Wednesday, December 21, 2005

My personal comments on the new contract

The University of California has served as a benign, but absentee landlord of Los Alamos for 63 years, providing an aura of scientific and academic respectability to the Laboratory, and in return, basking in the glow of the Lab's significant achievements in scientific research, a tremendous payback for the American people. While UC managed the retirement system, one of the finest in the nation, and provided benefits to the staff of the Lab, including in-state tuition to the nation's leading university system, the real management of the Lab, including all its faults, was always from Washington, DC.

The Bush Administration and the Republican Congress decided to privatize LANL three years ago. They have finally succeeded, but not quite fully in the way they had imagined, I am sure. The need for the re-bid was excused by raising alarms about security, safety, and business accountability, and these alarms were amplified by the media all out of proportion to their actual seriousness. Shortly after former Director Nanos' shutdown of the Lab last year, which lasted for seven painful months, some of my colleagues and I searched through the official records on these so-called scandals, and found that there was not a dime's worth of difference among the three major nuclear weapons national laboratories: Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore (also run by UC), and Sandia (run by Lockheed-Martin).

In order to provide the appearance of a more business-like approach to running the Lab, UC first approached Lockheed-Martin to be their junior partner in the re-bid; when LockMart declined the offer, Bechtel agreed to be an equal partner. The final choice for NNSA/DOE was therefore an exercise in marginalia: which of the military-industrial corporate giants would do the job, assuming that scientific/academic issues were not paramount? The academic and public service aura of 63 years of UC affiliation with Los Alamos--let's not mistakenly call it "management"--may ultimately be compromised to some degree, as yet unknown, by the profit motive of a corporation, to whose pockets will flow an extra load of national debt from American taxpayers of the future. However, if Bechtel takes over the management of certain procurement and business procedures and improves them from within the Lab, then that will certainly be positive. Moreover, if the research parts of the Lab are somehow shielded from the manufacturing of nuclear weapons components, then that, too, will be a good thing.

In the end, the retirement system will be "separate but equal"--so they say. The employees' kids will still be able to go to UC as in-state students. And, if Department of Energy Secretary Bodman is to be believed--and I see no reason to doubt his sincerity--science will be promoted at Los Alamos, focusing on national security, but realizing that national security is not at all served by weakened science.

The real questions that remain are: Will any light be shined on the poor management of LANL that originated from NNSA/DOE? Will Congress hold anyone in DC, including themselves, accountable for the serious disruption of work and morale at Los Alamos over these last three years?

-Brad Lee Holian, Lab Associate
(Ph.D., UC Berkeley, 1972--LASL, then LANL ever since)

well said and I agree it was all a set up..... but bush and company also got rid of the UC pension for LANL workers..... THAT will prove to be a major impediment to future recruitment. 401k? big deal what will they contribute? When do we get to know the proposed benefits?

All this hassle for an industrial "partner" and reduced perks.... what a waste
It is unlikely that Congress will change its tune and hold anyone - especially themselves - accountable. Right now a bigger question is whether checks and balances exists, and whether the Constitution is worth more than the paper it's printed on. Other issues include: a foreign war based on deceit and costing $7B per month, domestic spying and whether the Presidency is above the law. It would be great if Congress would look into ALL the above but it's 'unlikely'. I think Brad is correct that this is a form of corporatization. However UC even as co-partner will be less aggressive in pursuing and promoting new destabilizing military work and more open to genuine science research alternatives. How was this decision reached and what were the influences and behind-the-scenes factors?
It is DOE who has been jealous of, and has wanted to dismantle, the pension system here since well before Bush was elected. They are also responsible for the deterioration of this place for the last thirty years.

As for the statement "If Bodman is to be believed...."

This is the same man that said, with a straight face, that there were no politics in this decision.
Congress only does not hold others accountable when the public no longer holds Congress accountable. In a country where you are 98% likely to be re-elected after your first re-election.. you do not have a population that wants its leaders to be accountable.

Maybe we have reached the usual point in a nation where the population won't revolt as long as the food is cheap and the arena's have lots of blood and gore.
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