Sunday, December 11, 2005

Do the right thing

An extremely unofficial poll of Sanda staff has recently favored UC to win the bid. I sincerely hope this does not come to pass, for a couple of reasons. Primary among them is that I have 20 years of experience with the University of California. It has led me to conclude that there probably is not an organization out there that could do a worse job of running LANL. I keep replaying the events of 2004: Nanos, the shutdown, UC: Dynes, Foley. Los Alamos has a proud scientific heritage. LANL deserves better management than the embarrassment we lived through in 2004.

I have had a couple of opportunities to meet face to face with Paul Robinson. I trust my first impressions, and they tell me that he is an honest, principled person. I look at what LM has done since taking over the Sandia contract from AT&T in 1995 , and I see how that management style could benefit LANL.

Here's hoping that DOE/NNSA/the other decision-makers will do the right thing in the coming days.


Why do the staff at Sandia favor UC to win?
My unofficial pollster believes that people are just grabbing things out of thin air, and that there's no rational basis for any of the rumors flying around.

What IS amazing is that DOE hasn't leaked anything yet, given the high
sturm und drang of the politics in this entire thing.
I have no idea where that informal survey came from. From the people I work with at Sandia, they are very happy with Lockheed management (in comparison to the people I know at LANL who were pro-UC but have generally soured in the last 6 months). Doug needs to give more info.. asking 4-10 people, you meet at a Christmas party has a very large error bar on it.

Personally, I just hope that it gets decided soon.
So people know.. I worked for LANL for several years until having to move to Albuquerque recently. I really liked the people at LANL, but the lack of child-care, a town that has to take 10+ years to come up with a downtown plan, the great big disconnect between management and staff, and everything else.. pretty much said "time to go somewhere better".
People keep asking: why the double-standard re LANL? How about this: it is basically a smear campaign. You know .... Swift boat veterans for lab reliability. Smear as in social security is about to collapse. There are lots of examples. How exactly the mass media gets in sync is an interesting question. At some point it becomes a feeding frenzy but at critical junctures the direction is set. There are lots of examples of smears and lies which became 'truth' through the media ... only later to be found out to be grossly exaggerated or false.

Regarding the Mars fiasco ... LM never fessed up to their primary responsibility. They let JPL take the primary hit when JPL supplied orbital correction/maneuver data in the wrong units. Ever seen 'Bowling for Columbine'? Do ... its interesting and has a few shots from inside LM Littleton.

Doug is welcome to his first impressions but it might be good to get a little more factual and consider contrary viewpoints. Take for example that of Harold Agnew on the Wen Ho Lee trial. Agnew strongly disputes the claims of Robinson, asserts that what Robinson said in his testimony was a "bunch of bull" and implies Robinson did so for political reasons. There was a witchhunt atmosphere and Agnew - unlike Robinson - showed courage and principle. First impressions from a personal meeting are fine for gauging a person's demeanor, friendliness, etc. but hardly adequate to assess someone's principles.
20 years, on the other hand, is plenty of time to get a handle on things, "whatawaste". I have plenty of UC experience. Plenty of experience elsewhere as well with which to put it onto perspective. I have never seen an operation as poorly run as LANL has been during the past few years.

Disregard my first impressions of Robinson if that is what you prefer. Would you like to talk about Nanos instead? How about Dynes? Foley?

"Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

Mark Twain
The new contractor for LANL will not be UC or LM/Sandia. The new LLCs will have there own board of directors, and different strategies for controlling the companies. We know little about how either the LAA or LANS board will work. We have some clues – like the comments from UT that states they have a significant minority sake, and it would appear to be window dressing in the LM shop. However, the details remain secret and will only be revealed after NNSA makes its selection. This means that LANL staff have only a couple of things to based their preferences on. These include some examination of the practices of the two proposed directors, Mike Anastasio and Paul Robinson, and some values of the parent corporations. For me, the choice is difficult, but I have worked with both Robinson and Anastasio, and I believe that Anastasio values what makes LANL unique. Both obviously understand the importance of science in stewardship. However, Mike values science at an entirely different level. As for the practices of the parent organizations, fundamental to me is promoting science through the best and the brightest. SNL in Alb. has essentially no foreign nationals, and even though they have a large non-classified WFO, the lab seeks to keep FN out. UC, for all its short comings promote science first, including the 600+ FN at LANL.

I am like Doug, and hope NNSA does the right thing – award the contract to LANS.
I am with neither Doug nor "w76" on this contract re-bidness.
I hold out the vanishing (nanoscopic) hope that DOE/NNSA will come to their senses and award the contract to NEITHER LockMart NOR Bechtel!

A pox on BOTH of their houses! Congress and the Neocon White House have sabotaged our national laboratories: Livermore is next. They will not escape.

We are doomed...doomed...doomed.

Sorry to keep beating this into your thick skulls, but the truth of this horrible farce is one of the most painful I have witnessed, and it has been grinding down on us at LANL for seven long years now. I can't stay silent in the face of this travesty.

THE MISMANAGEMENT COMES FROM WASHINGTON, DC. Aided and abetted by UC, to be sure, and by some incredibly incompetent LANL managers, but neither LockMart nor Bechtel will save the day. Bottom line, folks. Sorry. It really does pain me to say so.

How can the DOE leak the answer when they haven't been told what it is yet? Does anyone really believe that the low level folks DOE put on the selection committee would get to make the decision. Come on now...

As for the respective Boards of LAA and LANS, the Chair of the LANS board is one Gerald Parsky, one very corrupt dude, who has been involved with LANL/UC cover ups in the past. Not a champion of reform. The choice of Parsky says that UC hasn't learned much about their past problems, and this means more problems in the future.

The Sandia/LM is not perfect, but they can as at least point to a history of competent management at Sandia. UC needs to enroll in a 12 step program to kick all their bad habits.
To say that the right thing to do is to award the contract to LANS is beyond me. It is generally considered proper not to reward bad behavior. Considering the fact that UC is a major player in LANS then awarding them the contract sends a clear message that unethical behavior and incompetent management are traits that should be nurtured and rewarded. The only right answer is to ensure that those who have committed such transgressions are never again allowed inflict their will on this workforce or the nation.
UC has been a complete failure. The only rational option is allow UT/LM an opportunity to do better. I don’t see how they could possibly set the bar any lower.

I also fail to see how the number of FN’s we have working here somehow equates to the amount of science done here. That supposition is false. This country became great because of its superiority in science and technology. Yes, there were foreign scientists who came here and achieved great things. But there were also a vast number of Americans who have achieved greatness as well. The reason we are falling behind now is because we have become a risk averse, overly bureaucratized society. If you take the cuffs off of people and allow them to take risks without being punished for some inevitable failures along the way then they will eventually achieve great things no matter where they are from. The Apollo project is a great example of this. ( And, yes I know Werner VonBraun was from Germany).

Brad-- I'm afraid "None of the above" is not one of the options here. I can't see how any thinking man could consider UC after they Nanotized this place. By process of elimination that leaves us with LM/UT.

I do agree with you that in the long run we are doomed. And that is most certainly because of the
mismanagement we have received from both parties in D.C. over the last three administrations. Asking a politician to do the right thing is like asking a dog to do calculus, neither one has the brains or the inclination for it.
"We are doomed...doomed...doomed." -- Brad Lee Holian

If we are, indeed, "doomed", then are you saying that everyone who can,
should leave LANL now? Is there no hope for a better future at LANL?
Just curious what you and others think. What kind of rational forecasts
can be made for LANL's future? As for me, I suspect that science will
be lessened in the future, esp. basic science. We'll probably see a
significant TSM head count reduction, but an increase in jobs at the
support and technician level as the new Los Alamos Plutonium Pit Factory
emerges. Any WFO work that LANL currently performs will be scaled
back as our costs, already high, go to truly astronomical levels.

I hope I'm wrong about all this, but that is where things seem to be
headed from were I sit, peering into a cloudy crystal ball. Any
optimists in the crowd care to cheer us all up?
Since we are in some kind of Twilight Zone, where nothing rational seems to be possible, let me suggest some things that could correct the mess LANL's in.

(1) If the few competent Congresspersons and Senators (including Udall and Bingaman, and MAYBE Wilson) could get together and put the national labs under some kind of competent organization at the Federal level (don't ask me where that is, at present, because it looks as though FEMA/Katrina--which disaster came first?--is the operative paradigm in the Government right now), where science and a broader view of national security might be expected to reign, and NNSA were dissolved and DOE reorganized, then at least there would be hope from above. That's where the ultimate responsibility for failures in "safety, security, and compliance" would reside (where it always truly has, but at least they would take the hits for any failures).

(2) Remove all manufacturing facilities to Nevada or anywhere else in the DOE complex; they don't belong at a "laboratory," especially a SCIENTIFIC laboratory.

(3) Relieve all current upper Lab managers and Division Directors of their duties; make them re-apply for their jobs as part of a nation-wide search for competent leadership--or at least new blood.

(4) Leave UC in charge of pensions and benefits and in-state tuitions for LANL children. Also, leave UC in charge of providing an academic "aura" to the place, or at least to areas where scientific research is carried on.

This is a start, but don't imagine in your wildest dreams that much of this will ever happen.

You may now return to your daily grind, refreshed.
Assuming that LM takes over the management (despite the rumor) I think the following will likely occur:
1) End of the close scrutiny/media exaggeration. LANL will NO LONGER be under the magnifying glass.
2) Possible struggles over wehther LM is truly offering pension equity with past UC policy.
3) Gradual evaporation of science funding.
5) Reorientation toward a quick results oriented design/production of next generation nuclear weapons. The purpose: a big stick to help implement "US interests first" unilateralist foreign policy.

On the surface it may well become a better place to work. The pressure that was applied to UC that they then turned on staff will be gone. The efforts to appease Admiral Brooks with other admirals will be over. However, if your goal is to work for something of scientific and/or social value .... it will be worse. Too bad the human and other resources of LANL could not be put to tacking the real problems of the US and world.
"...Too bad the human [...] resources of LANL could not be put to tacking the real problems of the US and world."

No offense, whatawaste, but I don't think HR is up to the task of tracking the real problems of the world.

Amusing and I am sure you are correct, Doug, but doesn't HR just do the bidding of the boss?

The missing point 4) in previous post had to do with the impact of LANL's privatization on Livermore. Won't be pretty.

Finally another quote from the same great American quoted earlier:
"I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land." Mark Twain
The people I work with at Sandia are so fearful of losing their jobs that they would never "do the right thing" and report corrupt practices or wrongdoing. Lockheed and Sandia executive management have carefully crafted an intimidating environment that effectively discourages anyone from coming forward with concerns. The Sandia Ombudsman's Office is a joke. I've personally known at least four people during my sixteen years at Sandia that have been burned in varying degrees after disclosing information about management to the Ombuds Office that was supposed to be held in confidence. One was verbally reprimanded, another quit after being transferred and demoted, another's career was ruined after false rumors were spread, and the last (a contractor and close friend) was confronted by the manager in question and fired shortly after for "performance issues." Conversations with the ombuds are supposed to be held in confidence. This is simply not true; the office is essentially an internal intelligence organization for executive management. The issues identified in the congressional correspondence are the tip of the iceberg from my perspective. A married staff member who was caught screwing an assistant (not his wife) that left the Lab later came back as a manager when his buddy was promoted to director. That's nothing unusual. I regularly see money games with the budget towards the end of the fiscal year. It is standard practice to "revise" project and task numbers towards the end of the fiscal year to support more favorable funding for projects. My intelligence is insulted every year when I have to attend required "ethics training" so Lockheed and Sandia can check a box and report to everyone how ethical they all are. It takes all of the will I can muster to not stab myself in the neck listening to the person leading the ethics training (almost always a manager) read the "correct" answers for the various ethical dilemmas posed to the staff. Sure, Lockheed may be relatively better than the nightmarish UC management alternative. That's like saying getting hit over the head with a rolling pin is relatively better than getting bashed in the skull with a sledge hammer. If C. Paul is brimming with such integrity and competence, why does this environment persist inside Sandia? Also, it's hard for me to comprehend the reasoning behind awarding disciplined employees huge cash bonuses and pay raises -- where's the integrity and accountability in these actions? In all my years here I've never heard of anything remotely close to $20k bonuses and base pay raises, especially for staff with disciplinary problems. I suspect there would be plenty of other similar revelations if staff knew they could speak freely without fear of retaliation. And why on earth would the former director secretly reinstate someone's security clearance after they've been implicated in the destruction of evidence and impeding an official investigation? If that person were not a VP and a regular staff member or technologist you can bet they'd be hauled off to jail. I'd be interested in hearing the rationale for all of this, but it will probably never happen. It's business as usual at Sandia.
I agree with Brad Holian: the mismanagement comes from DOE/NNSA. This is an utterly incompetent, unwieldy bureaucratic machine that is interested not in science (of which it knows nothing about!), not in national security, but only in self-preservation. They were the ones who really gave LANL Nanos. They were the real power behind the disastrous shutdown. Do you REALLY think that UC did anything more than rubber-stamp Admiral Brooks’ “suggestions”?

All they do is simulate some kind of activity, in the name of the Lab of course, to cover up their own incompetence. Now, for instance, they are very busy picking “the best manager for the Lab”. As if transferring the Lab from UC, an absentee landlord, to Lockheed, a huge defense contractor that wants access to/control over the national nuclear labs, is going to solve any of the LANL real problems.

I agree with Brad: unless a miracle happens and NNSA is dissolved and DOE reorganized, LANL is doomed. I’m not so much fearing another shutdown, as I am that LANL will be slowly strangled by an ever more illogical and draconian set of NNSA rules and regulations. These rules are killing off the science and making the LANL work environment more and more untenable.

To John Horne: LANL needs to have foreign nationals, and that has nothing to do with us US citizens being "smart or stupid". Think about it this way: for the long-term security of this nation, the National Labs must attract the best and the brightest. Now, as a fresh physics Ph.D., an American citizen, you want to be in a place that has a proven reputation for top-notch research. How do Princeton, Stanford and Caltech get their reputations? By attracting the very best people, both Americans and foreigners. Do you think these places like foreigners more than they like Americans? Of course not! They just need to hire the very best available, to maintain their reputations of being the best places. If you want to stay competitive with them, you gotta do same. And I don't buy the usual "this is a weapons lab, not a university" stuff. You either have the best science, or you don't. You stop hiring the best foreign nationals, the level of quality drops (even slightly!) and now you are less attractive. THE BEST US CITIZENS ALSO GO ELSEWHERE. You will end up being some place like Sandia. Believe me, very few physics graduate students even know what Sandia is.
Under the tenure of the last administration at Sandia (the same group now hoping to operate LANL) most of my fellow Sandians describe "a culture of fear". Perhaps most instructive is the case of Shawn Carpenter, a young computer security analyst who was fired by Robinson because he (Carpenter) insisted on communicating his discovery of foreign computer hacking into Sandia, FBI and other USG agency computers to federal authorities. Carpentere is now working at the State Department as a lead network security expert.

Sandia's loss, of course. There are many similar stories under Robinson's tenure and one can reasonably expect more of the same should he end up running LANL the way he ran Sandia: as a personal fiefdom, where staff members' success was defined not by content but by whether or not it made C. Paul look good. Nano's ego doesn't begin to compare.
This may be a stupid question but how easy is it to get a foreign national (legally) on base at Kirtland? Is it not too hard or does the Airforce look on that as a no-no? Just wondering about the talk about Sandia not hiring FN and how much of this has to do with the fact that Sandia is mostly ( if not completely ) contained on a US Airforce base.

My infrequent visits to Sandia require me to clear security with the military police before I ever see the SNL badge office.

Does somebody out there know the facts about this?
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