Aug 13, 2007

LANL Manager Avoided $88M Fine

Sunday, August 12, 2007
By Raam Wong, Journal Northern Bureau

SANTA FE— An oversight during last year's change in management at Los Alamos National Laboratory may have helped the contractor that now runs the lab avoid a multi-million-dollar fine.
The Department of Energy's contract with Los Alamos National Security LLC inadvertently omitted some of the agency's own directives concerning the handling of classified material.
One congressman called the omissions a potential "get-out-of-jail-free card" for the lab.
Last month, DOE issued a notice stating that LANS violated directives in connection with an October 2006 incident in which a lab contract worker took home classified documents.
The lab may have dodged a huge bullet: The total maximum fine for all of the violations was $88 million, according to the notice.
The contract has since been updated to include financial penalties for violations of security directives.
Documents taken from the lab by Jessica Quintana— which were discovered during a police drug raid on her Los Alamos mobile home targeting her roommate— concerned the design of nuclear weapons and the methodologies for testing nuclear weapons of the United States and its allies.
In the months after the security breach, LANS asserted that it should not be fined for violating the security directives cited by DOE, according to a footnote in the DOE's notice of violation.
LANS maintained that its contract didn't include the security directives and that the contract instead referred to predecessor DOE orders that did not call for penalties.
It's not clear whether the lab's argument held water with the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nation's weapons labs. But in any case, LANS wasn't fined for violating the security rules that were supposed to be in the contract.
The agency's violation notice states that because "NNSA has decided not to impose any penalties" for violating the security directives, the question of whether the lab can be fined for them is "moot."
The NNSA did propose a $300,000 fine for LANS, but for a violation related to the longstanding Atomic Energy Act, not the security measures missing from the contract.
NNSA also is proposing to fine the University of California, the lab's former manager, $3 million.
Even though the Quintana incident took place several months after the June 2006 transfer of the lab's management from the university to LANS, NNSA said UC bore significant responsibility for the evolution of "longstanding deficiencies" the lab's handling of classified information.
NNSA decided to fine LANS on just one violation of the Atomic Energy Act, according to the notice, in recognition of the proactive way in which the lab responded to the Quintana incident.
DOE officials have also noted that LANS was only on the job for a few months before the incident occurred.
Lab spokesman Kevin Roark said Thursday that LANS plans to pay the $300,000 fine soon.

DOE orders
DOE left its security directives out of the LANS contract despite the fact that the Los Alamos operating contract was put out to bid in part because years of embarrassing security and safety lapses under the old management, the University of California.
UC had run the Los Alamos lab since it was created to build the first atomic bomb during World War II.
UC remains involved in Los Alamos operations as part of LANS, a private consortium that also includes Bechtel and other corporations.
The security directives— known as the 470.4 series manuals— were issued in recent years to codify DOE's requirements for protecting classified documents.
NNSA spokesman John Broehm said the manuals could have been left out of the contract due to the complexity of switching managers for the first time in the lab's history.
"Unfortunately, the manuals in question were not included during this transfer," Broehm said in a statement to the Journal. "Once the omission was discovered, they were immediately included and the new contract was updated." The updates were made in January.
The manuals did not include significant new security requirements, Broehm said. Rather, they alerted contractors of NNSA's authority to impose fines for violating security procedures.
The oversight brought criticism in April during a congressional hearing.
"This committee was disturbed to learn just this week that the Department of Energy apparently forgot to put legal requirements in its contract with the lab operator," said Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee's oversight subcommittee.
Stupak said he feared the omission would hand LANS a "get-out-of-jail-free card."
Last month, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman sent the NNSA a memo stating that one of the lessons learned from the episode is the need to ensure that DOE directives are "incorporated in the applicable contracts and subcontracts."
He goes on to say that leaving out references to these directives may limit DOE's ability to hold contractors accountable.

Journal staff writer John Fleck contributed to this report


Anonymous said...

Much of this back and forth strikes me as political theater not as substance.

For instance, if DOE fines UC and Bechtel substantially and UC and Bechtel decide not to contract with DOE, then things get dramatically worse for DOE.

DOE would have to use Lockheed (which has more infractions) or put the LANL contract out for bid again. Remember that there were no other bidders.

On the other hand DOE could run LANL, LLNL, LBL, etc. directly. DOE has never done that before and does not have the manpower to run any of these places.

So, it seems that, in this game of high stakes poker, the contractors hold the good cards.

What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

Didn't LM head a bid for LANL?

Anonymous said...

The only thing missing is the additional fact that DOE regulates itself in the areas of safety and security. An obvious conflict of interest, especially give DOE took the money for LANS management fee from the LANL budget as opposed to out of the DOE budget.

How about a streamlining of the contract... give the M&O contractor a flat annual 5% fee for running the lab (cost plus contract, on top of the annual lab budget and taken out of DOE's budget), allow them to do whatever they want with the money, give responsibility for safety oversight to OSHA and security oversight to Homeland Security, and then not shield the M&O from fines (but contractually bar them from taking it out of the lab's operating budget).

Anonymous said...

Two things:

1. What company would bid on the Lab under the terms of 7:21's suggestion?

2. Once you abstract away certain details, the method of running LANL at the moment has interesting echoes in Karl Menninger's 1968 book "The Crime of Punishment", Viking Press.

Anonymous said...

If this is political theater, it's a tragedy not a comedy. And this is no game either. Poker? Maybe 6:57AM needs to stop drinking the water. Rich that you?

Anonymous said...

How about just shutting down the place? The world would be better off. The taxpayer would be better off. Hell, New Mexico would be better off! Los Alamos has just grown to smug and arrogant to manage effectively and if we want to be honest about it, except for it now being a welfare program for the wealthy, what else is the Lab useful for anymore? Not much.

Anonymous said...


Please, give us a break.

The lab is tremendously important to the nation. As pointed out time and
time again LANL is the largest science laboratory in the United States.
Shutting it down would be an absolute duster for our nation on so many levels.
We have gone over this before many times. By making statements like
"New Mexico would be better off without Los Alamos" it proves how incredibly
naive you really are. Why do you say the taxpayer would be better off?
LANL is 2B a year and we are the most productive government laboratory in the nation. This is borne out in the publication record and citation records. There are innumerable high impact basic science accomplishments that have been done at LANL. Really you need to get some facts straight about LANL compared to the other DOE labs, NASA, military labs and so on. You say "LANL is welfare for the wealthy". I say prove it! In any case LANL will not be shut down so you are just wasting your breath.

By the way poster 8:46pm, what is your real agenda? I take it you are one the people who got fired from the lab because you are utterly incompetent?

Anonymous said...

8:46PM must have left the Elvis. Don't see the post.

Anonymous said...

Why, exactly, should the country give a fuck about publications and citations and basic science? How many, exactly, citations are worth $2B per year?

How about you build some weapons and not give Osama the plans. For a change.

Anonymous said...

BTW, can you think of one person who was fired from LANL for incompetence? Ever.

(And the non-conversion of a post-doc does not count. That is not a firing.)

I can think of no cases of someone being fired for incompetence in my ~15 years.

Anonymous said...


Nope. One of the LANL employees who most deserved to be fired for incompetence was Nanos. Instead he was rewarded for his performance with a golden parachute and a transfer to DTRA.

Anonymous said...

" Why, exactly, should the country give a fuck about publications and citations and basic science? How many, exactly, citations are worth $2B per year?

How about you build some weapons and not give Osama the plans. For a change."

Can we have a rule that your IQ needs to be above 80 before you can post? It would get rid some of the dribble like the above posting.

I thought that back 1994 they did fire some people. Mechels?

Anonymous said...

OK, so explain in small words so my sub-80 IQ can understand: Why should the US taxpayer spend hard earned money on your precious citations. Universities do it better and cheaper.

And the 1994 RIF is your example of firing people for incompetence???

Anonymous said...

"BTW, can you think of one person who was fired from LANL for incompetence? Ever."

agreed. i have been shocked and disillusioned several times in my brief tenure at LANL to see "scientists" not be fired- for not only blatant incompetence, but also hateful, academically criminal, and dangerous behavior.

one postdoc falsified data to get converted, and once the lies were discovered, no action was taken against that person, even though the data falsification resulted in a PI being forced to retract a paper from a prestigious journal.

one (unfunded) TSM was made group leader during stand-down, and this TSM went power/revenge-crazy and started issuing ridiculous requirements that made everyone less safe. although he was ultimately removed from his GL position due to massive protests about this person to management, he was eventually given a promotion.

i guess one can only be fired for a safety or security lapse-- unless, of course, one is in top management.

Anonymous said...

"Department of Energy apparently forgot to put legal requirements in its contract with the lab operator,"


Bechtel agreed to help DOE turn LANL into a pit factory. In return, DOE agreed to protect Becthel's pet LLC.

End of story.

Anonymous said...

Heck, what did you think our local DOE/NNSA office would do, actually prepare/support a contract that was worth something? My god, they are the root of most of our problems. The micromanagement and absolute lack of support compared to the support LLNL gets from their site office is incredible!

Anonymous said...

8/13/07 6:30 PM I must disagree with your assertion that people are not fired from LANL. Case in point, there was a PD in chemistry division who was fired for telling the Lab officials about abuse and mistreatment by her mentor and being forced by her mentor - and I use the term loosely - to work with strong acids in a Lab with inoperable ventillation. Her advisor was initially (and rightly) put on investigatory leave but when she came back she retaliated against the PD by removing the PD from papers that she legally had a claim to be first author on. The TSM got to keep her job despite a disregard for safety and her open retaliation against the PD. The PD got unjustly fired so don't tell me that people don't get fired from LANL!!! The PDs at LANL are the only ones who actually do any work and they suffer greatly from the abuse of the TSMs at this institution.

Anonymous said...

8:58 - but not fired for incompetence, though?

K. Boland said...

8/13/07 8:58 PM:
You can repeat a lie as many times as you want, but it will never, ever, become true. The facts in this case are well documented, and do not resemble your account.
Perhaps it is time to stop wallowing in self pity and get on with your life.

Doc Aq? Not! said...

K Boland has just made the comment of the week.

Note to PD: referring to yourself in the third person all the time is just plain creepy. Get some therapy.

Anonymous said...

When people keep making mistakes in "their favor" I begin to think they're not really mistakes.

Anonymous said...

What the heck are you talking about 3:46 AM?