Jun 21, 2007

Udall: Defending Lab Not Easy

ABQ Journal North, Thursday, June 21, 2007
By Raam Wong - Journal Staff Writer

Repeated security breeches at Los Alamos National Laboratory are making it difficult to protect the lab from congressional budget cuts, Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said Wednesday during a "telephone town hall" meeting with constituents.

"There's a real hostility about these security breeches," said Udall, who addressed nearly 500 northern New Mexico residents on a conference call from his Capitol Hill office.

That hostility was underscored earlier in the day as the House debated a spending bill that would cut as much as $300 million from LANL's nuclearweapons budget next year, likely leading to hundreds of job losses.

Udall's attempt to roll back part of those cuts failed on the House floor. Udall tried to amend the bill to add $192 million for Los Alamos, but was rebuffed in a 312-121 vote.

Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, said: "I would argue our national security would be improved by cutting 1,800 jobs from a facility that can't seem to manage sensitive information."

Many House lawmakers argue that the Energy Department needs a post-Cold War strategy before it gets money for the kind of new generation of warheads that the Bush administration is seeking. Those weapons potentially could be built at LANL.

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., also tried unsuccessfully to persuade her colleagues to restore nuclear weapons funding, saying cuts in funding for maintaining nuclear weapons amount to "unilateral disarmament."

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. said in a statement that he was disappointed by the House's rejection of Udall's amendment.

"The fact is that the House plan represents a seismic shift in American nuclear weapons policy with national and international implications," he said.

Final action on the spending bill will not come until July, but a series of votes Tuesday and Wednesday left the nuclear weapons cut intact.

Udall said during the evening conference call that some of the cuts could be reversed when the House bill is reconciled in conference committee with the Senate's version, which the Senate is expected to take up as soon as next week.

Either way, Udall said the definition of national security should be broadened to include nuclear nonproliferation and energy independence.

"LANL can help us meet this challenge," Udall said during brief opening remarks.
Afterward, he opened the call to questions, telling the first participant: "This is Tom Udall. Fire away with your question."

Many of the call's participants supported Udall's vision for moving the lab toward new energy research.

"For the first time I think there's a distinct possibility that LANL's missions could change," said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico and a longtime opponent of nuclear weapons.

But there were some questions about where the funding for new research would come from and whether the lab's new management, Los Alamos National Security, would get behind a broader mission.

Udall said LANL director Michael Anastasio has indicated support for diversification. And he noted that the energy and water funding bill now on the House floor contains $600 million for new energy research.

"LANL should have the ability to compete for that money," Udall said.

Udall addressed other concerns at the lab. The congressman said he'll continue to prod the lab to support the region's small-business community- particularly in the wake of scores of contract worker layoffs. He also noted the rocky relations between LANL and the state Environment Department over a cleanup agreement at the lab.

Billed as a "tele-town hall," the event was aimed at having a give-and-take with the LANL community. Udall's office made automated phone calls Tuesday and Wednesday evening inviting residents in Los Alamos County, EspaƱola and other parts of northern New Mexico to participate.

Thirteen people asked questions, while the remainder were given the option of leaving a voice mail for Udall.

The call also featured opinion polls in which respondents indicated their feelings on a matter by pressing a number on their phone. Ninety-four percent of respondents in one of the polls said they found the call useful.

Udall said he was pleased, adding, "If we can do all our government work where we got 94 percent approval, that would be something special."

Journal staff writer John Fleck and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Anonymous said...

If you missed it, you can listen here.

Thanks to KRSN for recording it.

Anonymous said...

Until such time as the NNSA is disbanded, LANL is at a huge disadvantage for non-weapons research. I see this problem all the time. There is a built-in bias against the weapons labs when science funding is available. NNSA personnel have even stated that they feel that science should be removed from "their" NNSA labs and moved to the science labs such as ORNL and ANL.

Science Watch is deluding themselves if they believe that LANL cuts signal a shift in focus of LANL to science and energy. The cuts will result in cuts, and an even tighter focus on weapons, not a change of mission. Further cuts will cut science, not weapons.

The creation of the NNSA was a mistake. NNSA is anti-science. It would be a useful trade to shrink LANL but find a way to free it of the NNSA's clutches.

The NNSA is the enemy of science and intelligent thinking.

Anonymous said...

Then NNSA perhaps SHOULD be disbanded, and our Congressional delegation then should be working towards that end because otherwise Los Alamos National Laboratory will simply NOT survive as stictly a nuclear weapons lab. Those days are numbered.

Anonymous said...

That LANL will be able to convert to an energy mission is a wonderful, romantic idea, that almost every scientist I know embraces. However, consider the recent GTL Biofuels proposal that went down in flames. This proposal was a stinking turd, that was largely stovepiped by politically connected, largely uncovered staff. Rather than recruiting the best, most qualified scientists to write the proposal (ie those too busy doing science to constantly chat up management), those with nothing else to do but "network" were allowed to lead. After the proposal failed to make the first cut, division management sent
self-congratulatory e-mails around, expressing disbelief that such a wonderful proposal could be eliminated -- it must have been political! The first step for LANS to build a quality portfolio in the alternative energy sciences is to closely examine the GTL Biolfuels proposal, admit it was crap, and to acknowledge that patchworked pet political projects are a poor substitute for scientific vision. At the time, the failure of this proposal was just another in a string of disappointments. But with the looming budget cuts, its now a very personal failure for every employee at LANL. We simply cannot allow opportunities like this continue to pass us by.

Anonymous said...

Do you like the un-certian style of living? Do you like the new LAN's Corporate mentality? Every year this is going to be the norm, from now on, or at least for the next five to six years.....by that time LANL will only be a shadow of it's former self...and may not be worth staying.....

Anonymous said...

I routinely participate in the AD-WE/WP/SMS budget meetings uhhh that is hand wringings really if the if the ostriches even bother to bring the heads out of the sand..err asses in this case. I am now a simple program manager that used to be a scientist. I have an offer with another company and feel like the frog in the ever warming water...I should probably jump out of here before I to am cooked.

I simply want to offer that the budget hit is expected to be real and impacts will be soon. The DP related cuts are expected to be ~700 FTE...not sure of the number of contractors and indirect staff that might be part of that 700 and neither are the fools making the decisions.

What amazes me is the handeling of the NNSA guys that could send us some of the budget that they do have. Instead we piss them off at every turn by refusing to play their game. The golden rule holds here...He who has the gold rules! So instead the site splits to the LLNL/PX/KCP/Y12 grows at every turn.

Forget about science unless it lurks in the shadows of production missions. I am suprised that LDRD is even still alive at all, but the various institutes are nearly shut down. The science leadership, e.g., Wallace, Seestrom, etc., are arrogant and bloated with self entitlement delusions.

I strongly suggest that if you are an engineer/scientist and want to live in NM and not totally sleepwalk at work, that you contact your program managers and chat about what they need to support their world. We are genuinely looking to support science as we were once you and these interactions let us live science through you.

Good Night and Good Luck

Anonymous said...

People need to start facing the facts and get ready to hunker down for hard times in Los Alamos. Nothing of the scale of what is about to happen to LANL has ever been seen before in this town.

While the House cuts may not become law, it's highly likely that a budget battle will emerge this year between the Whitehouse and Congress. We'll then be forced, once again, into a Continuing Resolution (CR) situation. This will force LANL to live under the House's drastic budgetary constraints for a good part of FY08. When this happens, layoffs of one sort of another may be inevitable. Those working off the weapons budget are going to be especially hard hit by all this mess.

If you have an escape plan, then you might want to think about using it. For those who have a mortgage on a house in Los Alamos, I'm not sure what your options will be if you get laid off, but you can rest assured that Congress really does give a damn if you go into bankruptcy over their job cuts. In fact, they appear very eager to see this community suffer, as Hopson's comments clearly demonstrate.

It will take the lab at least 4 to 5 years to diversify into other areas, but this diversification will first require a big drop in the extremely high cost of doing business at LANL. It's not clear whether LANS management is ready to make any of this happen. The easy route is to just hope that the NNSA weapons money keeps pouring in to town. I suspect LANS will only give lip service to the idea of diversification and then ignore the hard decisions required to truly diversify the lab. As the weapons budget falters, LANS may actually increase the cost to programs that could help diversify the lab's project portfolio, thus making diversification even harder to achieve. Many of the top LANS managers will probably move on to other sites as the budgetary ax begins to have wipe out large sections of the lab.

Anonymous said...

We've been warned for some time that the weapons budgets were destined to decline. Well, guess what? That time has finally arrived. I'm sure glad that our farsighted and courageous LANL management has fully prepared us for this day, aren't you?

Anonymous said...

To 7:15 PM - the same thing is happening with the Lab's Hydrogen Center of Excellence. The Center leader got the boot for openly funneling funds to his friends. Now a guy in MPA called Ott is in charge. He hates Neu and has made it no secret that there will be no ADCLES involvement in the program. All he cares about is biomass and nothing else. Heard from some folks in chemistry that the wheels of revenge have already started. Good luck keeping this boat afloat folks!!

Anonymous said...

A good start towards diversification would be to layoff all the Program Managers at LANL who have demonstrated no success in bringing in new projects and hire new Program Managers who can do the job. From what I hear, you can't keep a high paying Program Manager position at SNL if you don't bring home the bacon. Perhaps that is one of the main reasons why SNL has been able to diversify their lab over the last few years. SNL doesn't reward incompetence in their Program Offices.

Anonymous said...

What part of "no RIF and no plans for a RIF" don't you people understand? - Mikey

Anonymous said...

LANL just does not have a chance to get into much non-weapons work as long as a TSM costs $450K per year.

Sam Bodman said...

Heh, heh.

Yes, that's all part of the plan. LANL is irrelevant, and now that we've seen to it that your charge rate is $450,000 per FTE the end is near.

Good job, LANS! Snicker Let's see you try to get anybody else to pay that.


We're gonna save a bundle by shutting the "Crown Jewel" down.

Anonymous said...

Where is Kevin the (mouth) Even he can't figure out any spin for this mess.. Now thats saying something!

Anonymous said...

Just like sheep to the slaughter house.....LANL has been manipulated by Sen Domenici and caterted to his views....And So here we are at the mercy of Seasoned Politicians ...feel safe?

Anonymous said...

Tom - It would be a whole lot easier to defend LANL if you actually had visited the place. In fact, Tom probably could not even navigate his way to LANL.

His recent interest in LANL is only a weak attempt to salvage his reputation. I'm not buying it.

Anonymous said...

Regarding diversification:

What many if not most of the commenters are missing, as well as Mr. Udall, is that LANL's budget reflects what CONGRESS directs/funds the lab to do. There isn't a lot of wiggle room for anyone in Lab management, or NNSA for that matter, to go on a campaign to "diversify" the lab mission. The fact is it's ILLEGAL for management or NNSA to start using funds for one thing to support something completely different.

SO just because congress cuts the money for weapons work it doesn't translate directly, indirectly, or any other direction into a license to "diversify" into anything. Without specific congressional action to the contrary, the budget cuts translate directly into people cuts.

One bit of good news, however, is that the $450 k per FTE that everyone likes to complain about really won't make all that much difference IF the big hurdle can be overcome in getting funding for the lab to do other things. Yes, the money would go much further at a University or another lab like Argonne, but Congress doesn't make decisions on the basis of who is most cost effective (unfortunately).

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 6/22/07 12:08 PM

Right, but all the more reason not to piss away opportunities by playing stovepipe politics.

Anonymous said...

6/22/07 12:08 PM has it exactly correct. We can only work on what Congress has authorized. That's why the LDRD program sticks in their craw, because that's internally directed work, and Congress is always hollering that they should be the ones who exclusively direct the research here, and no one else.

DOE is also not interested in "work for others (WFO)," as reflected in the extraordinary fully-loaded costs one must pay to buy a staff member's time. Thus we are greatly hampered in trying to draw in new funds from non-DOE sources.

Since the majority of money spent here is DOE's, it would be a simple matter to directly charge to DOE a lot of the unique facilities DOE requires, dramatically dropping the incremental costs of adding new WFO, i.e. dramatically lowering the overhead for WFO. But DOE specifically takes the other tact, intentionally piling on even greater charges to WFO than it's own work.

We're screwed.

Anonymous said...

As someone who works very hard at bringing in new funds from non-DOE sources for WFO work, I feel that I'm fighting a losing battle at LANL. Every year the FTE rates go up and the funding is stretched thinner and thinner. When I came to LANL many years ago, WFO type work was almost a quarter of the lab's budget. Today, it has shrunk down to single digit numbers.

Management just keeps taxing the funds away and adding in new burdens. I've just about had it trying to support the bloated bureaucracy at this broken institution. LANS gives lip service to diversification, but has no idea how to actually execute their sudden conversion to this new vision. Why? Because it would mean stream-lining the support and management side of the equation, and they will never do that, as it would cost them their jobs. They live off these high FTE rates.

Anonymous said...

From 8:36 PM - "The science leadership, e.g., Wallace, Seestrom, etc., are arrogant and bloated with self entitlement delusions."

Why the hell is Wallace still here? HIs momma got him the job but he has done nothing except lie and steal from others. What is wrong with Mike? WHy did he hire Wallace? Wallace has only hired the "loser" managers from LANL for his organization - umm, just take a look at the PADSTE org chart. My gosh, he looks the other way when Neu does anything corrupt just because he "likes" her. Corruption up and down the chain. Why isn't Congress paying any attention? Why doesn't anyone talk to the scientists? What is wrong here?

Anonymous said...

A number of factors makes it much more difficult for LANL to bring in more funding now than ever before;

1) The new LANS management isn't involved in marketing nor do they influence program direction with the sponsors. Their only contribution is to bring pressure upon the working staff to bring in more funding.

2) The staff is faced with great difficulty just trying to a) do programmatic work - thanks to LANS, LANL is no longer able to hire the staff needed to keep up with the workload, b) keep up with a plethora of new regulations - none of which increases efficiency, c) deal with increasingly difficult business systems - with incomplete and inaccurate information, d) empty the trash and find toilet paper - the reduction in janatorial services has turned the lab into a filthy pit with trash piled up in the hallways, e) pee in a bottle - on the piss-boys' schedule even if the work interruption will cause a safety or security incident f) take lie detector tests - adminstered by former used-car salesmen g) wait in line at the lower intestine "security" entrance - and the guards don't even check badges anymore, and h) keep up with the latest security, safety, environmental, and financial mismanagement scandals.

3) The huge increase in costs brought by LANS derails most funding proposals anyway.

Anonymous said...

Just remember what brought LANS and an expectation of a different way of doing things at LANL. It wasn't LANS, or NNSA. It was the actions and activities here at LANL. There have been several references elswhere in the blog to "we have met the enemy and he is us." Sounds appropriate.

The media may not be particularly fair to LANL, but we seem determined to continue to provide them ammunition. When do we plan to change that?