Jun 19, 2007

Future security depends on LANL diversifying

DOE does not want LANL to diversify, they want undiluted control over LANL. And in today's LANL, a technical staff member costs approximately $450,000 per FTE (a number, btw, that LANS considers to be sensitive corporate proprietary business data). Even if there was some compelling reason for a WFO sponsor to bring work to LANL, how could they afford to do so at those rates? What could they get at LANL that would be worth approximately twice what they would pay almost anywhere else? It sounds to me as if Udall was smoking a little whacky terbacky as he wrote this piece.



Santa Fe New Mexican
June 19, 2007

Future security depends on LANL diversifying
By Tom Udall

Los Alamos National Laboratory has played a critical role in protecting
America’s freedom and interests since its creation in 1943. The powerful
weapons developed at the lab brought an end to World War II, and the threat
of mutually assured destruction, ironically, prevented a third world war
from erupting throughout the years of the Cold War. For more than 60 years,
LANL has been directly respon­sible for the protection of our nation and our
way of life.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the new challenges of homeland
security in a post-Sept. 11, 2001 world, however, times have clearly
changed. While it remains imperative that we maintain a safely kept and
effective nuclear deterrent, our current national weapons arsenal will be
reliable for decades to come. The ongoing threat of terrorism, and indeed
much of the threat to our overall national security, is formed largely by
our need for energy indepen­dence. Our current dependence on foreign oil has
rendered our nation increasingly vulnerable in this new global struggle.

The House Energy and Water appropria­tions bill, under the direction of
Subcom­mittee Chairman Pete Visclosky, (D-Indi­ana) and Ranking Member David
Hobson (R-Ohio), sets forth a bold vision for our national energy future.
Although some would try to portray this as a partisan issue, it is not. The
increased funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs
included in this bill received overwhelming bipartisan support when voted on
by the full Appropriations Committee.

This appropriations bill is the beginning of a long and inevitable
process. For the foreseeable future, our nation will call upon LANL to
maintain the safety of our nuclear stockpile and related national security
infra­structure. Yet Congress, with majorities on both sides of the aisle
recognizing we are no longer in a nuclear arms race, is going to allocate
less funding to maintain our nuclear weapons complex. The president has even
put forward a proposal for such reductions.

It is vital that Los Alamos National Security, as operator of LANL, take
action to broaden the scope of operations at the lab, or risk los­ing jobs.
Conversely, by focusing more of the lab’s mission on energy research, LANS
is better positioned to protect jobs and stabilize the local economy.

My goal is to ensure that the outstanding scientists at LANL have a fair
opportunity to participate in these new energy pro­grams.

I have reached out to my colleagues in the New Mexico delegation urging a
col­laborative effort to create a fair and open competitive process, and to
make certain that our national labs can compete for the increased funds
being proposed for energy research. In order to compete for these funds,
however, the mission at LANL must diversity.

Like the race to develop the first atomic bomb, LANL has again been issued
a monumental challenge. The circumstances have changed, but the challenge
remains as significant — the lab must now diversify its mission from
primarily weapons devel­opment to one that includes more energy innovation
and research. By utilizing the brilliant minds of the lab to develop
alter­nate forms of energy, LANL can help our nation reduce its dependence
on foreign oil and reduce the likelihood of Middle Eastern terrorism
affecting us. By enhancing energy efficiency and developing cleaner forms of
energy, LANL can help preserve our envi­ronment and counter the effects of
global climate change. Ultimately, LANL has the opportunity to step up and
protect America and the American way of life for the 21st century, as it did
in the 20th century.


Eric said...

If we assume that there are a number of people at LANL who can compete nationally in developing new energy sources (there are), then the questions to be solved are:

1. How can these people be incentivized to compete effectively? For instance, reduced overhead for certain classes of projects might be viable.

2. How can the cost of doing business with the Lab be dropped? For instance, entrepreneurial leave or user facilities are viable mechanisms.

3. How can diversification avoid Stephenson-Wydler type competition with private industry? A detailed plan, careful development of industry wide intellectual property, and selected CRADAs carefully crafted avoid this potential difficulty.

Anonymous said...

It is not just DOE that discourages WFO at LANL -- LANL management itself has traditionally been opposed to it. Admiral Butthead himself stated on numerous occasions that LANL was a nuclear weapons laboratory, period.

That, and the exorbitant FTE rates charged by LANL aside, LANL is not staffed to do anything other than nuclear weapons work. There are a few exceptions, of course (expensive exceptions) involving special nuclear materials, sensor work for three-letter government organizations who, like DOE, can afford to pay our sky-high rates. Face it: bomb design work is what LANL has always been geared for.

And now, thanks to a little help from Mike, that one expertise area has been migrated to LLNL. I agree with Gussie, Udall was either smoking funny tobacco, or he's just being a politician trying to put a smiley face on the fact that there is no longer any good reason for LANL to exist.

Anonymous said...

Even in the good old days of pre-2004, pre Nanos (I can't actually believe I'm saying that -- LANL has been badly run and badly managed for at least the last decade and a half) LANL was expensive. Why? Inefficiency. 47 square miles of world war two-vintage facilities to be maintained. Security for special nuclear materials handling, etc. In the first quarter of 2004, just before the shutdown, average FTE rates for TSMs were inching up on $300,000.

Now, in addition to that, we have fewer TSMs because so many have left, we have our beloved corporate owner's annual award fee of $79 million, an additional $55 million that the lab now pays in GRT, and we have tripled the number of highly paid upper level managers.

Gee, Eric. How do you suppose could we lower our cost of doing business? Perhaps you could bring this issue up with some of those very important people outside of LA county that you're so cozy with.

Anonymous said...

The Lab's per FTE cost is out of wack because of the exorbinant salaries paid ALL categories of Lab employees, including the technical side of the house. On top of that the Lab is grossly overstaffed with high doller personnel contibuting nothing to the mission because they make up a growing layering of management overkill. Then there is the enormous waste of money on government relations, the LANL foundation, community relations, public affairs, and the worst of the worst--Lab Legal. All these orgs are wasting enormous sums and everyone is largely clueless that this is occurring. And then there's the army of high paid double-dippers and the countless others who have been labeled by managers trouble makers and are being paid to largely sit idle without any work to do or, worse yet, are on change of station because the Lab would rather pay for them to work for someone else. These are just a few reasons for why our per FTE costs are so unbelievably high relative to the rest of the world. Then there are all the regulatory requirements (some necessary and some not so necessary) that tack on overhead costs to every direct dollar spent. Now once you know the causes (all the causes), you can implement solutions that make sense. But of course the status quo is often the most resistant force when it comes to change. It knows one way of doing business and all these wasteful practices are directly or indirectly the result of a status quo mindset that simply refuses to acknowlege shortcomings that reflect negatively on the status quo. And so that's why change is so slow in coming at Los Alamos. Thus when Udall. talks about change he's largely challenging the status quo. He's going to encounter nothing but resistance at Los Alamos as a result. Too bad because the patient is dying and the medicine being prescribed may be the only cure.

Anonymous said...

The FTE rate is high because of all the reasons the above posters so expertly discussed. In summary, too many people at LANL want to ride in the wagon and fewer and fewer people are willing to help pull it by bringing in funds. Most staff at LANL have no idea what their FTE costs are and could care less about it. The lab needs some radical restructuring to bring down costs, but it's not likely to do so as this would require a flattening of the management levels and a large reduction in the support staff. Instead, we'll likely die a slow death.

Anonymous said...

11:29, I believe it's referred to as graceful degradation.

Anonymous said...

My, Udall got his big boy dictionary out for that little letter. What a bozo.

Anonymous said...

nothing wrong with Udall.... it's senile Domenici who has his finger in every rancid cunt in Washington that's the problem despite his acting to the contrary... I think he's really Howard Morgan, the old Albuquerque weather man, come back as a pod Domenici.

Anonymous said...

Riiiight...Udall is sooo much better!

Anonymous said...

11:29 Is your "radical restructuring" other words for RIF? Sounds like you're in favor, as long as it doesn't affect you.

Anonymous said...

9:30 PM, what you say describes about 90% of the people who work at LANL!

Anonymous said...

9:30 pm, I hate RIFs. They cause lots of fear and anxiety for everyone in the community. However, things are seriously out of wack at LANL. What would you propose? More management and support staff and even higher FTE rates? That's a recipe for disaster.

I wish there were a far less painful solution to LANL's budget problems, but I don't see one. Our labor costs for doing scientific work are simply too high.

We are going to need to reduce the number of people who enjoy riding in the wagon and force more people to start pulling (i.e., bring in funding). The longer we wait to do this, the worse the pain when we finally have no choice about it. The lab is not run with funny money. The funding shortfalls are very real and are about to cause very real problems for many who work here.

Anonymous said...

Poster 9:30 pm, if you work to bring value to what the lab does and have customers who pay for the work, then you have nothing to fear. However, there are lots of people at the lab who offer very little value to LANL's scientific programs. In fact, many of these LANL workers are actually customer hostile. It's these people who have much to worry about when the funding crisis hits.

Anonymous said...

There are many oppotunities for LANL scientists and non-scientists alike to reduce costs in much of what we do. Unfortunately many in my area don't seem to understand that or care. When questioned the answer is "we have the budget." My thought is "for how long?"