Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Advisory board criticizes Laboratory productivity

From the LANL NewsBulletin:

July 22, 2005

Advisory board criticizes Laboratory productivity

Once again, a panel of outside experts has assessed the Laboratory and the other national labs and provided some interesting insights -- that will probably be forgotten. While I don't agree with everything in the report of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, I think we should pay attention to two excerpts about plutonium work here. (The full report is publicly available at www.seab.energy.gov/publications/NWCITFRept-7-11-05.pdf online.)

On page 91 of the pdf:

"[Technical Area] 55 is a remarkable facility. The attention to detail at every level of manufacture is to be commended. It is obvious that processes have been laboriously developed to provide a quality product safely. However, the manufacturing priorities appear to be: (1) Safety, (2) Security, (3) Quality. The one missing element is: Productivity. The enormous investment made in the TA-55 facility has not yielded anywhere near the productivity levels this facility should be capable of attaining."

And the panel's recommendation, on page 54:

"NNSA should focus TA-55 on pit production until CNPC is fully operational, by making the following changes: remove Pu 238 to another location; relocate pit surveillance to LLNL SuperBlock, relocate plutonium R&D to SuperBlock or CMR, relocate gas gun efforts to Jasper."

Had the panel analyzed other large Lab facilities, it would have discovered the same inattention to productivity, so this issue goes beyond plutonium work. The message is clear: be a productive facility, or your funding will be eliminated.

It is long past time to abandon the hierarchical view of safety and security at Los Alamos. The hierarchical view holds that safety and security are the top goals, or priorities, or objectives, or whatever you may call them. With the changing of the guard at the Lab, it is time to adopt a new view (once in place, but now forgotten) that the top goal of the Lab is productivity, and that safety and security are integral to how we accomplish the mission. Otherwise, many more facilities will find their best and most interesting scientific work transferred to our friends at Livermore or elsewhere in the complex, as this panel recommends for TA-55.

--Bernard Foy


Comments:
Excellent point. LANL forgot about producitity with the tiger teams. At least that's when I recall the safety monster getting way out of hand. Not only did we loose site of our objective but I claim we made the lab less safe because we turned to paper forms and meetings that consume so much time that people have become less competent at their jobs and the focus has been on compliance and not actual safety.
 
Foy very usefully calls our attention to a major Lab failing, namely that quality and safety are seen as alternatives to productivity. As a friend at TA-55 told me; "TA-55 is much safer, but no pits are being produced.". The pages immediately after the Page 91 that Foy calls out attention to are of great interest also. They point out the issue with incentive structures, using NASCAR as a working incentive system.
This is a key issue; where LANL is broken almost beyond reprieve. Each year TA-55 fails, at enormous expense, to meet the pit production goals. The result; they get more money, typically from Domenici, heaped on top of the already generous DOE budget. Justifications alternate from "keeping the program on schedule" to "getting the program back on schedule". Fact is that missing the schedule(s) has been very lucrative for TA-55 and the Lab. Until this ends, why should they change? Missing the schedule(s) pays much better than making them.
An old maxim in business is; "Feed Success; Starve Failure". LANL has reversed this; and heaps money on failure. As the Task Force points out, this is absurd and must change. First, we must starve failure at LANL, by removing money from failed management, or removing managers from the money. No excuses; we have too many of them, for too long. A problem will be Domenici, who has already panned this report.
Thanks to Foy for his very useful contribution.
 
Folks - please note also that the original text in the report uses boldface on the sentence "The one missing element is: Productivity." The LANL Newsbulletin editors removed the boldface.
Also, it is interesting to note that it took 5 days before Public Affairs gave approval to print this. That problem evidently has not been fixed.
-- Bernard Foy
 
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