Friday, July 08, 2005

Pension funds in the LLC black hole

The current state of pension funds throughout the United States is very un
healthy. People are loosing any chance of retirement due to "corporate
loopholes" that allow travesties such as the United Airlines default. We are
about to be put into a new system that will be backed by an LLC. This means
that only the assets of the LLC are liable, while the managers can skate...

To see the situation as analyzed by AARP, look at
http://www.aarp.org/bulletin/yourmoney/pension_roulette.html.
Here, you will find what has happened to five different people, plus get an
insight to what will happen to many future retirees. The estimated pension
shortfall is now at $450 Billion!

So, thank you Rep. Hobson, R. Ohio, for putting us into the same situation as a
large segment of the population for a few campaign contributions and your
anti-nuclear stance. You are well on the way to creating another burden on the
taxpayers, and a reduction of quality of life for people that dedicated their
lives to help protect your freedoms.

-Anon.

Comments:
This ongoing fixation on the pension plan reflects very poorly on LANL employees. The LANL pensions are, in the final analysis, backed by the U.S. government, because LANL performs a mission seen as essential to the nation.
Most Americans would love to have the generous, tax supported, feather bed at LANL, and they find it offensive to be constantly asked to secure these fine benefits forever. Nothing is free, and the LANL benefits are being paid for by the tax payers, who in the main are far worse off than LANL employees. Do yourself a favor, get off it....
And remember, the reason for LANL being competed is that they have screwed up, big time. The Congress is not "out to get" LANL; they are sick to death of LANL screw ups. LANL, and its employees, brought it on themselves. Why don't you try to be a bit more like Sandia; which makes compliance with DOE requirements look easy? This is only hard if you make it so; and the beginning is to drop off the paranoia; and stop yammering about the pensions.
 
The previous poster deserves a two-by-four whack upside the head. How many times, over and over again, do we have to challenge people who repeat the tired mantra of LANL "screwups"? These so-called "screwups" have been shown, in every single case, to be blown all out of proportion, mainly by the media and some Congressmen with obscure, yet sinister agendas, but also from within the Lab by an abusive Director, who shut it down for safety and security reasons that failed to stand up to scrutiny. There was no "culture of arrogant disregard for safety or security," and in fact, the missing classified material turned out to be missing bar codes, while the safety data comparing Los Alamos with other national laboratories thoroughly disproved the Director's wild allegations.

The so-called "screwups" in safety, security, and business practices that have occurred at LANL are in no way significantly more numerous nor more serious than have occurred at Sandia (managed by Lockheed Martin) or Livermore (managed, as is LANL, by UC). If these other institutions have ducked the wild punches thrown by unscrupulous politicians or lazy journalists at Los Alamos, well then, that is probably only because Los Alamos is a mushroom-cloud icon recognizable by everyone. Most people, when asked about Livermore or Sandia, pause and then say, "Now where are those labs?" Mention the name "Los Alamos," and images of bombs dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki snap immediately into mental focus. For a reporter needing a "scandal" for the evening deadline or a quack politician to get a sound-bite, all they need to do is just go hysterical about the "thieves," the "saboteurs," and the "spies" that pack the "cave-like laboratories" at Los Alamos. It's SO DAMN EASY.

I challenge the previous poster to shake off these easy, worn-out cliches, and present us with some facts.
--Show me the data!
Or else stop your incessant yammering!

-Brad Lee Holian
 
"same situation as a large segment of the population"? Ok, how about you go trade places with my friend who works for United Airlines?

Reps. Hobson and Stupak: my new favorite congressmen!
 
7/09/2005 10:08:54 AM said:
"This ongoing fixation on the pension plan reflects very poorly on LANL employees. The LANL pensions are, in the final analysis, backed by the U.S. government, because LANL performs a mission seen as essential to the nation."

My UC pension has no need of backing by the US government. It is solvent, which is something few other plans can claim. In fact it is so well managed that I have not had to contribute to it for years. I admit that this is a welcome benefit, but it is not a tax supported feather bed. It is something I share with all retired UC employees.

Larry Creamer, Retired
The Detonator Group
1944 - 2004
 
The 10:08 poster.

Please get your facts right. There are no LANL screw-ups. We are the safest lab, the most secure lab and
the productive lab in the DOE comeplex. The good people at LANL could gone on to be in medecine,
law and many other fields that pay way more than we get now. We are not like most of the people in the US. Most people in the US do net get Ph.d's in physics and we should be treated different. We do a valuble service that takes years and years of education. Therefore we should get the best benifits. If not we will leave. Other people will not come. Than you are screwed. This is the deal we where promised. We can go elswhere. Also it will be clear to the upcomming generation that you should not go into science. Already there are only 50% US citizens getting Ph.d's in the United States. Now the rest of getting the picture and saying forget it, there are better oppurtunities for elswhere.
 
To poster at 7/09/2005 10:08:54 AM. Who cares whether our concern with our pensions "reflects poorly on all LANL employees"? If someone thinks it reflects poorly on a person to worry about what will happen to him/her in old age I suggest that person put his/her head back in the sand.
Responsible people spend most of their lives planning for their eventual old age. If one has been promised a sizable pension for years and counted on it to support oneself in old age it is down right sadistic for any organization to take it away and that is happening on a wholesale basis in the US. LANL employees should worry and vote for legislators who promise to stop this theft.
LANL's retirement fund has been extremely successful and saved the tax payer billions through good management practice. It will be a big plum for these private companies looking to take over LANL because they will be allowed, legally, to skim off a substantial amount and play the kind of games with the retirement fund that Lockheed has been playing with its retirement fund. The managers get huge retirements and the employees fund is underfunded.
Anyone who is not concerned about this is living in la-la land.
And to make matters worse, our social security system is under attack at the same time and our medical care has gone beyond the reach of ordinary people. This is a very frightening experience and in my opinion it reflects poorly on corporate America and the politicians who have done nothing to stop this corporate theft.
Keep your eye on the shell!
 
To answer the accusations or concerns about why LANL's population focuses on the pension issue I can offer that rather than an approach that relies upon the almighty government and the taxpayer base to supply or supplement a meager retirement income or guarantee a pension fund, many of the intelligent and forward-thinking, prudent LANL employees had planned their own retirement stability based on a package that was offered when they hired on. Many invest and insure outside of the Lab's benefit packages in an effort to support their own retirements rather than relying upon one source of income when they no longer earn compensation for their daily efforts.

How difficult is it to comprehend that 'bait and switch' is rightfully detected and discussed as an unjust situation. Mind you, we are all aware that guarantees are a thing of the past or found to be impossible or implausible to deliver. We also understand that there have been and continue to be shifts in benefit arrangements which lead to the employee carrying more of the financial burden while being offered fewer options and declining decision-making opportunities that often accompany belt-tightening changes.

We also understand that there are more convoluted and complicated explanations and arrangements but I can say without reservation that there are many at LANL who revel in diving in to the complex and convoluted details and delight in sharing the conclusions (and in the same breath, I thank them for doing so).

We live and breathe in the realm of 'follow the money' management systems and while many have diligently planned to sustain their own lives beyond retirement, it should come as no surprise that the discussions arise over the impact of a pension plan change - that's how a community of thinkers work. Discuss and contemplate what's in front of you, forecast impact of change or applied condition, plan based on theories which seem plausible and probable. The pension is just one of many issues that can be discussed 'in the open' and ties to people's future stability and therefore, it is a hot topic.
 
Brad seems intent on finding the Lab innocent, by citing some numbers which show LANL in a good light compared to other Labs. The problem with those cited numbers is that LANL "manages" the numbers, of course. Surprised? As a LANL consultant reported, this is the natural outcome of focus on those numbers. LANL of course buried the consultant's report, even from the DOE, but it finally leaked out.
Ignored in Brad's rant is that the "stand downs" for safety and security go back to 1996. This is not just Nanos! 1996!!! And yet the problems persist. Now that is screwed up! Look at how many times, and total time lost, in TA-55 stand-downs for instance. In one of the big ones, a glove box leak was being checked out by someone not authorized to do the work, and four people were in the room who shouldn't have been, under ALARA rules. At least those five people, and their management screwed up. TA-55 went down for about six months on that one.
Then of course there is Efren Martinez, where LANL management and their employees violated many OSHA regs and LANL regs; even created a special "work around" approval process, bypassing the safety evaluation; leading directly to the accident. The managers responsible were given above average raises and promotions, by John Browne.
Then of course there are the LANSCE stand-downs, the CMR shutdown, the TA-18 security problems, the huge delays at DARHT, which is $200 million over budget, and still the 2nd axis is not up, and won't be up until 2008, if ever.
Brad, those are a few of the LANL screw ups; I could go on. Any you want us to believe that its all a bad dream? Congress is not stupid. They keep sending money, and getting screw ups and delays. As you demand data, you have some. I challenge you to show another DOE site with the lousy record of stand downs, and budget over runs, that LANL has.
And check around about the numbers you use to prove LANL's safety and security. Figures don't lie, but liars figure. LANL has been known to cook the books. But, shut downs are hard to hide.
 
To Larry Creamer; the UC pension plan was contributed to by the DOE, on your behalf. In fact the DOE kept contributing long after everyone else had stopped. The over funding of the UC plan is lovely but temporary, and as some point the employees and employer will again contribute.
But, none of this addresses my point; the LANL pension plan is backed by the U.S. government, and Senator Domenici. This is true whoever has the contract. As long as LANL performs a required service and has political support, the plan is secure. That's simply the way the world of politics works.
And look for California to raid the UC plan as they did PERS; Arnie has his eye on it, and California has huge budget problems. Again, its all politics.
The UC plan is a "defined benefit plan" not a "defined contribution plan" and any excess beyond what is required to meet the benefits does not belong to the employees, it belongs to the state. LANL employees seem to think the excess belongs to them. It doesn't...
In spite of all the claims that the retirement plan is "part of the contract" etc. I don't recall it being an issue when I joined LANL. It just was what it was. The work was more important. Now it seems that the retirement is more important.
 
To 7/10/2005 10:31:17 PM,

"I challenge you to show another DOE site with the lousy record of stand downs, and budget over runs, that LANL has..."

Okay, let's start with LLNL. Remember MFTF-B, 1984? Built at a price of ~$200M, but never used. Shut down, what a waste.

Then, there was the scandal about Laser Division Leader John Emmett and the "gifts" from Rocky Flats model shop, like an oak wine press that just "showed up" at LLNL shipping, sent to Emmett. There were numerous other "gifts" that were scandalous from this top Livermore manager.

What about the LLNL top managers who had given their college-age kids accounts on LLNL machines, and passwords on their own accounts? Found out the kids were running a porn-site from LLNL!

What about NIF, circa 1999? A $1.1 B laser, hmmm?? What about LLNL spies (Peter Lee), and their security and safety screw ups? In the late 80's they had a technician who fell from the spaceframe of the Nova laser, and is permanently brain-damaged!

What about the visiting Japanese scientist who was working in a confined space (vacuum chamber), supposedly being closely supervised by LLNL employees, and nearly died due to lack of oxygen?? Shall I continue, or are these facts too harsh a reality for your brain to groc? I was a LLNL employee for many years, and left that stink-hole because they were a pack of liars, especially most of the managers.

Now, regarding your comment about stand-downs. LLNL often did have "one-day" stand-downs on security, safety, EEO issues, etc. There likely should have been others too, but it didn't happen. The LANL stand-downs you referred to were self-imposed, and often greater in length than necessary, which mostly reflects on poor management decisions, brought on by mistakes of employees. LLNL has their share of screw-ups, and Brad's numbers are hard data, unlike your anecdotes. Maybe you are the one who should be accused of doctoring numbers...
 
But at least we're getting some anecdotes! There are plenty of anecdotes about Sandia, too. Believe me, when the shutdown occurred, I talked to colleagues at both LLNL and Sandia. And they were aghast that LANL had actually been totally shut down for things that had been dealt with elsewhere, and at LANL in earlier times, by far less draconian measures.

All the anecdotes are contained in safety data, and regardless of the cutoff you use for severity of incidents, there is not a dime's worth of difference between LANL, LLNL, and Sandia (when normalized for hours worked per year). And the same kind of statistics for all three labs, this time for security infractions, were released by NNSA earlier this year; these data appear in the Archives of this blog. Once again, not a dime's worth of difference between the three labs--if anything, Los Alamos is somewhat better in both safety and security performance.

These are large, complex organizations, and absolute perfection is humanly impossible. I hope someday that politicians and journalists (and even some scientists, I would guess, judging by some of the comments) will recognize this.

Then, the task for managers is to realize these facts, and deal with events on a case-by-case basis, closing down those parts of the organization that need readjustment, rather than closing down the entire enterprise. The Director, or whoever is managing the Laboratory, has to realize the value of the work done and the value of the people who do the real work. Then, such a tragedy as last year's shutdown of LANL, will never occur again.

-Brad Lee Holian
 
Perhaps the worst aspect of the Admiral Butthead's standdown was the "one size fits all" mentality. Yes, there were some phases to the restart, but too much of the phase 1 activities should have been restarted within a few days of the start of the standown.
 
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