Monday, December 12, 2005

Today's rumors

Rumors received today (12/12/2005):

  1. Just got it from a manager in an AD's Office that it is UC/Bechtel. -- 10:17am
  2. The announcement will be made this Thursday (last day of session before Congress breaks for Christmas). No word on who they will be announcing as the winner, however. -- 1:14pm


Or is it Bechtel/UC?
Good point. I hear that this was the topic of some heated discussion *during* the oral presentations.

Not before. Not after. During.

I rather suspect that the discussion resumed again after the orals...
For the first time I hope you are wrong about UC / Bechtel. We have been working with these goons for almost seven years and they have yet to prove that they can handle the job independently or meet a shot schedule. I will tell you by first hand experience that these people are slower then molasses going up hill on a cold day and just don't get it. I will also tell you that if you think getting a project done in a reasonable time frame is "slow" not well just multiply that by four and you'll have an idea of what you are in for. By God I hope this is just a rumor and not fact. Good luck to all of you that are left. I will say one thing though. If Bechtel gets it the director of LLNL will be happy. I hear that his salary will go from his quarter of a million a year to 1.3 million dollars a year, No wonder he wanted the job so bad.
Some have said that I should say something *nice* for a change, so I will.

Suppose, for just a moment, that it is...Bechtel/UC who "wins" the contract for LANL. Just suppose. Stay with me here on this one.

The good news is that "bidness" practices at the Lab will be Bechtel Better Bidness (BBB), not sloppy UC (i.e., DOE) practices. Also, it will be in-state tuition for LANL kids going to UC schools (3 times more expensive than UT, but an order of magnitude better--particularly as regards...beaches...and academic pursuits). Benefits and the pension plan will be a wash, no longer UC, but rather one LLC or the other, but they may be safe for a while. If LockMart gets the contract, there will be more of a housecleaning in upper Lab management, but that's all wishful thinking: put it into your letter to Santa.

Here's the BIG ONE: If...and here I mean a great big CAPITAL IF...a new political regime comes in next year in Congress...and IF...(drum roll)...a new Administration blows in in 2008, there might just be a chance that the partnership will swing from Bechtel/UC to UC/Bechtel. And maybe, just maybe, science will once again be important to the Powers That Be. With the "other team," there is not much chance that an academic, scientific environment could be restored nearly as effectively, given the relative weakness of UT in the LockMart(/UT) consortium.

So, that's the good news here in LANL Wobegon, now that Bechtel/UC is the *apparent* frontrunner. And, of course, there will be a year or two of peace and quiet after the 2006 Congressional elections, during which time some science might possibly be done. (Just do it! Sneak it in under the radar!)

On that happy note, let me wish you all a Merry Christm...\\\\\\\\ Happy Holidays!

No matter who gets the contract, there are some deep questions that need to be answered for people to feel comfortable:

1) What is LANL's mission? I don't mean stockpile stewardship. Stockpile stewardship is a job that you can do from 8-5, M-F.. it is not a mission. A mission is something that drives people as a team to finish something. A mission is a goal that may be impossible to reach, but you do it because you want to/have to. A mission is something that will make each person who is a part of it bigger/better than they were before.

This is a question that each of the national labs are struggling with.. it is something that the 'old-timers' at each lab remember having when they got there.. but not these days.

The rest of the questions would be answered better if #1 is answered. If it isnt answered then, there is no reason that LANL should exist in the long run.

2) Why should LANL be funded?
3) How should LANL renew itself and its surrounding communities?
4) Where is LANL going?
5) How can LANL get rid of its cruft without some sort of French revolution purge?
As to mission and the other questions asked by Gruntled Guy, I have been part of many discussions on these topics over the last year.
My betting line is and has been that we will get a better focused mission and that the other questions will be answered once the awardee is announced.
The discussion of the reasoning that leads to my bet is far too long to post on this blog. So ask questions here or contact me for more information.
One probable new mission, like it or not, will involve the building of
plutonium pits for the complex. It will take NNSA over a decade to
set this up, but that is where NNSA is taking Los Alamos. There will
be jobs, but science will take a back seat to the production work. I
hope I'm wrong, but that seems to be our new "mission". As long as
there are jobs, the politicians won't raise too much stink about it.
Gearing up for this production work could be very profitable for the
defense and construction contractors who are part of this new facility.
There have been numerous comments posted on this blog stating that science will suffer under LM or due to pit production or some other reason. Just what science is that that we (LASL or LANL) used to do or are doing that we will not be doing in the future? This is an honest question. What is it that people are afraid is going to be cut? I am really curious what specific types of things are in danger.

Please inform me so I can maybe see what is the context of these repeated comments and not continue to dismiss them out of hand.
The reason WFOaddict dismisses worries about science out of hand must be that he/she does pit-quality kinds of things, and so, everything is just fine by him/her. If the money is funneled into a pit factory, then it will not be easier to do something not directly related to that activity, like research in theoretical biology, just as an example.

This is as honest an answer, and as simply put, as I can make it.
The costs for retro-fitting LANL for pit production will be huge.
Not as high as building a completely new Modern Pit Facility, but high,
nevertheless. DOE has a limited budget, which is going to become even
more limited in the outlying years. If you listen to what the top
managers of DOE have been saying, this should come as no big surprise.
Therefore, you can expect to see cut-backs in Office of Science funding,
etc, as what funds are available at Los Alamos become dedicated to
the pit production effort on the Hill. If that becomes our primary
"mission", then serious concerns for cost-of-business containment will
go out the window. Therefore, science that currently gets done with
WFO funding (NIH, DOD, corporate collabs, etc) will die out. Also, once
it becomes clear to our brightest scientists that the important emphasis
at Los Alamos is now on pit work, they will begin leaving to go work at
other institutions. It's going to be a slow process, so don't expect
to see things change over night. However, the end result will be a
lessening of scientific work (esp. basic science) and a greater focus
on the engineering aspects of nuclear weapons. Any real scientific
work that still occurs at LANL will be hyped like crazy by our new
management as "proof" that great science still takes place at LANL.
However, most of the TSMs will begin to understand that it is just
empty chest-beating. That's how I see it play out. We will join
the ranks of other famous institutions, like Bell Labs, that once
had a great name in science, but are now no more. Some of these
trends have already been happening over the last few years (ie.,
the rising cost of FTEs and huge growth of compliance and support
staff vs. scientific staff).

BTW, if anybody wants to counter with "but the LDRD funding rate is
being raised from 6% to 8% -- isn't that a good sign for science?",
you'll need to consider this: Raising this rate doesn't create new
funds for LANL. It is a tax that gets paid off of incoming funds,
so it leaves less funding for other projects. Also, the reason that
I've heard this rate is being raised is because LDRD FTE costs will
be "fully burdened" in the future. Thus, a dollar's worth of LDRD
funding is going to do a lot less science than in the past. If I'm
wrong about all this, please correct me.

Finally, I would guess that most of the people who work at LANL will
probably have no problems with our new future. Jobs will still be
around, and they will still pay far more than any other place in
New Mexico. Where else in New Mexico can a secretary with a
high school education make over $50 K per year, and a good metal
worker make $ 80 K per year, plus excellent benefits? No where.
Northern New Mexico politicians will have no problems with this
new direction at LANL. It will make most of the population very
happy and prosperous.
If WFOaddict is truly a "WFO addict," then I doubt that (s)he is involved in any pit manufacturing activitites.
I appreciate the responses to my question. I try not to get testy about this but I really do tire of being told that LANL does not do science any more. I do a fair bit of science, almost every week. When I hear that there is no more science or that there will be an upcoming end to science I have to wonder what part of what we are currently doing that we will stop doing? What will be deemed expendable? Lets be realistic. Folks who consistently depend on tax funds (LDRD, etc ) for a major fraction of their funding are not in a secure position.

I am sorry if my initial response to the cries of 'science is dead' is to ask 'whose science'? Not mine. We still have enough technical questions left to last a few career lengths and, guess what, most of it is actually directly related to a weapons issue. These are unanswered scientific and engineering questions that need to be answered if we are to truly understand how conventional and non-conventional weapons function. None of us will ever win a Nobel Prize but that isn't why most of us are here.

More questions...

Brad, to what does 'pit-quality kinds of things' refer?

Good2go,you make a good point about the cost of doing WFO others. But one thing that is rarely pointed out is that in many areas where LANL currently does WFO it is because we are the only location in the free world that has a critical mass of the right toys and skills to do the work. Yes, as we get more expensive other places will begin to look more attractive but it will take a long time before some private contractor, other research lab or university has explosive production and testing, x-ray and proton radiography, extensive test ranges, reasonable in-house manufacturing capability, etc all in one location.

'Also, once it becomes clear to our brightest scientists that the important emphasis at Los Alamos is now on pit work, they will begin leaving to go work at
other institutions.' I think you mean 'our brightest scientisits that are not doing things that are related in any meaningful way to weapons work will leave LANL'. I hope that is what you really meant. Plutonium folks that I know also get tired of the perception that they are some kind of hacks. They are just as statistically bright as any group of folks in T Division. They have just had to learn to live and operate with two orders of magnitude more oversight and regulation.

And as Dr. Justanothermushroom pointed out I do not do pit production or direct plutonium work but I do work with many folks in NMT on common problems of interest. Maybe these things don't rank as science in yuor books, but in the end, I really don't care what you think. My sponsors like what we do and keep paying for it.

Bottom line: you need a new moniker.

Why would that be?
Pat, the Dog:

I cannot express in words how much your moniker makes me want to create one called

"Stroke, the Pussy"

So I won't.

"WFOaddict", your comments, my comments, and others show that LANL is truly
a house divided. There will be winners and losers in the new LANL. It
sounds like you will be one of the many winners. Congratulations! However,
I have to agree with "Pat, the Dog". Your moniker seems strangely out of
sync with your comments.

I've always felt that one of LANL's greatest strengths lay in the wide
scientific diversity of its technical staff. However, in the near future,
many of us at LANL will probably be wishing that we had expertise in
niche areas like high explosives, plutonium chemistry, or exotic metal
science. Heck, if times get desperate enough, some of us may even wish
we at least knew how to work a metal lathe!
' ... many of us at LANL will probably be wishing that we had expertise in niche areas like high explosives, plutonium chemistry, or exotic metal science.'

Niche areas?

I thought these were required core competencies for LANL to achieve its mission. But this brings me back to my first question. If these aren't part of the core science that I think they are (or think they should be) what is?

'Heck, if times get desperate enough, some of us may even wish we at least knew how to work a metal lathe!' - Well, I have actually done that to pay the bills.

As for the propriety of my screen name, more than half of my funding comes from WFO that I worked my tail off to acquire. It may sound like I spend a lot of time with other topics nearer to 'home' but if you are lucky to be working the right problems then your techniques can solve more than one type of problem.

There will be winners and losers. There are winners and losers in almost every funding cycle. I just hope that we don't lose more in this contract cycle than we can stand.
It would certainly seem that LANS is UC/Bechtel. The Lab Director will be Anastasio and the Chair of LANS is Gerald Parsky, the Chair of the UC Regents.

Whoever wins, look for pit production to change hands. The latest Energy Bill killed the MPF for some time to come and committed pit production to LANL. Since LANL has demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction that they can't meet budget and schedule for pits, change must come at TA-55 and will come. For of those who don't want LANL to be a pit factory, LANL sought this role (because of the money) and now it is time to perform. Things could get very rough at TA-55, but pits will be made.
"Finknottle", read those prescription labels carefully. Don't mix the pills
with alchohol! :-)
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