting (research?) to be wanting to write to him on that topic and encourage him to make a retraction of sorts, to rethink his assumptions about what really happened at Los Alamos last summer, over the past few years, even longer.
I tentatively believe he is not out to cause us harm, but it is not clear he has put enough care into his research on this topic.
There are two missions that consume the vast majority of employees in Los Alamos: defending the free world and producing the highest quality science possible. We have always been proud to be dedicated to our missions and have gone the extra mile (from working holidays to going to Iraq) to accomplish our goals. We have moved here away from our families and friends for the opportunity to serve. And we believe that a National Laboratory is a very special place that takes on the hard problems for the country that private industry is unable to attack because the problems are so big and dangerous.
As scientists who grew up against the hard edge of physical reality, we value honesty more than anything else in the world. Our integrity is all we have to “sell”. We are worthless if the American people cannot believe us when we say something is good or there is a problem. We have no patience with those who want to get by through “blowing smoke.”
Many of us have been here for time measured in decades and have formed strong professional relationships that allow us to call on an incredibly wide set of skills to address whatever problems that face the nation. We have been here for the long haul. We do not rotate out every couple of years or lose our skills as the priorities of various administrations change. The nation has always been able to call on us knowing they would get a quality response.
The data show that we are very involved in maintaining high standards of safety and security in an inherently dangerous and complex environment. We are most interested in processes that actually enhance both safety and security and adopting those practices that have been shown to be most effective in both areas. Industry best practice has been shown to focus on positive reinforcement. A smart sponsor would help us do our job right rather than stop us from our work as an exercise of power. Does anyone think it odd that the biggest problem with our workforce is that we want to do our work?
For many years, the US government believed in and supported our mission, so for the most part, they left petty politics out of how they treated us. The sad reality facing all of us still dedicated to our mission is that since the end of the Cold War (which, by the way, we helped to win) many in the government no longer value us, ignoring what we bring to both the fight against terrorism and research to provide energy independence. Members of the government who are hungry for power and money view us as nothing more than a cash cow for their supporters, showing no concern whatsoever for the value of our work or the uniqueness of the teams of skilled people assembled on this mesa.
If our integrity, the quality of our science, the uniqueness and dedication of our workforce, the reliability and ready availability of our skills, and the support of our on-going missions is valued in the least by this country, we must be allowed to continue under the guidance of the University of California with its atmosphere of academic freedom and long-term dedication to public service. Strengthening UC with an industrial partner is fine, but forcing this expensive competition and degrading our capabilities (jobs lost to pay for increased fees, taxes, and contributions) is not. Becoming a political and monetary football to be tossed about with the political/industrial winds will destroy this institution and the service we provide to the nation we love.
This anonymous contributor hits the nail on the head about the gravity of the selection of a new contractor and of the continuing efforts to "manage" culture. That integrity was hard-won and defended. I doubt that it can be re-established once lost.
Excerpts from a letter to Dr. Laura Nader, University of California, Berkeley, September 16, 1989
I thought after our telephone discussion that we really were seeing the same egg, one view from the big end and one view from the little end. I think the confusion results from our two differing otations of "Los Alamos"—you hear the institution (the external presentation by senior management as received by others) and I hear the people.
These people are not just a "few good scientists" that I know at Los Alamos. [I'll call it "The Lab" for the sake of this letter but that term really does refer to a different category. I distinguish Los Alamos from Los Alamos National Laboratory.] Most people at the Lab are not scientists; the majority of either group are 'good'. Together they exercise a restraining influence on what could be imposed upon the Lab from outside (the Lab doesn't direct nuclear policy and funding but yes, it is influential in some aspects) or generated from the inside.
It's my thesis that the Lab (here the term fails because I mean the place as well as the people, not just the institution) holds a unique, valuable restraining and vital function in the last 60 years of the 20th century.
Because of its history -- Trinity AND Hiroshima/Nagasaki -- the Lab stands for scientific integrity and responsible citizenry (i.e., moral or honorable action; I'm not yet sure what the term is that I need). It gets listened to. And what it says comes not from guilt but from accepting their history as theirs (not to be forgotten or ignored); from continuing discussion of what is right (discussion at home and church and school, as well); and from expressing what they feel is right, even if it isn't popular higher up or sideways.
Neither the Lab's historical responsibility nor its continuing restraint and efforts at new directions would be possible if the Lab were sited anywhere else. There is a generative essential self of the Lab that is the land and the people. This essential self is expressed by individuals, who make up the organization.
These things are powerful; they add up; they are subtle; they can be diminished; the impact can be lost or turned negative, even without deliberation, because they are unrecognized and unconscious (i.e., uncharacterized).
Maybe the geology of the Pajarito Plateau is a 'butterfly effect' among nuclear weapons policy, with even as innocuous a change as LASL to LANL a butterfly effect within the Lab.
Thank you for speaking with me. You always manage to provoke resolution of some issues for me, in this case to clarify what I see as "Los Alamos" (which is so different from what anyone else experiences).