Jun 28, 2007

Civic leaders speak out

CAROL A. CLARK Monitor County Editor

Los Alamos County government has often found itself unevenly matched in its relationship with Los Alamos National Laboratory. During the annual budget exercises in Washington, county councilors watch and hope for the best, knowing that the county's fiscal health, budget and the livelihood of their constituents depends on shifting moods in the country at large and decisions made in Washington, D.C.

The Monitor sounded out individual councilors on how they view the current situation at Los Alamos National Laboratory and its management company - Los Alamos National Security, LLC - and how the relationship might be improved. Six of the seven councilors replied to a set of questions. Council Chair Jim West said he was not able to respond.

Is LANS a good county partner?

Michael Wheeler: "LANS is a very important member of the business community in Los Alamos. Our general fund revenues come from the Gross Receipts Taxes collected by the business sector and LANS represents the single largest provider of GRTs. LANS is located on federal land and pays no property taxes, hence a contractual requirement is for LANS to provide substantial funding to LAPS. The company also is committed to using local contractors and small businesses to support their operations. There are other areas where both the county and LANS can benefit through county provided services, and I expect those areas to continue to be considered for future discussions."

Nona Bowman: "LANS is committed, for the term of its agreement, to carry out the terms of its contract with NNSA. The county can expect nothing more than that from LANS although in principle LANS could act beyond the contract. The fact that all the top management decided not to live in Los Alamos is not irrelevant to the question."

Fran Berting: "The LANS contract provides specific guidelines with respect to such aspects of LANS activities as contracting with local small businesses and maintaining LANL employees, at least for the first year. However, budget problems have meant that they have openly stated that contracting with local businesses will have to wait. And LANL contractors and their personnel, while strictly speaking not LANL employees, have been let go in large numbers.

"On the other hand, contributions to the LANL Foundation, I believe, have been maintained. Communication with the community, another much requested activity, has been better than in the past, as Mr. Anastasio or one of his deputies, has attempted to keep the council updated from time to time, and meets reasonably regularly with our county manager. The communication, however, has not been adequate to actually incorporate community needs into LANS actions, e.g., the West Jemez Road bypass. DOE is largely responsible for this, but the LANS project manager could have been responsive for LANS' part and was not.

"In short, there is still the sense that much needs to be done to be real partners in LANS dealings with issues that could be helpful to the community as a whole, like actively endorsing the need for the Trinity Place development, being more clear in a timely manner with regard to their needs or lack thereof for local contractors and providing funds for regional transit."

Jim Hall: "I think LANS is getting better at working with the county. Things still seem to vary quite a bit. Some things work well, others do not. At times it is difficult for the county to determine the source (e.g. LANS or DOE) of some policies/decisions. Of course, LANS faces a huge challenge in getting the right balance among all the entities clamoring for recognition (and resources), e.g. pueblos, counties, cities, school districts, etc."

Ken Milder: "In some ways it is still too soon to tell. With all the issues being faced by LANS during this first startup year, I am willing to cut them some slack. However, LANS needs to differentiate itself from its predecessor by participating in real long-term partnerships rather than short term photo-ops.

"One area of concern to me has been the loss of jobs. Although LANS is quick to say that there have not been any layoffs, the truth is that hundreds of people have lost their job. While it is correct that no LANS employee has been laid-off, hundreds of valuable contractors, some with over 20 years at LANL, have lost jobs. I have seen no support for these employees from LANS nor the members of our congressional delegation who supported bidding the management contract."

Robert Gibson: "I don't think DOE/NNSA and LANL can be separated on this whole issue. There are some positive aspects of their relationship with the county. But there are major problems, also. The most serious is the lab's frequent failure to communicate its intentions on projects or activities that affect the community and its general unwillingness to take community concerns into consideration in development of plans. Pajarito Road and the Jemez Road reconfiguration are two glaring examples."

What's the current state of the lab?

Wheeler: "LANL is vital to the national security and a major contributor to our nation's excellence in basic research, and science and technology. While national priorities continuously change, the lab has a more difficult task to match their operations to changing national goals. This has been the case since the end of WW II. There is a current threat of a downturn in the nuclear weapons programs that is causing concern in the lab and our community.

"I would expect some fluctuations in the annual budget; however, the current budget proposal by the house is a more dramatic cut than Los Alamos has seen in many years. The lab will continue to press for funding both for science and weapons programs and I believe the final budget will be much more supportive than we currently see coming from Washington."

Bowman: "The lab has lived too long on a defense-only program, which is a mistake that was bound to catch up with it sooner than later. This focus has constrained new program development so much that LANL is no longer well positioned to broaden its program. However, with a serious effort, it might not be too late."

Berting: "The lab is in one of the typical states of uncertainty, due to decreases in funding, and threats of even further decreases in funding. Whereas this is not new, it appears to be worse than normal, as Congress is fed by media hype of misdeeds which in the past would have been solved locally. The activist groups, such as POGO, now make Congress feel they need to punish the lab, which is counterproductive.

"However, the lab continues to put forth good science in peer-reviewed papers in a great many fields. LANS, DOE, NNSA, Bechtel, and the University of California in particular among the LANS consortia, need to be constantly reminding the public of the fact that the lab is not just a weapons lab but is contributing to many aspects of the country's scientific progress."

Hall: "This is difficult for me to say - I haven't worked at the laboratory for years and have no "inside" information. Based on anecdotal accounts from friends, it seems as if LANS, after an initial period of confusion, is starting to bring considerably more fiscal and management discipline to the lab. However, I also hear disquieting concerns about the LANS's long-term commitment to investment in scientific excellence."

Milder: "The lab budget over the next couple of years is going to be tight. I feel the lab was hit by a double whammy. It was anticipated that the budget was going to be tight for a few fiscal years under the normal DOE budget cycle. On top of this, tremendous overhead costs were added by transferring the management contract to a private corporation.

"The lab's primary focus will still be in weapons research but I also see changes to the lab's mission. Over the 33 years I have worked at LANL, I have seen previous changes in mission focus. That is our major strength - an agility to rapidly meet ever changing national science priorities."

Gibson: "Nuclear weapons are not a growth industry. The lab is suffering through the decline that has been anticipated but delayed since the end of the Cold War. Lack of a clear modern mission and focus are hurting the lab.

"There are tremendous new national challenges to which the lab could continue to make vital contributions through top-notch technical work," Gibson said. "But Congress and DOE have to recognize the needs and commit to solving them in meaningful ways. Unless that happens, the decline in the lab's size, importance and technical excellence that we are experiencing will continue."

Why individually or collectively as a council don't you speak out about concerns expressed by the community, either during council meetings, in newspaper columns or to Anastasio directly during his periodic visits before council?

Wheeler: "The county council and individual councilors have both collectively and individually made our concerns known to our congressional delegation by way of our federal committee agenda, and through one-on-one discussions with our senators and congressmen. It is important to recognize those issues that can be addressed by the LANL director, and those concerns outside of his control. The county continues to build and maintain strong relationships locally, regionally, state-wide and nationally."

Bowman: "I have expressed in several public council meetings my concern on the major mission of the laboratory centered on weapon research led by a major pit manufacturing facility. I see that future for the laboratory and New Mexico to be that of Rocky Flats. Many scientists at the lab are trying hard to influence lab management on a more balanced program of R&D projects that can broaden the lab's mission and restore the lab to its international leadership position.

"The citizens of Los Alamos and northern New Mexico have a stake in the lab's mission decision - whether it be demographic change, economic impact or environmental impact. Many are concerned not only here but all over northern New Mexico. I have tried, beginning five years ago, to push changes at LANL and will continue, but resistance to change was high then and it is still high."

Berting: "I think we do, but without sounding like the activist groups, which can be counterproductive. Certainly in management-to-management meetings, where real progress is most likely to be made, the problems are quite transparently addressed."

Hall: "We express our concerns. The question is how. I am not sure that adding more public noise to the mostly overblown and (in my opinion) biased criticism in the national and regional press is useful.

"I think we are far more effective at working with the lab on county issues through our management team and in individual meetings with lab personnel. This has proved to be generally effective. If it is not, council has no reluctance to air concerns in public forums-or, for that matter, in court - if we believe such action is required. After the recent court case, I think everyone understands this council's commitment to the public weal."

Milder: "I feel our job as elected officials is to achieve solutions to community problems. The council has demonstrated an ability to use the proper techniques of addressing issues with LANL, NNSA and DOE. When necessary, as with the perimeter checkpoint, the council does more than speak out, it acts. In this case, it was through a lawsuit.

"We must recognize, however, that while the sledgehammer approach might make for lively press and certainly be needed at times, as with the checkpoint issue, it is not always productive in the long run. County senior management meets regularly with senior management at the lab, LASO, and even DOE Albuquerque. Many concerns, some small, others large, have been successfully addressed through these meetings. Admittedly, most are not newsworthy."

Gibson: "Many concerns expressed by the community are not fundamentally new. They go back many years and have been expressed publicly and (often more effectively) privately by councilors and other community leaders to several iterations of DOE/NNSA and LANL managers, as well as our congressional delegation. We work hard at trying to choose the time and venue to express the community's concerns most effectively."

What is your advice to improve relations between LANS and the community?

Wheeler: "The most important thing LANS can do to improve relations with the community is to provide transparency in their operations and information in a timely manner."

Bowman: "I think that the county must be far more proactive in letting LANS, the NNSA, and the congressional delegation know what kind of lab will work here and what is likely to lead to decay. Those in Washington are no more expert in this matter than our scientists, engineers and middle- management people. I hear from all of our Los Alamos community. Honest and open discussions come first. I believe that openness and honesty always leads to better communications in the long run."

Berting: "Continue, at every opportunity and at every level, to stress the need for communication that includes genuine understanding of each other's needs and problems, attempting to elicit a serious commitment from LANS to cooperate before taking action that affects the community. Reactivating the informal organization of community leaders, called TIE, formed during the contractor transition to establish communication at a high community-wide level might be effective."

Hall: "The county and our citizens must recognize the challenges facing LANS management and be realistic about LANS's ability to act. From a LANS perspective, I think it would be helpful if LANS management were to internalize three concepts: (1) the county's ability and willingness to act as a partner; (2) the importance of quality of life in Los Alamos in attracting and keeping high-quality personnel; and (3) their ability to assist the county in its goals through appropriate policies and actions, most without a significant financial commitment on LANS's part."

Milder: "As always, communications is the key. While it is nice to have Mike Anastasio periodically attend a council meeting, a practice that should continue, real working relationships must be nurtured at lower staff levels. That's where the real work is done and the key, here, is for each side to recognize the mutual benefits of having successful relationships.

"One common area of tension between the lab and county seemed to be control issues. Now, with the large decrease in budgets, I hope that the lab recognizes that partnerships with the county can help it more efficiently meet mission goals."

Gibson: "Most LANS (and many DOE/NNSA) top managers are new to the lab and community. Few live in Los Alamos. It takes time and effort to build the relationships we once took for granted. Relationships between institutions and communities are ultimately relationships among people. We need to build those."

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Los Alamos County IS the Lab! I know because I've lived here for decades. So let's stop pretending. The County has always been subsidized by the Lab and its lap dog--the DOE. The schools have always received millions in additional money. Fire protection and water service has been, from the beginning, always provided or otherwise significantly subsidized by the Lab/DOE. The Lab leases virtually every piece of property the county and the schools puts up for lease, which in turn provides yet another steady stream of revenue for an already extremely spoiled community. And with the LANS/UC takeover last year, now the county gets an additional windfall from the gross receipts tax that the Lab should have been paying ALL the citizens of New Mexico over the previous 65 years but didn't. The Los Alamos community windfall related to the GRT is probably in the vicinity of $20 million, with the remaining $40 or so going to the rest of the State. It's such a huge windfall for Los Alamos that community leaders are at a loss as to how to manage it all. How many other communities in the State have THAT problem!? In the mean time the New Mexico State Legislature continues to siesta, while the Governor continues to pander to the rest of the nation to satisfy his insatiable appetite for media attention. So let's stop pretending. Let's stop the sniveling-whining-poor-me-we're-so-disadvantaged routine that Los Alamos is so good at. The Cerro Grande Fire is past, and money keeps rolling in no matter what. So let's stop diverting attention from the reality reflected in the fact that Los Alamos County was recently ranked as being the wealthiest community in the nation. That in itself says it all. Oh but of course the comeback will always be, "but we're educated and not only that, we're the best and brightest don't you see." Yea right…and that's why we can't seem to keep a secret, control your spending or avoid dumb accidents. Reminds me of the Dilbert cartoon where the genius kid is pictured pushing IN on a door clearly marked "pull." Sometimes a person can be brilliant, but at the same time so stupid when it comes to good old fashion common sense. The sooner we recognize that we're part of the community of man and not an island unto ourselves, the better off we'll ALL be.

Anonymous said...

Gibson and Milder should help their colleagues by hiding their colleague's rose-colored glasses and boots. Gibson and Milder see clearly and aren't afraid to step in it if reality warrants. The rest need chap stick.

PS The first post above is not only insightful, but largely on target. I'd only add that the LANL Foundation itself is another huge source of money for community organizations to tap into, but that the community of Los Alamos is the primary beneficiary of the annual grant process. So even though surrounding counties receive some benefit, in reality it's largely a Los Alamos community foundation.

Anonymous said...

Good points. Let's not forget the snow removal and pot hole repair work, all complementary of the feds.

Anonymous said...

I just think it is telling of LANS management that not a single one located their residence in Los Alamos.

To me, that is not a good sign.

As a previous poster said LANL is Los Alamos and Los Alamos is LANL

Los Alamos is not LANS, and LANS is not LANL

Anonymous said...

Bowman - "The lab has lived too long on a defense-only program, which is a mistake that was bound to catch up with it sooner than later. This focus has constrained new program development so much that LANL is no longer well positioned to broaden its program. However, with a serious effort, it might not be too late."

"I have expressed in several public council meetings my concern on the major mission of the laboratory centered on weapon research led by a major pit manufacturing facility. I see that future for the laboratory and New Mexico to be that of Rocky Flats. Many scientists at the lab are trying hard to influence lab management on a more balanced program of R&D projects that can broaden the lab's mission and restore the lab to its international leadership position."

*********

Gibson - "The lab has lived too long on a defense-only program, which is a mistake that was bound to catch up with it sooner than later."

"Nuclear weapons are not a growth industry."

*********

Good comments from both Bowman and Gibson on the critical need for LANL to diversify work and end the nuclear weapons myopia.

Broaden the mission. Diversify. Those are the key tasks that LANS must accomplish, and they must accomplish them quickly.

Key to the ability to accomplish diversification is lowering the cost of an FTE. The cost of scientific labor at LANL is going up, not down! Our scientific labor rates are killing our chances towards achieving diversification. Nuclear weapons work may be fund-able at the incredibly high rate of $450 K per FTE, but not much else. In this regards, LANS get a well deserved grade of F.

In terms of vision for this diversification, we currently have Wallace's Signature Facility. This fuzzy-headed concept is not an effective means towards diversification. We need to be working overtime to bring new sponsors into the lab's project portfolio and keep our current non-nuclear weapons sponsors. This means using program managers who have proven that they can do the job and not pie-in-th-sky concepts for facilities that may, someday, bring in outside funding. For vision towards diversification, I give LANS a D.

If LANS were back in college, they would be flunking out of "Diversification 101". They need to find a way to lower FTE cost, bring in new sponsors to grow projects, and achieve a rational vision towards diversification. We have a lab that could easily be taking on much greater volumes of work in the national security area. Why hasn't this happened? LANS management appears disingenuous about diversifying from the shrinking world of nuclear weapons work. They need to start working towards effective means of diversification before it is too late.

Anonymous said...

County Leaders: Is an oxymoron...

Anonymous said...

Los Alamos is part of northern New Mexico, and with-in the near future you will realize just how much a part of norther New Mexico we are. We will need help as the Lab crumbles to the ground , while Mikey screams NO RIF"S, and 2000+ people don't have cushy jobs.

Anonymous said...

6/28/07 9:33 AM

VanProoyen lives in Quemazon.

Anonymous said...

Etheridge and his family live in town and are active in the community.

Van Prooyen also lives in town.

McMillan has a home in Los Alamos; I hear his wife is moving out here from CA to join him.

Rumor has it that even Mikey has decided to leave Santa Fe and move up the hill.

On other subjects: the schools received the federal $$ because there was not a large enough tax base to support them, being as the lab paid no taxes. W/ the advent of LANS and the relatively larger GRT base, I suspect federal $$ to the schools will stop coming.

Fire protection is subsidized in order to be able to respond to some of the very serious accidents that might happen at the lab. If not for the lab, LA would of course not have the need for such a large department.

What the hell does the Cerro Grande Fire have to do with anything? I have yet to meet someone who lost their home in the fire that thinks they are better off because of the money that they got for a new home. The feds caused the fire, they certainly ought to pony up for it. Or perhaps St. Pete caused the fire so as to funnel more money to whiny Los Alamos? ;-)

The first poster seems to slam the county for being forced to rely on federal $$ for ~50 years, then slam them for getting a big boost in Gross Receipts Tax which will allow us to get OFF the federal teat.

Personally, I'm happy that we can wean ourselves. I'd rather our federal tax dollars go to something else.

And if the DOE wants to fund its own fire department, then I think it is reasonable to reduce the size of the LA County dept.

Anonymous said...

Signature Facility for growth? HA! All the divisions are fighting for a new building. Everyone cites "energy" as important and yet nobody brings up a nuclear reactor, which these "county leaders" violently oppose as well. So much for bringing in GNEP funds and tapping into energy funds for the future.

Anonymous said...

yes but why can't Asians figure out how to cross the street?

and why can't Hispanics drive in ONE lane and stay on their own side of the line?

Anonymous said...

Sue Seestrom lives here. Terry Wallace grew up here.

You can't blame the rest- real estate has been wacky here. And if they have families- who would come here? It is an acquired taste... your neighbors leave you alone- but then again, they don't steal your stuff.

Anonymous said...

9:16 What does that comment have to do with anything??? The topic is the county relationship with the lab- not your relationship with your prejudices...

Anonymous said...

"On other subjects: the schools received the federal $$ because there was not a large enough tax base to support them, being as the lab paid no taxes. W/ the advent of LANS and the relatively larger GRT base, I suspect federal $$ to the schools will stop coming."

This is not accurate. The Schools receive money from DOE in lieu of taxes, just as other schools in other locations in New Mexico. When the Schools bond, they can't include the property on the south side of the bridge as part of their tax base since there are no property taxes paid on that property. The schools share in the distrubution of property taxes back to Los Alamos. That's why our taxes go up some number of mills when a school bond passes.

The Schools will not receive 1 penny from the new GRT revenue.

Anonymous said...

so...

Where does all this money go? I see plenty of things around town that could use improvement. Or even exist, for that matter. If the county is living in hog heaven, I'd like to see some evidence.

Anonymous said...

4:19pm. you must not live in Los Alamos County or you would not ask the question of where the money is going. Everyone who lives here, or has lived here for 6-8 months surely knows about the Ordinance 529 election to allow the County to sell $75million in bonds.

Right now it's going to reconstruct Airport Baison for the relocation of all County and Schools support currently at Trinity Site which will then be turned over to Boyer from Salt Lake City to build a shopping center (some say strip mall) which will eventually put all our local businesses out of business. The current estimated cost for airport baisin is $75million! The reason for this project is so Los Alamos can become more independent of LANL. Hah!

The County has other huge projects in mind for the money, such as building a new Municipal Building because ours will fall down in a 6.2 earthquake (along with almost all the other buildings in Los Alamos), refurbishing the community building for temporarily holding municipal court and council meetings, building a new judicial complex next to the police station, building the bypass road so we don't have our access to and from the ski hill and the Jemez impacted by a bunch of PTLA employees who decide that a box that fell off a truck is a bomb so they close the road, to name a few.

So what is your favorite project that you'd like to see Los Alamos County finance? And how do you expect them to pay off the bonds if the GRT revenue declines because LANL's work is cut in half?

The first poster seems not to understand the convoluted finances of the County and the Schools, and how seriously LANL impacts Los Alamos. Because there are no property taxes paid to Los Alamos County for LANL property south of the bridge, the County and Schools are financially impacted. If it were General Motors across the bride, we would really be rich, but we can't collect property taxes on that property. So AEC/ERDA/DOE have paid some amount to the County and Schools in lieu of taxes. And this happens elsewhere in New Mexico too because of all the federal land. We are not the only ones, but for some reason many people are angry about our getting that money.

DOE paid the County a windfall amount several years ago to get off the hook, but the Schools continue to get $8million/year. And we all know that $8million a few years ago is not $8million today.

Anonymous said...

and Hispanics are still shitty drivers.....

Anonymous said...

I see that the trolls are out and about on this blog. Don't feed the sick, twisted little bastards.