Wednesday, March 01, 2006

No new start at Los Alamos

Editorial

Nature 439, 1 (5 January 2006) | doi:10.1038/439001a


Excerpt: "By seeking to blame the university for the lab's
difficulties, some in Washington have sought to deflect attention from
their own culpability."

A fresh contract for the management of the New Mexico nuclear-weapons
laboratory offers it little prospect of a happy and prosperous new
year.

Just before Christmas, an epic struggle for management control of the
United States' most venerable nuclear-weapons laboratory came to a
close. The result, rather to the surprise of many observers, was that
the University of California will retain the management contract to
run the Los Alamos laboratory (see US weapons lab makes a fresh
start), in partnership with the engineering group Bechtel and two
other private corporations.

This means that control of the New Mexico laboratory will edge towards
the private sector. But the more radical option of passing it on to
fresh management under a rival consortium led by the University of
Texas has been rejected. Once, this news would have led to
celebrations among the 8,000 or so University of California staff at
Los Alamos. But their mood is instead forlorn. Staff pensions and
other benefits are not guaranteed under the new arrangement, and
recent actions by the University of California have eroded goodwill.

The process by which the Department of Energy awarded the contract has
been murky, even by the usual standards of such exercises. Few believe
that the department's grey-suited administrators really made an
independent choice. Rather, the process was characterized by delays
and heavyweight political lobbying from Senator Pete Domenici
(Republican, New Mexico), among others. That's par for the course, as
the 'management crisis' at Los Alamos has always been more about
Washington politics than about actual administrative issues at the
lab.

Ever since Wen Ho Lee was accused of espionage at the lab in 1999 (he
was later acquitted of major charges and convicted of minor regulatory
infringements), a group in Congress led by Joe Barton (Republican,
Texas) has relentlessly sought to impugn the laboratory's staff and
its management by the University of California. The campaign echoes
previous efforts to bring Los Alamos scientists under tighter
administrative, and perhaps military, control. Its proponents have
overplayed security issues at the laboratory and implied that senior
scientists there cannot be trusted, either in administration or
security. They have issued a stream of overblown rhetoric, leading to
the brief and unfortunate appointment of Pete Nanos, a former naval
officer, to run the laboratory, as well as to last year's tendering
process.

The University of California has been contracted to run the laboratory
since 1943, and it traditionally did so for a nominal fee, kept its
hands off day-to- day management, and offered scientists and engineers
there the opportunities that came with affiliation to one of the
world's best public university systems.

By seeking to blame the university for the lab's difficulties, some in
Washington have sought to deflect attention from their own
culpability, which is considerable. In reality, the laboratory is
controlled not by its contractor, but by the byzantine Department of
Energy and its overseers in several congressional committees. Because
these committees are happy to make rules but are incapable of
constraining expenditure, the nuclear-weapons labs have lately been
given more money and much more oversight and regulation. As a result,
they became steadily less efficient and productive.

The University of California and its partners, meanwhile, must pick up
the pieces at Los Alamos and start afresh. Their appointment of
Michael Anastasio, director of the rival Lawrence Livermore
laboratory, to run Los Alamos has not exactly thrilled the existing
staff there, given the historical rivalry between the two
institutions. And staff briefings just before Christmas shed little
light on what the new management team is actually going to do.

Los Alamos retains expertise in areas such as physics, materials,
computer science, neutron scattering and mathematics. The key to its
continued relevance is close liaison between its researchers in these
fields and the academic community outside. But given the constraints
under which they must operate, the new contractors will be
hard-pressed to make the laboratory thrive.

Comments:
"Los Alamos retains expertise in areas such as physics, materials,
computer science, neutron scattering and mathematics. The key to its
continued relevance is close liaison between its researchers in these
fields and the academic community outside. But given the constraints
under which they must operate, the new contractors will be
hard-pressed to make the laboratory thrive."


For the moment. How much expertise LANL retains after June 1 will be a somewhat different story.
 
I think what we are going to be seeing is "same monkeys different trees". Emails are already starting to come out.
We now have a security AD (Sowa) who is now announcing that he will have 2 divisions - security (headed by Kileen and Overbay - same piss poor monkeys) and safeguards (headed by Joel Williams).
Jim Angelo is already announcing the org structure for Nuc Ops under McQuinn. He will be the DL for Ops Support, Bill Zwick will be the DL for Institutional training. 2 DLs from outside.
Mitch Harris is already announcing that Engineering is going under Jerry Ethridge and he is the DL.
Also hearing that Carolyn Mangeng is going to be a DL.
So - where is the change going to be. Again - same monkeys... they'll keep their salaries and continue to spread their poison around.
There will be no change here. Definitly time to go. "live in a van down by the river"
 
The World's Greatest Science Protecting America.
 
What have I been saying these past three years?
And has it made one gnat's booger's worth of difference? -Sound familiar?

Nevertheless, thank you, Nature. You give me hope that I wasn't completely off my rocker.

-Brad, rocking gently on the veranda
 
For those who are thinking about leaving, I have resources to help them find a good job in a place where they want to live.

For those who are staying or who don't yet know what they are doing to survive the tempestuous transition, I have other resources.

Let me know what might help.

Eric
662-3115
frf42@yahoo.com
 
P.S.
I have independently made many of Brad's points for more than a year.

Two resources that may be of use to readers are:

ScienceAtLANL - my blog that deals in specific approaches to get through the current situation at LANL. This blog has been quiet while I try to figure out what the current situation actually is and how we might effectively influence it.

Some recent letters to the Reader's forum of the LANL Newsbulletin.

Eric
 
Dead on point! - " The University of California has been contracted to run the laboratory since 1943, and it traditionally did so for a nominal fee, kept its hands off day-to-day management...By seeking to blame the university for the lab's difficulties, some in Washington have sought to deflect attention from their own culpability, which is considerable. In reality, the laboratory is controlled not by its contractor, but by the byzantine Department of Energy and its overseers in several congressional committees."
 
That may well be, LarryLiver, but when it became abundantly clear in 2004 that UC absolutely, positively needed to abandon their hand's-off approach and step up to the plate to reign in one of their out of control employees (I refer to former Director Nanos, of course), they refused to do so. For that UC has garnered much well-earned criticism.

--Doug
 
But given the constraints under which they must operate, the new contractors will be hard-pressed to make the laboratory thrive.

And the same will be said about LLNL once the management contract is awarded. No science, no weapons designers, and not much of a future for our country in about 10 years.
 
What we are seeing is the final revenge of the "C students" who populate NNSA. These maladjusted morons have been envious of our education, intelligence, and benefits all along. Now they are relishing the opportunity to drag LANL down to their level. They HATE the expression "The best and the brightest" because it just rubs their little brown noses in their own lack of accomplishment.

The path forward (other than retirement) is to check your brain at the door, put in your hours, and develop a rewarding hobby. That is, develop the same civil servant mindset as theirs. You're not going to get any intellectual rewards working at LANL, and showing off by being "too smart" will just get you punished.
 
A number of members of the DOE/NNSA contract/rfp evaluation/award team members are known LANL-haters.

They should have recused themselves from the first day. I believe this to be a discriminatory conflict of interest on their part.
 
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