ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor
A survey of community leaders gave a thumbs-up to Los Alamos National Laboratory's regional economic impact, charitable involvement and educational offerings.
The 298 leaders who responded to the study were less satisfied with their ability to communicate with the laboratory (43 percent), the lab's efforts to listen to them (44 percent) and the lab's efforts to respond to their concerns (34 percent). They were government officials, educational and business leaders, and special interest representatives from Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties, along with tribal leaders from neighboring pueblos.
The lab won highest marks, 86 percent approval, from community leaders in Los Alamos County for the lab's programs that benefit the community, and 85 percent approval for educational programs from the educational leaders throughout the region.
On environmental efforts, 59 percent of community leaders expressed approval while 30 percent were dissatisfied.
Altogether, just under half (49 percent) of those polled had a favorable impression of the laboratory, slightly lower than 2005 (52 percent) and 2004 (50 percent), but still the lowest level in the last seven years. The lab hit a high point of favorable impressions (73 percent) in 2002.
Some groups were less satisfied than others: "Community leaders residing in Los Alamos County and those in the business and economic sector express the most dissatisfaction on issues pertaining to communications with LANL," the study noted.
For example, 28 percent of the leaders in Los Alamos County were satisfied with the lab's efforts to respond to the concerns of the community, compared to 68 percent who were dissatisfied.
These results and the full survey were released by the LANL Friday and are available on the web at http://community.lanl.gov/surveys/2006.pdf.
The survey has been conducted for eight years, modified slightly over time, but with continuity that allows trends to be tracked.
"We're capturing people's perceptions, people's most recent experience. So we know this isn't all hard science," said Johnnie Martinez, deputy office director of the lab's community programs. "There is some room for interpretation."
The 2006 survey was conducted from Sept. 22-Oct. 15, 2006, about four months into the new contract with Los Alamos National Security (LANS), LLC, and about the time that 350 layoffs of subcontractor personnel had been announced.
With little to base their opinion on at that time, the community leaders gave LANS a 17 percent favorable impression, with 21 percent unfavorable and 20 percent neutral. A plurality of 43 percent chose the "Don't know/Won't say" option.
Several pages of additional comments are included with the survey, some of which can be matched with the poll results.
"There is still an opportunity for new management since the honeymoon period will last from June to June," said one leader.
A number of comments seemed to reflect a strong sense of self-interest.
"The labs have done nothing for the tribe," another leader said.
"There is a disconnect with valley residents and the Lab," said yet another.
The opinion poll was directed by Brian Sanderoff, president of the Albuquerque-based firm, Research and Polling Inc. A statement on the methodology notes that its "bias" is that it is based on a list of community leaders provided by the laboratory and that it no longer includes Department of Energy leaders, as it did until 2002.
"It is not a survey of the general public," Sanderoff said. "Community leaders are a very important group that an organization might want to hear from."
By taking the pulse of the stakeholders, the individuals with whom the laboratory may want to interact, Sanderoff said, the survey can be more operationally useful than by asking the general public questions that they would not be involved enough to answer.
The survey noted a successful foundation of social and economic partnerships based on "impressive efforts in reaching out to many communities in Northern New Mexico."
"Putting a face on 'management' will help foster trust and make the process of building these important relationships much easier," the pollsters concluded in their analysis.
There was a high response rate (62 percent) of the 482 names provided by the laboratory.
"We've already stepped up our efforts for upper lab management to meet with community leaders," Martinez said.
For specific comments from community leaders, see the April 10, 2007, print edition of the Monitor.
If someone still has yesterday's print edition, please scan those comments and send them to us so we can post them.