Jul 19, 2007

In case anybody is interested, I lean towards...

Back to our regular programming for a minute or two. From yesterday's Albuquerque Journal article about the House vote to cut NW spending:

The House approval, on a 312-112 vote, would cut nuclear weapons spending by the Department of Energy by $396 million— 6 percent.


The House bill could mean the loss of 900 jobs at Sandia National
Laboratories and even more at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

I don't know how they came up with that 900 jobs number for Sandia, nor the claim that even more jobs at LANL would be at risk. Previous articles on this subject suggested that $100 million would be targeted at SNL, and the remainder at LANL, so let's say that there is a potential $300 million reduction for LANL for FY'08. Any thoughts on the immediate impact on LANL of this vote?

I've heard extremely optimistic points of view: "St. Pete will put it all back, plus some," to more realistic opinions: "Some funding might get restored but not all," to the purely black outlook: "It's just the beginning of the eventual shutdown of LANL."

In case anybody is interested, I lean towards the purely black outlook. I see every event in LANL's recent history, starting with Nanos' shutdown back in July, 2004 as evidence of a larger plan to pare off all science activities at LANL except those associated with plutonium pit production operations. The net result of Nanos, the rebid of the LANL contract, and the award of that contract to LANS has been an exodus of WFO funding, an unbelievable escalation of the TSM FTE rate, and an even further burdening of LANL staff with "security" and "safety" related bureaucratic red tape.

Oh, let's not forget the awarding of the RRW competition to LLNL.

The end result of all of all of this that LANL is now essentially DOE's captive contractor with little on the horizon except further budget reductions. Either I'm missing something, or things really are as bad as they seem.



Eric said...

I would like Gussie's hypothesis to be wrong. At the moment, it seems like the mostly likely hypothesis.

If someone can prove it to be wrong, with real data, not rumors and hopes, I would be delighted.

Can anyone do this?

Anonymous said...

If and when the lay-offs start please come by and fill us in on how it went down _in detail_. I am sure the people of LLNL will want to know what to expect. If there is a news flash that you fell LLNL needs to know and would make a good topic of discussion e-mail vlad.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like a pretty good working hypothesis to me. All of the known facts to date support it. Here are a few more bits of corroborating data:

1) DOE has long disliked having WFO at LANL. They saw it as a distraction from what they really wanted LANL to be focusing on. They felt out of control of 'their' lab when the WFO component of the budget was approaching a quarter of the total $2.2 billion annual LANL funding. Guess what, most of the WFO sponsors are now gone.

2) Nanos was brought in without benefit of a national search. Blame UC or blame DOE, it doesn't matter. They got their hit man in place.

3) The bid. Shit, even a blind person could see that Lockheed put in a better bid. And even had the bids been of equal technical merit WHICH THEY WERE NOT, UC's past performance should have given any competitor the necessary leg up.

4) LANS' "human error" security breach, as contrasted the the treatment given the CREM de Meth perpetrators. LANS is now getting "protection" from DOE. Why? Because they agreed to help DOE accomplish their mission of reducing LANL's role to that of Rocky Flats' replacement. Lucrative for LANS (Bechtel, BWXT, WG), and the arrangement solves DOE's desire to replace RF.

Face it, it all fits.

Anonymous said...


I don't know who you are but go ask the laser-blinded student if she thinks we have too much "safety" and as for the "security", check out the headlines in Tenn.

Some people...

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

7:01. To answer your question about who am I: I'm somebody who knows LANL inside and out.

Regarding safety, you can never have too much. Nor can you impose it with bullshit, CYA snowflakes. Remember Donald Rumsfeld and his 100 memos per day of directives to his underlings? His staff called them "snowflakes" because there were so many.

Wrong approach. LANS is going through the motions of *appearing* to care about safety because their award fee depends on safety statistics, in part. They have their own snowflake machine busy producing bullshit "safety" and "security" procedures by the metric ton.

About that student: she and her staff member supervisor violated all existing safety procedures at the time. Idiots! There is nothing stupider than looking down the barrel of a loaded laser without

1) Eye protection, and
2) ABSOLUTELY guaranteeing that the system is not energized.

You cannot protect against stupidity, and bureaucratic red tape will not prevent an idiot from hurting him/her self. There is, in fact, a bad culture thing going on at LANL regarding safety.

Anonymous said...

Laser-girl deserves none of the blame. It may seem obvious to an experienced person that what she did was dangerous, but her PI told her to do it. Are students now expected to believe that their PI's are not subject matter experts>

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Oh, bullshit. If laser-girl was stupid enough to look into a laser without eye protection and without checking to see if the system was powered, then she deserves some of the blame.

Your statement nicely identifies the largest component of the cultural safety problem at LANL: lack of personal accountability.


Anonymous said...

Hey 7:32,

I bet you're the kind of person who would sue McDonalds if you dumped a hot cup of their coffee into your lap. Not your fault you got burned, right? Must have been McDonald's fault for making that coffee hot.

Anonymous said...

Put yourself in the shoes of laser-girl. Her boss said it was safe, then showed her it was safe by engaging in taking off his glasses and looking. When I was in college, I listened to my research advisor, and assumed that he and the senior grad students knew what they were doing.

Personal responsibility is fulfilled when one follows the words and deeds of an expert in a supervisory and mentoring role.

Yes, it is unreasonable to expect that a 20 year old student will have a level of expertise with lasers. Yes, it is unreasonable to expect that a 20 year old will countermand the orders of a PI who is 25 years her senior.

Apparently, it is also unreasonable to expect that PI will look out for the well being of his students.

Anonymous said...

This blog sickens me, yet I can't look away!

7/19/07 7:32 PM, I agree with you. A summer student has very limited understanding of most things and requires guidance from a mentor. Hell, I don't know a damn thing about lasers and if I were a naive summer student and some old laser guy told me to look in here because there's something really cool, I might just do it. I figure this guy probably knows what he's talking about, right? It seems a bit of a stretch to compare a cup of coffee to a class 4 Q-switch YAG laser, or whatever the heck the thing was.

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Don't misunderstand me, 8:17. The LANL staff member supervisor deserves the bulk of the blame -- no argument. He got fired, which was well-deserved.

8:32's contention that the student was totally blameless, however, is just plain bullshit. If somebody told *me* to look into a laser without eye protection he would find himself getting an impromptu laser proctology exam.


Gussie Fink-Nottle said...


Quiz time: What's the first thing anybody is told the first time he or she enters a laser lab?

Answer: "Wear Eye Protection At All Times."

No exceptions.

Laser-girl knew that. I don't care how young and inexperienced she was, she had been told that lasers can damage eyes: wear eye protection when working around them.

Sad though the incident was, particularly when considering her mentor's inexcusable laxness regarding laser safety, she still deserves part of the blame.


Anonymous said...

Another example of wasted taxpayers' dollars.

To/MS: Master Management
From/MS: Carolyn E. Zerkle, ADNHHO, MS K778
Phone/Fax: 5-6446/7-6440
Symbol: ADNHHO-07-182
Date: July 13, 2007

Subject: New Training Required for All Personnel

As announced on the July 12 "LINKS", all employees and contractors are required to complete new training on traffic safety related to Special Materials Convoys. This training is associated with a recently approved Transportation Safety Document (TSD), which eliminated the need for most road closures associated with transfer of hazardous material. The training is very important to complete as soon as possible because it describes the actions we all have to take when encountering a Special Materials Convoy.

Now how much has it cost LANL in overhead to generate this class on how to drive during material transportation? And how does this class apply to folks who come through the area but have never taken the class? Does every tourist have to show proof that they know how to drive when there's a materials convoy on the road?

This is waste, waste, waste. Do you suppose a TSM now costs $500,000 because of this?

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Thank you, 8:53. That was a beautiful example of the LANS SECURITY and SAFETY Snowflake machine in operation.


Anonymous said...

7:01 and 7:32 pm you hit the nail on the head. There have been many incidents at the lab that follow the same pattern that the laser-girl went through. Another one was the aqua regia postdoc who was also told her PI to something very dangerous as were the acid-inhalation technicians in DX-1. They all feared for their jobs and retaliation and did what may seem obvious to an experienced person that what they did was dangerous, but their PIs told them to do it. Are students, PDs, and techs expected to believe that their PI's are not subject matter experts? What about retaliation too. These people need letters and the like for jobs. Nothing happened to the PIs from either incident but the student has permanent eye damage and the PD and techs have permanent lung damage!

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

9:12, you are at least half full of shit. The Laser incident PI was fired, summarily, for his part in that particular screw up.

Nothing detracts more from a point than you are trying to make than having your facts wrong.

Aqua-regia girl, btw is another example of someone who needs to take at least partial responsibility for her actions. Her PI sounds like a complete, total, inexcusable piece of work, but ar-girl should have told her mentor to blow it out her ass instead of continuing to work in what she knew was an unsafe environment. She'll have the rest of her life to ponder that.


Anonymous said...

Oh, let's not forget the awarding of the RRW competition to LLNL.

Here's something that confuses me: wasn't the RRW budget zeroed out in both the house and senate budgets?

RRW went to LLNL...

So...why are we not hearing suggestions of massive layoffs at LLNL as an outcome of the budget reduction? Why is it only LANL and Sandia that will be affected???

Anonymous said...

7:32 here. Gotta disagree with 9:12.

Laser-girl and Aqua Regia-Girl are completely different. Laser-girl was a college student. Maybe she deserves a tiny bit of the blame. I bet, though, that while she was told to always wear glasses, her PI probably rolled his eyes and otherwise indicated that training was not to be respected.

AR-girl was a PD and therefore was a subject matter expert in her own right, and therefore had or should have had the relevant expertise.

Ironically, AR-girl makes her sound like a pirate, and therefore she should have an eye patch. Yet it is laser-girl who gets the eye patch.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion.

If I may observe, the PI for the laser-girl incident was Larry Creamer, and he was most definitely fired by Nanos shortly after the accident. That was on UC's watch.

The aqua-regia incident, on the other hand, occurred on LANS' watch, and the PI certainly did not get fired.

So much for safety accountability under LANS.

Anonymous said...


So...are you saying we need more safety?


PS: Are you a double dipper?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't aqua regia summer 2005?

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...



So...are you saying we need more safety?"


"PS: Are you a double dipper?"



Anonymous said...

Aqua regia occurred under Kuckuck (or however you spell it).

Anonymous said...

9:32 here.

My mistake re: the aqua regia incident. It did occur in 2005, which was really nobody's watch. Nanaos had been fired and was gone, and Kuckuck was just a smiley-face UC placeholder while the contract was being bid. There were no decisions of any import that were made at LANL during the summer of 2005.

Anonymous said...

Interesting thread.....

Cannot speak for the photon and chemical crowd, but when I went to LLNL as a summer student in the late '70s, the electrical safety of my mentors and bosses was pretty obvious.

They very much cared about safety, and for a young guy bit by the B+ line of vacuum tube power supplies more than I should have been, I was impressed.

However, it was clear they were operating in a region not explored in my hobby and college frame of reference. Putting 150KV on the plate of a tube was pretty novel, and scared the crap out of me. But I put faith in their procedures and guidance, and they had faith that I would follow their wisdom and advice.

It was a mutual relationship of shared knowledge, caring, and respect. Perhaps that is what is being lost...

Anonymous said...

The PI in the laser eye injury was Dave Cremers. Dave believed the laser Q-switch would disable the laser. Even experts can be wrong.
His Division Director, Al Sattleberger, was also removed over this incident and later left LANL.

The LANL laser safety program was openly criticized by the former Laser Safety Officer BEFORE the accident.


OK, bad enough that LANL management didn't act. But how many people know that nearly the exact same laser accident happened at Argonne a few months AFTER the LANL accident?


And, as I recall, a similar accident happened at NREL in the same time frame (does anyone have the reference?).

Could it just be that DOE is at fault? There is no dedicated funding from DOE getting to the working staff for safety training and engineered safety improvements? LANL staff often have to cut corners to get work done.

So how does it help when DOE hires LANS at a cost of $1B? LANL could have used this funding to improve safety in critical areas where real hazards exist. Real dollars to buy real safety improvements - not just the corporate CYA crap LANS brings. Convoy training indeed.

Anonymous said...

I work @ LLNL and we did everything we could do right and we are still going to end up like like our sister lab. This was all planned out yers ago. You could have done everything right and I'm willing to bet the same end result would have happened.

Feeling your pain at LLNL...Bruzer

Anonymous said...

Getting back to the subject at hand... yes, LANL is being positioned as Rocky Flats II. Neither DOE nor NNSA will come out and say this to any of you, as they want a smooth glide into the transition. When you think of LANL ten years from today, think of a place like SRL rather than the LANL you once knew. The politicans won't care about the changes as long as the jobs (whatever they are) remain plentiful. As for the multi-displinary science, it is scheduled for termination. You'll hear some cheerleading from guys like Terry, but it's all just window dressing to keep the remaining staff around for just a little bit longer. No new funding will be coming in to support any of Terry's dream world. That will become clear in the next few years. Salaries are going down, benefits are going to be reduced, and science is dieing at LANL. All great scientific institutions fade away at some point. Perhaps LANL's time has now arrived.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion.

If I may observe, the PI for the laser-girl incident was Larry Creamer, and he was most definitely fired by Nanos shortly after the accident. That was on UC's watch.

Get your facts right,Larry Creamer, my late father in law had nothing to do with that incident. He wasn't fired either, but if he had been he would of given that dip shit Nano's a stern lecture. That was the reason he left, he couldn't stand the man or what he was doing to LANL.To bad he's gone, took one more piece out of the backbone of the Lab.

Anonymous said...

Terry said the future of the lab is IS&T. Discuss.

Anonymous said...

Gussie (et al.) -- While your hypothesis fits various puzzle pieces together rather well, it seems to me that it also depends on a long-running, wide-spread conspiracy among people at DOE and UC (at least) to move LANL toward becoming (only) a pit-production plant.

How is it that such a conspiracy has survived all this time -- apparently since the long-lamented Nanos era, at least? Why has not someone involved outed it by now?

Given how improbable such a conspiracy would be, wouldn't an Occam's Razor approach to this issue be simple Brownian-motion bumbling by DOE and others?

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...


We certainly can't discount "Brownian-motion DOE bumbling" (nice phrase). However we can't discount how well the observed events fit the hypothesis that this is a planned sequence, either.

Not everyone in DOE is stupid. Most of them, maybe, but not all of them. Bodman, for example, is not stupid. He is a malicious industrialist in his own right. Check out this little synopsis of Bodman from Wikipedia:

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Bodman passed his early years in Tallmadge, Ohio, before he graduated in 1961 with a B.S. in chemical engineering from Cornell University. He was a member of Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity and the prestigious Sphinx Head Society. In 1965, he completed his Sc.D. in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For the next six years he served as an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and began his work in the financial sector as Technical Director of the American Research and Development Corporation, a venture capital firm.

From there, Secretary Bodman went to Fidelity Venture Associates, a division of the Fidelity Investments. In 1983 he was named President and Chief Operating Officer of Fidelity Investments and a Director of the Fidelity Group of Mutual Funds. In 1987, he joined Cabot Corporation, a Boston-based Fortune 300 company with global business activities in specialty chemicals and materials, where he served as Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and a Director. Cabot is one of the largest processors of coltan in the world, a driving force behind the Second Congo War, which has claimed more lives than any other conflict since World War 2. The UN Panel of Experts named Cabot Co. for conducting unethical business practices in the Congo. Cabot. Over the years, he has been a Director of many other publicly owned corporations.

Bodman is a former Director of M.I.T.'s School of Engineering Practice and a former member of the M.I.T. Commission on Education. He also served as a member of the Executive and Investment Committees at M.I.T., a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and a Trustee of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the New England Aquarium.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update on Bodman.

I used to think that there had to be a conspiracy.

Here is a scenario that gets the same results but without a conspiracy.

Congress tries to lessen political pressure on itself by putting the LANL and Livermore contracts out to bid.

Campaign contributions, forbidden to UC, would now come in from companies.

A person at DOE is told to take a day and come up with a plan to reduce pension costs.

There is little political support anymore for nuclear weapons since the cold war is over. Many constituencies want the nuclear weapons money for something else. For instance, the military wants it for what they consider real weapons.

The people at DOE, congress, etc. do not care about real science.

Scientists do not make their case well to politicians.

This small set of assumptions (and possibly similar different sets) yield the observed results but without the need for a conspiracy.

The workings are the workings of the prisoner's dilemma.


Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Thanks, 7:58, but unless I'm missing something, your scenario does not explain why Bechtel, UC & pals won the contract rather than the Lockheed team. In my opinion, the Lockheed bid package was superior to the Bechtel team's, and as was noted earlier, UC's past performance should have given a competitor with even an equivalent bid package the necessary advantage to win.


Anonymous said...

I have strong hypotheses about why Bechtel bid and even about why Lockheed's bid information got burned up in the fire in Albuquerque.

The rationale for LANS's win appears to be very political in a military-industrial-academic-congress complex sense. There are deals that would be highly secret and that would work for the major players. One of these deals could be to use UC-Bechtel to start to shut down the weapons complex while building buildings in Iraq and other places and repaying political debts to California Republicans. Given the lack of thought put into the pension and benefit plan, who knows what the real answer might be.

I do not have facts to support any of my hypotheses. I have looked for them though.

Anonymous said...

I have hypotheses but few facts.

The stakes and deals in the LANS win are far above my pay scale.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, the LANS win represents a couple of chips in a poker game whose pot is worth at least $100,000,000,000 over the next ten years.

Determining the other chips in this game is hard work.

Anonymous said...

Minor contribution to support the theory of turning us into Rocky Flats:

A source in a weapons materials group tell me that they are being pressured to no longer pursue basic science in understanding uranium and plutonium, and to only solve specific engineering problems. To paraphrase, "They don't care about science anymore." This pressure has really come about since LANS took over. This source is reliable.

--Without pursuing science of these materials, we will not be able to carry out stockpile stewardship in any real way and will be entering an era of "faith-based" weapons. Rocky Flats, here we come.


John Fleck said...

Gussie -

A little late to the party, but here's the background supporting the numbers I used:

The 900 number comes directly from Sandia's own analysis, which they summarized in a memo sent to all staff. That same memo cites a reduction of $180 million in the '08 House budget as compared with the '07 actual. That's consistent with my own line-by-line comparison of the budget and the bill, so I'm reasonably confident that the numbers are in the ballpark.

Los Alamos's is a bit more tricky, because the lab hasn't released its own analysis. The "$500 million cut" being bandied about is based on a comparison to the president's budget request, rather than the '07 actual. If we're talking about the potential for job losses, that's the wrong starting point for a calculation. What matters there is the '07 number. Since the lab hasn't released its own internal analysis, we're left to our own devices here. Several of us have gone through line-by-line trying to figure this out, and, depending on the assumptions we make, we've come up with '07-'08 cuts at Los Alamos of $236 million to $320 million under the House mark. I'm confident in saying that makes the Los Alamos job losses greater than those at Sandia, but with no vetted number in hand beyond my own chicken scratchings and spreadsheets, I don't have a job loss number for Los Alamos that I'm comfortable putting into the newspaper.

Don't expect LANL cuts + Sandia cuts to add up to to the overall $396 million cut. There's lots of other pluses and minuses in there that for other sites that I don't begin to understand. Remember that the appropriations bill itself allocates by program rather than by site, so determining how it plays out across all the DOE sites is a tricky business.

Hope this is helpful. I've been trying to get the best publicly available analysis of the numbers into my stories and my blog, as there seems to be great interest in this among my lab friends and neighbors.

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Good stuff, John. Thanks for the info, it really is appreciated.


Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Based on John Fleck's info, a quick ball-bark estimate of job cuts at LANL in fy08 would be roughly 270/180 X 900 or about 1,400 job cuts.

Basis: $180 million reduction at SNL, $270 million at LANL (splitting the difference between John's estimates of LANL budget reduction), and assuming the FTE and other budget overhead costs between SNL and LANL are equivalent (they are not).


Anonymous said...

4 things I would like to comment on:

1) The first thing I was told when walking into a chem laser room at LANL in 1994 was: You should be wearing eye-wear, but we dont have any, and it isnt dangerous so lets continue on.

2) I do believe that the kid is responsible for her actions.. but I have also seen some PI's promote stupid things to impress their summer wards (especially if female...) Being told to disregard security and safety rules seemed to be a standard action when talking to other students about what their mentors told them. [Safety and security are there to get in the way of our work. And look at this neat trick you can do with liquid nitrogen.]

3) From my time at SNL, the cost per FTE was about 2/3->3/4 of a LANL FTE depending on what they were doing. Since a large percentage of SNL's work is WFO they manage those costs. The issue comes down is that there is a real FTE cost and the average cost. 900 average FTE slots might be eliminated but it could really be 500 or 1200 depending on what groups are figured to be less than essential.

4) SNL was always very open about what business costs could occur, and alerting people that they needed to a) see if they could find WFO to make up for losses or b) be ready for layoffs if that occurs. I think that relative open-ness will make sure that if the cuts occur, that SNL will make up for most it with WFO that is classified but not Nukes. [And no DOE/NNSA doesnt like that]

Anonymous said...

Poster 7:58 AM has it about right, to my thinking. No grand conspiracy is needed. We are on a gradient descent to a "solution" which is being generated, as we sit here, by NNSA. Ideally, NNSA would love to have their grand complex 2030 facilities with a Pit Factory out at Nevada. It's not going to happen due to budgetary constraints. The backup plan, then, is to do the Pit Factory at LANL. Congress will allow this, but it will want to see that the funding for this comes out of other areas (see "Weapons Budget"). When this story finishes playing out in about 10 years, LANL will primarily be responsible for pits. Any other science that gets done will be minimized. That's the path on which we are headed.