LANL Wants Copies of Probe Papers
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
By Adam Rankin
Copyright © 2002 Albuquerque Journal
Of the Journal
SANTA FE — A top Los Alamos National Laboratory official has instructed employees to provide the lab with copies of any documents they give to federal investigators.
In a Dec. 5 labwide e-mail, Rich Marquez, LANL's associate director for administration, ordered employees to cooperate with investigators.
But he also said in the e-mail that employees providing any documents to the inspector general's investigators should "provide copies of a set of those documents to the (LANL) Audits and Assessments Office" to the attention of two officials, including Katherine Brittin, who heads the office. Brittin and her office have been accused of trying to cover up information that would embarrass the lab.
The e-mail was sent as a team from the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General began looking into allegations about LANL's purchase and property control systems.
Meanwhile, congressional investigators have started mobilizing in Washington, D.C., to look into accusations of fraud, lax security and coverup at the lab.
House investigators have requested dozens of records to follow up on the allegations, some of which are part of a separate FBI criminal probe. A team of congressional staffers is expected to travel to the lab for an on-site investigation.
Allegations against Audits and Assessments date to the mid-1990s, when Tommy Hook, a former senior auditor, testified that Brittin tried to kill reports that would embarrass the University of California or cost the lab money.
Steve Doran and Glenn Walp, who were recently fired by the lab, have said managers in Audits and Assessments didn't act when fraud was reported to them and even told employees accused of fraud who their accusers were. The two are former police officers hired early this year to investigate the problems.
Pete Stockton, a consultant for the Washington-based government watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said having employees send Brittin copies of documents provided to investigators didn't make sense.
"I think it seems to me outrageous, especially after seeing the chronology of events there," he said.
Lab spokeswoman Linn Tytler said Monday that allegations against Brittin and Audits and Assessments "have not been substantiated and we believe the office is performing its function as assigned."
Tytler said LANL's leadership is "committed to ensuring an effective and thorough inquiry into any allegation of fraud, waste or abuse submitted by any employee, whether anonymously or with his/her name attached."
She said it is the function of Audits and Assessments to review such allegations.
In Washington, Kenneth Johnson, a spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has broad oversight and investigatory powers over DOE programs, said committee members have taken a keen interest in allegations of wrongdoing and coverup.
"The accusations are extreme, and we are determined to get to the bottom of it," he said.
Committee staff are awaiting the delivery in the next day or two of 15 boxes of documents they requested from the University of California, which operates LANL, he said.
Johnson also said the timing hasn't been determined yet, but the staff is working out the logistics for a group of committee staff to go to LANL for an on-site investigation.
"For some time now, the committee has been quietly looking at the operations of LANL," he said. "These dramatic new developments warrant a congressional investigation and we intend to use every resource at our disposal, including hearings and subpoenas, to determine what's going on at the lab."
Spokeswoman Rebecca Wilder said U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., a member of the committee, was "very concerned about the allegations and particularly the impression of retaliation against LANL employees."
Jude McCartin, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said Bingaman told DOE's inspector general's office Monday he was anxious for a report that gets to all the facts.
McCartin said the inspector general told Bingaman a report is "expected in the February time frame."
In a related development, a 2000 inspector general's report recently obtained by the Journal makes additional allegations of coverup against lab officials.
The May 2000 report details how eight of 28 LANL security personnel interviewed "believed they had been pressured to change or 'mitigate' security self-assessments" and how a "number of individuals" feared retaliation for giving information to the inspector general.
Tytler said "a subsequent review conducted in October 2000 of security assessments did not uphold those findings."
She said the review was "official use only" and would not provide a copy of it nor say what organization conducted it.
Several of the security personnel in the inspector general's report said "LANL management appeared to be more concerned about making LANL and the Security Operations Division 'look good' than reporting the actual security condition at LANL."
The report also noted "two instances where LANL management became so upset with issues raised by the initially assigned reviewers, that management reassigned other reviewers who subsequently determined that there were no issues to be raised and that the organizations were satisfactory."
The inspector general's report said LANL management downgraded 40 "issues" and four "concerns" initially identified in a self-assessment draft report on the security division to six "concerns" and six "observations" in a final report.
Issues are defined as deficiencies that require a corrective action plan, while concerns and observations are simply suggestions for improvement that do not require a corrective action plan.
A LANL manager told the inspector general the issues were downgraded because some couldn't be validated, others were unsupportable and "there appeared to be a personality conflict between the reviewer and the organization being reviewed," according to the report.
A senior LANL manager also told the inspector general that "given the number of self-assessment findings identified since 1995, there was no concerted effort to avoid or mitigate findings."
The inspector general's report was undertaken to investigate allegations that officials in DOE's Albuquerque Operations Office of Safeguards and Security Division upgraded survey ratings that were "marginal" or "unsatisfactory" as a result of "deals struck" between Albuquerque and LANL management officials.