Thursday, June 01, 2006

New Management Takes Over at Los Alamos

By Eli Kintisch
ScienceNOW Daily News
1 June 2006

Ending a 63-year reign for the University of California (UC) as the sole manager of the storied lab, a new consortium of industrial and academic partners today assumed control of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. The transition, which has been bumpy at times, comes after years of security and management scandals at the 9000 person nuclear weapons lab.

"Today marks the start of a new era," wrote Director Michael Anastasio in an lab-wide e-mail. He called for "unparalleled science through leadership, innovation, best business practices, and a focus on safe and secure operations."

The new management, Los Alamos National Security, is a partnership between UC and megacontractor Bechtel, BWX Technologies, and Washington Group International. Pressed by lawmakers angered by UC's performance as lab manager, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced in 2003 a first-ever competition for the lab contract (ScienceNOW, 30 April 2003). Emphasizing new security, accounting, and management controls, the UC/Bechtel team faced down aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to win the contract late last year (ScienceNOW, 21 December, 2005).

One of two bomb design laboratories in the U.S., Los Alamos' weapons activities could get a shot in the arm as DOE pushes to build new nuclear weapons designed to be long-lasting and require no testing. But those pursuing nonclassified work note that the lab's $2.2 billion annual budget has remained flat or declined in recent years, and the new contract's stipulated $60 million to $70 million in yearly fees to the management could sap nonclassified science funding. Much of that work is done with outside companies or agencies. "A decreased amount of research done for non-DOE clients has LANL's reputation as a science institution poised to fall," wrote local resident Greg Mello of the watchdog Los Alamos Study Group on the popular blog LANL: The Real Story.


Full Story

Still, fears of a mass exodus were not realized when last month 96% of employees decided to stay at the lab and become employees of the new company.

Good luck people. There must be a fat cat in this contract that I can not see, or maybe it's because I don't believe the labs will ever be the same again. The only fat cats in this contract I see are those at the top that had their salary increased by four times for doing nothing more then they have done before. Regardless, you all have fun and enjoy the new era.
The new era is marked by hiring your buddies at high salaries with no job ads or competition. Who are the buddies? They are the ones who spent time, paid by the taxpayers, helping write the LANS response to the RFP. Once LANS won, the back-scratching began.
Just for the record, Eli Kintisch seems to have made up the quote attributed to me in whole cloth. He did not interview me; that sentence does not appear in what I posted on this blog. I don't even agree with it.

Greg Mello
I'm old enough that getting another job would be hard.

I'm old enough that moving would be quite a chore.

Housing costs and taxes elsewhere are prohibitive at my current salary.

I would need a significant salary increase to afford greener pastures.

I'm old enough that I only care to work a few more years.

I couldn't sell my house of over 20 years' ownership in Los Alamos for what it was worth a year ago...a loss that I am not willing to take.

I'm one of many Lab staffers that can and likely would quit if Lab management and working conditions get worse than they already are.

My opinion is that there are a significant number of folks in the same boat, and that downsizing at the Lab could commence with the first incident of new Lab management mistreating their long-term experienced staff.
A couple of points, to clarify the situation. First, the 96% retention figure, trumpeted by the DOE and LANS as a great "success", is in fact a failure. The high number is due to "double dipping", retiring from UC and taking a LANS job, which can yield double your salary. A much loved LANL feature, once only available to TSMs and managers, it is now available to everyone who is near retirement age. A veritable trough of goodies, and a huge waste of money. So, why is this a great success?

The other point is how "great science" is supported by LANL. It is NOT via outside money, it IS mostly via the LDRD program, which Senator Domenici just got raised to 8% of the budget. That is about $120-$160 million per year, which buys a lot of science; or at least a lot of papers. But, like most things at LANL, the LDRD program is corrupt, as much noted by the GAO, the IG, and others. But hey, another great "success".

Good to be off on the right foot. The new era looks an awful lot like the old one, with failure defined at "success".
"lucky" may be a bit bitter, and have a few zingers here, but the "double-dipping" will be, at best, a short-term deal. Once the $300 million shortfall hits the fans (1000 FTE's or so), the troughs will be cleared, and the full scale of the retention failure--FAILURE! not success--will come home to roost, like a one-ton chicken. Next year's budget announcement, due right on time in February, 2007, will compound the misery: The 1000 FTE shortfall will become permanent.

The dogs'll be howlin'.

Some of us younger folks are still looking for jobs outside of the DOE complex so we have the opportunity to get the flock out of Dodge.. Takes time!

Please provide the reference to the GAO audit of the LDRD program as being "corrupt". There may be many problem programs at the Lab, but the LDRD clearly produces high quality science by almost any objective measure and has consistently done so over the years. There may have been complaints about its cost (from some Congressmen) but I don't think there have been any legitmate reports on "corruption" in LDRD.

As regards "double dipping", I'm not sure what the "waste" is. The money paying those retiring is coming from the UCRP retirement plan which has no effect on the LANS budget. Perhaps you mean the "waste" is paying these senior folks a higher salary than a new comer. I don't think the salary differentials are all that high on average and the senior folks just "might" have some useful knowledge and experience that would benefit the Lab. Sounds like a "win-win" to me. It preserves at least some of the knowledge base of the Laboratory for awhile and allows folks who wish to make a contribution to continue to do so. I don't think that it will last a long time for most, as I suspect many would just as soon be retired.
As for double-dipping there is no would have come out ahead by going with the LANS TCP-1 retirement annuity instead of taking the UCRS annuity plus a paycheck. The paycheck has a finite lifetime. The UCRS unnuity is frozen at a premature and lower retirement income level. The use of "double-dipping" in this context is misleading. My choosing LANS TCP-2 plus an early UCRS annuity produces a lower lifetime present value than if one would go LANS TCP-1 all the way. The bottom line is that it is purely a matter of trust in the future of defined benefits plans or even of LANS corporate longevity.

As for overpaying senior staff...I have graduate degrees plus 31 years experience in my hazardous technical domain. New technical undergraduates and inexperienced employees at Los Alamos are hired in at or above my pay grade. I personally see age and technical experience discrimination against me. No matter that I am a sacrificial white male. What matters is that I really enjoy my work and my line management likes me and my work products.
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