Sunday, November 27, 2005

"Assorted Scandals"

Albuquerque Journal
Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lab Debate Rooted In Assorted Scandals

By John Arnold
Journal Northern Bureau
SANTA FE— The historic competition for the contract to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory has been a long time in the making.
While security and management lapses in recent years were cited in a 2003 DOE report recommending that the lab contract be put up for bid this year, those who study the lab's history say it's important to put the pending change in historical context. It has roots in assorted scandals dating back more than two decades. Bit cultural changes and the end of the Cold War have significantly affected the lab's mission, opening it to scrutiny and criticism, according to lab watchdogs, scholars and government investigators.
The University of California has been LANL manager since 1943, when the lab was organized to build the world's first atomic bomb.
Now, two teams of academic and industrial partners are competing for the contract and a management fee of up to a $79 million. The winner of the bid was expected to be announced this week, but the National Nuclear Security Administration recently announced that the decision would be delayed. No new decision date for the contract has been set.
The University of Texas, which has expressed interest in running the lab for years, has teamed up with Lockheed-Martin. And the University of California has chosen to partner with Bechtel Corporation in an effort to keep its long-standing affiliation with the lab.
That baffles Hugh Gusterson, an MIT anthropology professor who is working on a new book about the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories in the post-Cold War era.
"I have to say, the greatest mystery to me with the whole thing is why the University of California is so committed to hanging on to the contract," he said. "Increasingly, it's become a millstone around their neck."

Probing security
That burdensome aspect of the contract dates back to the early 1980s, when members of Congress began to more carefully scrutinize lab management and security, said Pete Stockton, a former congressional staffer who in the 1980s and 1990s worked on a House subcommittee that investigated lab problems.
Beginning in 1982 and continuing into the 1990s, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, led by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., conducted investigation after investigation into security and management of facilities across the weapons complex.
LANL and sister lab Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, figured prominently in the subcommittee's work, which included inquiries into illegal drug use at the two facilities in 1988; a 10-week security force strike at LANL in 1989; and allegations of environmental, health and safety problems at LANL in 1991.
But while some congressional leaders like Dingell publicly questioned lab management, "the gloves never came off," said Gusterson. "And then in the late '90s, the gloves came off, particularly in the Wen Ho Lee case and around the series of missing (computer) disks."
Lee, a Taiwan-born U.S. citizen, was indicted on 59 counts of mishandling nuclear secrets. After spending nine months in solitary confinement, Lee pleaded guilty to a single count and was released. The story drew huge media attention, especially when U.S. District Judge James Parker, who presided over the case, apologized to Lee, saying the government's handling of the case was an embarrassment.
"Months and months and months of that kind of intense media coverage of an institution really takes its toll," Gusterson said, adding that the temporary disappearance in May 2000 of two computer hard-drives containing nuclear weapons designs "just re-enforced this idea that Los Alamos had a broken security culture."

The final straw
The last straw came in 2002, when LANL mangers fired two lab whistle-blowers who revealed weak purchasing and property control systems at the lab.
The following year, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced the lab's contract would be put up for bid. The DOE review recommending the competition called the 2002 fiascoes "the precipitating incidents."
But Gusterson says bigger cultural shifts outside the lab were also factors in the decision. For example, globalization and modern business practices make UC's 63-year-old contract seem outdated and the idea of competition more acceptable, he said.
"There's a way in which Los Alamos and Livermore are sort of a holdover, not just from the Cold War, but from an era where people felt that you got a job in your 20s and you stayed in it until you retired. Now everything is being competed."
The end of the Cold War and nuclear testing has played a role in changing lab culture as well, calling into question LANL's mission, lab watchdogs say.
"Right after the Cold War, there was a period of time where the (weapons) labs lost their way. They lost their identity," said Greg Mello, director of the Albuquerque-based Los Alamos Study Group. "Then they came up with the so-called stockpile stewardship program."
Stockpile stewardship is the DOE effort to keep the nation's nuclear stockpile reliable in the absence of underground tests.

Calls for competition
Despite the security lapses, plus employee discrimination complaints and several worker accidents in the mid- and late 1990s, former energy secretaries Hazel O'Leary and Bill Richardson extended the University of California's contract, citing the need for continuity and stability. University of California supporters have argued that the school's long-time hold on the contract has been an important tool in recruiting and retaining top scientists, who are attracted by the institution's academic prestige and generous benefits package.
"The truth of the matter is the University of California, if everything is going well, it is a really terrific institution from the scientific end to be affiliated with," said U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who supported UC's past contract extensions but has also been supportive of the 2003 decision to put the contract up for bid.
O'Leary's and Richardson's decisions to extend UC's contract came after repeated calls to put the contract up for bid. The University of Texas had expressed interest in running the lab as far back as 1996. A congressman at that time, Richardson himself urged O'Leary to approve a contract competition. U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., also supported a competition in 1996.
"So it's not a new idea, and it's something that should have been done," said Stockton, now a senior investigator with the Project on Government Oversight.


[This is the entire article, the genuine article. UC is "hanging on," as are most LANL staff members, against all reasonable odds. I include myself, because the real reason we are under attack is the Neo-conservative agenda, which cares nothing about science, but only about projected power. The inevitableness of all this incredible nonsense is exemplified by the last sentence above. And this from "The Enemy."]

Comments:
Sorry, Brad. I don't completely agree with you. While I recognize the trend towards "neo conservatism" that our country is currently enjoying (imagine the word "enjoying" in quotes as well), I believe the real reason that LANL has been hung out to dry is the direct result of the quality (lack thereof, actually) of the job that the University of California has amply demonstrated in managing LANL, especially during this past year. Had UC stopped Nanos in his tracks when he first hinted that he was planning to declare a lab-wide shutdown last year instead of backing him to the hilt, I suspect things would be noticeably different now.

Glad to have you as the blog co-maintainer, though.

;-}

--Doug
 
Believe it or not, Doug, I actually agree with what you said 100%. And if you look carefully at what I said, you'll see that I don't make any endorsement of the "UC" team. In fact, I have given up on them entirely. They left me, and you, and the whole goddamn bunch of us at LANL in the lurch.

When your "friends" (namely, UC and St. "Just-Get-Over-It" Pete) treat you like this, you are f*cked.

-Brad
 
As stated earlier, plan as if you are going to get reamed; and if you don't get screwed, consider yourself fortunate.
 
Doug, thanks for putting up the complete text of the article. This is great for those of us who don't subscribe to the Journal.

This piece does not, in my opinion, get anywhere near the root of the problem, which goes back to 1948. As described in "Brotherhood of the Bomb" by Herken, UC wanted nothing further to do with LASL after WWII. They only agreed as a quid pro quo for the AEC funding some of Lawrence's dumber ideas. They had no interest in "running" LASL and left that up to Bradbury. One of his first moves was to demand that UC personnel policies not apply to LASL. This haunts LANL to this day.

What we really have here is that UC does not give a rip about LANL and New Mexico. Never has, never will. California is a long ways from New Mexico, and we can't vote in their elections. We are simply a "colony" of the mighty UC empire, without rights, or much hope of improvement.

The appointment of Parsky to Chair the UC LLC shows just how little change UC is ready for. Parsky had a big hand in getting us into the current mess. Note that UC, though only a 50% partner with Bechtel, named the Director and Parsky, which shows that UC intends to dominate the LLC.
 
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