May 4, 2007

Los Alamos Blocks Researcher Access To Archives

By: Steven Aftergood, Project on Government Secrecy, Federation of American Scientists

Los Alamos National Laboratory will no longer permit historians and other researchers to have access to its archival records because Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the private contractor that now operates the Lab, says it has "no policy in place" that would allow such access.

"Policies that had previously applied to the University of California relating to the disclosure of information directly to you are no longer applicable," wrote Judy Archuleta of the Los Alamos Information Practices Office to Alex Wellerstein, a graduate student at Harvard.

Mr. Wellerstein had sought copies of Lab records on the history of nuclear secrecy policy and he had been led to believe that access to such material would be granted, in accordance with past practice.

"Because LANS is a private company, the policies that applied [previously] are no longer in place," she said.

"No policy is presently in place that authorizes the direct disclosure of the information you seek," she wrote.

Instead, Mr. Wellerstein was told that he should pursue his research through the Freedom of Information Act.

"The FOIA process, however cumbersome, currently provides the only means of accessing our records," wrote Roger A. Meade, the Los Alamos Archivist/Historian on April 17.

But FOIA requests are poorly suited to archival research since they can easily take years to process and must specify in advance the records that are sought.

In effect, when it comes to historical or other public research, the Los Alamos archives are closed for business.

It's "terrible news" for scholars, said Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist who has studied the culture of the nuclear weapons labs.


Eric said...

Who actually owns these archives? I would think that either UC or the US government would own them.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it would seem that, except for legtitimate business papers and employee records, those archives are the property of the DOE, NOT LANS and are therefore covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

The behavior of LANS in this and other matters (e.g., a polygraph question about whether an employee read this blog) continues to deteriorate.

Note that most of the management fee is award, not guaranteed. There must be some way that we can get that award reduced to the level that is deserved, i.e., ZERO!

Anonymous said...

The relevant DOE procurement clause is DEAR 970.5204-3 "Access to and ownership of records" and it is in the LANS contract by reference in I-78.

It discusses Government-owned vs Contractor-Owned records.

It requires that most "...records acquired or generated by the contractor in its performance of this contract shall be the property of the Government and shall be delivered to the Government or otherwise disposed of by the contractor either as the contracting officer may from time to time direct during the progress of the work or, in any event, as the contracting officer shall direct upon completion or termination of the contract."

It DOES NOT require that the general public have access to either Government-owned or Contractor-Owned records in the possession of the contractor.

Anonymous said...

LANL is funded with taxpayer (not private) dollars. So who do think owns these records? LANL salaries are funded with taxpayer dollars. So who do think has the right to know? Now try to get access to this information. Try, but don't bust a gut trying. The DOE gave LANS card blache in the contract, basically allowing LANS to NOT release anything. So much for watching out for taxpayer interests.

A. Citizen said...

DOE/US Gov't owns the archives. LANS (contractor) has possession of them despite their having been "generated" by UC "for" DOE (and other contractors for work?).

UC was "apparently" directed to turn them over to LANS at the contract changeover.

LANS/Bechtel "apparently" feels they do not have a directive (or permission?) from DOE to provide these records to the general public.

My guess is that:

A) This is a cost-savings measure. By not responding to these requests they may cut an FTE (or more).

B) This is a ploy to increase the contract funding to "cover" what was already being "covered" under UC.

FOIA requests will probably somehow (eventually) be processed, but not quickly or easily.

One does wonder if a good strategy for all of us is to help make sure Bechtel makes NO profit from this contract.

We are obliged in many ways to do our jobs, but I am not sure we are obliged to stand by and watch Bechtel rape and pillage.

I'm not quite sure how to push back on this, but it seems that if Bechtel makes no more than the $6M that UC used to on this contract, they will pull out.

Where will that leave us? I haven't a clue. I remember all of those who used to say "Anything is better than UC!"


A. Citizen

Anonymous said...


There were many things that happened at LANL because of UC policies (and its status as a public entity)... no more. UC ran the lab as a public service and had a policy of being as open as possible to the public... no more. LANS was hired by NNSA/DOE to run the lab as a business... and businesses do not give away their intellectual property without a good reason (i.e., explicitly required by contract clauses or the statement of work). What is Lockheed-Martin's policy on public access to government owned records at Sandia?

Here at LLNL a long list has been complied of things that UC did that the new contractor will have to decide if they want to continue. Many of these items are HR and local community support related, things that the local DOE/NNSA office did not support the Lab doing in the first place - it was only with UC's active support that they occurred. DOE/NNSA has told us that these items are not reimbursable under the new contract and that if the new contractor wants LLNL to do them, then the new contractor will have to pay for them out their pockets and also assume all legal/financial liabilities if things go wrong.

Well welcome to the new business order for life at LANL and LLNL... where the bottom line goals of maximizing profits and minimizing liabilities are supreme.

Anonymous said...

"Here at LLNL a long list has been complied of things that UC did that the new contractor will have to decide if they want to continue."

Could you post the list, please?

Anonymous said...

Not to defend LANS here and the many negative changes it is bringing to Los Alamos Lab, but in practice the LANL archives were off limits to the public for a number of years already, for several reasons. First, it was practically impossible to use them if you do not have a Q clearance (and most university scholars do not), second, the archives were poorly managed and those who ran them were understaffed and, and third, these people were often simply unwilling to assist outsiders seeking access. LANS has essentially made official what was already taking place.

However, it is sad that the many valuable records there remain cloistered and inaccessible to outside users. There has been a long battle ongoing about whether or not to move the contents of the LANL archives to the National Archives in Washington, DC, but those in charge of the archives and records management at LANL have fought this. It remains to be seen what will become of all these materials, some of which are one of a kind.

Anonymous said...

All of the new "policys" instituted by LANS have served only the purpose of protecting their fee and the bonuses of the overpaid and underperforming LANS managers. LANS managers do not understand that they are temporarily acting as stewards of LANL for the US Government and for the American public; they need to FIRED now.

Anonymous said...

So, what would the right realistic "fix" be (and assume you didn't have extra $$ to throw at the problem), assuming you could get the right person to listen to you (either in Congress or elsewhere). Force the current operators to revert to the UC practice of access, at a minimum? Force transfer of the archives at LANL to the National Archives?

Anonymous said...

It should go back to something like the UC policies, which were slow but worked. You can't conduct real research via FOIA; it is a tool for getting things declassified or forcibly released, not a way to make standard archival queries.