Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Robinson Wants to Rejuvenate LANL

Robinson Wants to Rejuvenate LANL

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer

If he were director, C. Paul Robinson would seek to rejuvenate Los Alamos National Laboratory's research programs, reconnecting them to advances in science and technology across the nation.

The head of the Lockheed Martin and University of Texas team vying for the future management of LANL, Robinson said the team is more than halfway through developing its proposal to manage the lab in a more streamlined and efficient way.

"We have a plan and we've analyzed what the most serious problems are and how we'd go about solving them," said Robinson, the former president of Sandia National Laboratories, which is managed by Lockheed.


Asked what he perceived were the most serious problems facing LANL, including a labwide shutdown last summer that cost at least $100 million, Robinson said he believes a lack of ownership for the lab's future topped his list.

"It is just very difficult to find people taking ownership for the future of the institution," he said. "There has not been a cohesive force trying to integrate the laboratory for some time."

Having spent the first 18 years of his career at LANL as a weapons physicist, Robinson said he understands some of the problems and concerns facing lab employees and their research.

He said that Lockheed, as manager of Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, has always put national interests before its corporate concerns and would do the same at LANL.

"This is all about the national interest," Robinson said.

Full Story

If a Lockheed Martin team ran the lab and a lab employee took ownership of his or her employees, would the Lockheed Martin team reward this employee for taking ownwership and would Lockheed Martin protect this employee from the traditional micromanaging that has discouraged attempts at ownership in the past.

If scientists work harder to be more connected to the world of science and to work on projects that are not traditional LANL science areas but that would attract new talented employees, would Lockheed Martin support the scientist against traditional political infighting?
Two very good questions posed by 9:37. Maybe somebody from the Lockheed bid team could be persuaded to respond. Perhaps Paul himself would care to reply.
And from UC, we hear.... silence. But hey, folks, they really, really care
about us way out here.
And from UC, we hear.... silence. But hey, folks, they really, really care
about us way out here.

Not quite true. We got a big FU! from Foley over both Kauppila and 9/80. Good riddance to UC - and it can't happen too soon. Why should we continue to support the enterprise of men who are scum?
Only because the current contenders are no improvement. Lockheed Martin is good at engineering, not science.
And corporate America does not, and, in fact, cannot, do anything but defend itself. Corporations, by definition, have no conscience. UC is bad. LM is bad. It ain't pretty but that's the way it is.
You know blanket statements such as "Corporations have no conscience" generally make the issuer of such pompous garbage look like a complete fool.

Sandia does science. LANL does science. Get over it. The question is, who can facilitate science at LANL better, Lockheed, or UC. History indicates that UC is not very good at maintaining an environment in which science can be done. That alone is sufficient reason to maintain an open mind on who the next contractor should be.
Mr. Get over it (6/22/2005 07:23:11 PM), "History indicates that UC is not very good at maintaining an environment in which science can be done"; where have you been the last 62 years?
I've been at LANL for more than 20 of those years, where I watched an accelerating degradation of the science done at LANL due to UC's poor managment of the laboratory.

Where have you been?
Mr. "Get Over It." Any verifiable proof that LM can facilitate science better than UC? Paper citations? Nobel Prize winners on staff? Number of publications? Anything beyond political contributions? Anything?
Oops. How foolish of me. I keep forgetting that LANL is THE BEST. Stupid of me, really.

1,000 pardons. Won't happen again.
If LM gets the contract this blog goes away. Nobody working at anything resembling LANL is permitted by corporate policy to attach their name publicly to anything referring to their place of employment or experiences, opinions about, etc....
" If LM gets the contract this blog goes away"

This poster sounds desperate now. Did C. Paul tell him this, personally, I wonder?

Ok, kids, time to knock off the little hissy fit.

There is a real desperation in the posts of the UC-lovers these days. The
only sure losers if LM wins will be the ADs and other high level managers.
They know it, and that is why they have been hauling their butts out to
UCOP to help work on the RFP bid of late. Soon enough, they'll be losing
their cushy $250 K per year positions and have to hit the streets looking for
a new job. I could care less about their plight, and so should you all.
Science will do just fine with Robinson and LM at the helm. In fact, it
may even do better than what UC has been able to pull off over the last
few years. You shouldn't be worried about whether LM wins the contract.
You should be worried about whether UC wins, and we suffer through seven
more years of poor leadership from men like Foley at our helm.
If LM wins the contract, that will be all right with me. However, if
LLNL re-competes in two years and DOE lets them keep UCRP (like they did
with LBL), I'm going to be very pissed off. LLNL should get the same
RFP deal as Los Alamos, including an LLC corporation and a separate pension
plan that has no connection with the UCRP.
Senior management to the Division level is scared spitless. The latest spin coming from a large support Division is that the Key Performance Indicators make the Division look bad and "our jobs will be at risk." Now there is a new crusade to shrink the KPI set and water down the criteria for green/yellow/red scores so the new contractor will accept the support division's current management into the new LLC. That this nonsense is going on under the AD's nose indicts the next level up the chain.

Time for a clean sweep through the top two floors of the Admin building and replacement for most Division Leaders and Deputies. Please, LM, bring in a competent management team (down the Division level) and restore sanity to this Laboratory.
Previous poster said it right. Upper management down to the Division level ought to be scared spitless. They're going to get cleaned out in the next year and most of us can't wait for this to happen.
Perhaps the two previous posts are correct that a "clean sweep" will occur. However, if that possibility is likely then we should all be VERY concerned because, contrary to many posts on the blog, there ARE some very hard-working good people at Division and above. Percentages, specific individuals, and value-added is subject to debate. But, again, many people are allowing their frustration to slip them into the Nanos model of management to "broad-brush" everyone into one category (i.e., cowboys, buttheads, etc.). We should all hope for positive changes, but we should also demand that changes be based upon a careful assessment of strengths/weaknesses. We should hope that changes are defensible and based upon an informed decision-making process. Otherwise, there will be more of the same through the "good ol' boys" approach of new players bringing in their cronies. I REPEAT, we should all hope for positive changes, but we should also demand that changes be based upon a careful assessment of strengths/weaknesses. We should hope that changes are defensible and based upon an informed decision-making process.
To the 8:08 post. You are saying we should all hope the winner is LM? The process you are asking for doesn't sound like UC/LANL!
To the 09:25 post: LANL/UC for many years and proud of it until past 2 years. And you?
After 16 years with LANL, I don't think either UC/Bechtel or LM/UT represent the best solutions for the Lab. We love UC for the great retirement benefits and the academic credentials that go with its name.

I once worked for a couple of corporations, and I must agree with an earlier poster that corporations are ultimately selfish: solely motivated by maximizing the dividends of the shareholders. LM may bring better business practices to LANL, but what little is left of "academic freedom" here will get finally flushed. And the bottom line will always be money, and not "Great Science".

And then there's the whole notion of Great Science. Is that what we really do? Most of our work is programmatic work in applied science and engineering projects, not basic research. And much of the work is classified. Just a lucky few TSMs get to do "real" science. But then, that's not really what LANL is all about anyways. Sometimes I think the Great Science wagon is really just for favorable public consumption and for attempting to lure good people to the Lab. If all this is true, then perhaps LM would be a proper contractor to have running LANL.

As for the University of Texas, I once worked for it, too. Scientific and engineering staff start with eight days of vacation per year. Just for me alone, my medical and dental insurance came to $300/month. I would hope they would do better for LANL (though I imagine we would be LM employees, and not UT's)

If UC wins, I fear we will be stuck with the status quo. If LM wins, they will probably sweep out the higher levels of management (a wonderful thing, but I would hope they don't throw out the good folks who do work at these levels), but we might not like their replacements any better.

Unfortunately, I just don't see us as coming out of this as winners.
Interesting comments in this thread. From reading this and other threads in this blog over the past month or so, it looks to me that there are more than a couple of people who don't think UC has done a good job, especially within the last few years or so. This surprises me, because not too many years ago (80s to mid-90s), just about everyone was highly loyal to UC.

Emotionally and in a financial sort of way, I'm attached to UC. And, in general, they have been a good employer for me. I like the academic/university style.

On the other hand, they have not protected us (and themselves) from the poor managers they have allowed to gain and maintain their positions at LANL. This has been allowed to go on for at least 15 or 20 years.

Maybe it is time for a change. Can we really be any worse off than now?
Whether we get LM or UC, I hope the new director and management team does patently and emphatically want to rejuvenate LANL.

Despite the veritable Hell many have gone through starting as early as the Wen Ho Lee experience and coming to a peak during or just after the standdown, many of us are ready to scramble back to our feet and try to make some sense out of our professions, our careers and our chosen institution.

All other details aside regarding the bidder's credentials, history and natural tendencies in regard to managing scientific laboratories, they will have something of a honeymoon period if they play their cards right.

We too may have a similar period where we are encouraged and allowed to stand back up, dust ourselves off and put our shoulder to the wheel (nose to the grindstone?) again.

I and many around me have done this, some managed to hardly break stride (all credit to them for that). I look forward to the thin possibility that about this time next year, whether with LM or UC, that we will be justified in some optimism after a long haitus.
I talk a lot to my friends at Sandia. They tell me that their new director has reiterated their philosophy - that each manager is evaluated on the money s/he brings in. Nothing else matters.

The cure (LM) may be worse than the disease (UC).
"..each manager is evaluated on the money s/he brings in. Nothing else matters."

Well, let me tell you about academic life. Besides teaching, faculty are expected to go out and find their own funding for the science they want to do, so that they can publish, so that they can survive in academia. In other words, in the end they are evaluated on the money they bring in......

Lots of the pro-UC posters seem to be fairly ignorant of what academic lfe is really like. it isn't like LANL where the great white father in Washington showers money around every year.
To 5:44: you are apparently ignorant of what LANL life is, at least in its real science part. Perhaps in weapons manufacturing they do not fight for money, but other than that or some engineering projects, clean ups, etc. there is a great work to get funding, going all the time.
We can start rejuvenating LANL right now by defining specific measures that we want to see implemented, making them known and then standing up for them regardless of who wins the contract. For instance, what type of leaders do we want (active scientists who don't want to be managers for very long?), how should LANL manage security and safety requirements (simplify & focus responsibility on users and line management?).

And we have to answer Bill Godwin's question.
"..each manager is evaluated on the money s/he brings in. Nothing else matters."

I think there is another duty, one to national security, that any manager or staff member is expected by the taxpayers to perform...that is, tell the government things that are true by the methods of science and engineering analysis that they do not want to hear. Like, the stockpile is on the fritz, we can't certify it this year. Or, that anthrax is not foreign necessarily. And, that missile defense system could not possibly work. Or, this waste disposal activity is unsafe. That sort of thing may displease your sponsor, the Senators, or the Secretary, or even the President, and make them less likely to fund you. But if one does not do that very thing when necessary, one is not working at a national lab anymore, no matter what the sign says at the gate. I'd like to think I work at a place that has a higher value and purpose than the next dollar in the door. There are plenty of Beltway Bandits around who will tell sponsors exactly what they want to hear for about $25K per Powerpoint slide. Are we any different?
I believe we are different. What I believe the issue is, relates to time scales: we can go and lobby for money now, using our current capabilities, and cut costs by not investing in hiring the best, and not providing an environment conducive to creative thinking. This is what was implied by the Sandia drive for "money now". ("Eating our seed corn"). Or, we can build an infrastructure that will get the best people attracted to LANL, and enable them to be creative, maximizing future returns.

US corporations are known for their drive to provide short-term gains to stockholders, at the expense of long-term developments. We need to have the ability to do the long-term research, development and implementation that really makes a difference to our national security.
To 6/23 3:17 p.m. When you wrote "Can we really be any worse off than now?" really struck a cord with me. On Father's Day I was having dinner with my dad. He knew Todd and I are friends and he asked how Todd and his family were doing. We talked about how Nanos had announced his departure and things were looking up. Dad mentioned that things can't get any worse, but better. I said "never think things can't get any worse because they always can." The next day I learned of Todd's death. I still have trouble driving in to work sometimes - when I see a huge red truck, passing a dead tree, etc.

I really hope that UC is re-evaluating Todd's case and they something RIGHT for the Kauppila family.
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