Oct 31, 2007

A bet

I'll make a bet to anyone out there who is naive enough to take me up on it. I say that there will be no substantive action from DOE, NNSA, Congress or LANS in regards to this latest publicly-exposed bit of corruption and ineptness at LANL, the KSL business.

I anticipate there will be some more Congressional chest-thumping histrionics, a la Stupak and Barton, and maybe a mid-level manager or two might get fired at LANL or KSL, although I doubt it. Anastasio will receive another public chewing out, after which LANS will receive it's full $79 million award fee for this year.

LANS will make a great public show of whipping KSL into place, accomplishing nothing beyond introducing more crippling bureaucratic process into the system, and then they will declare success, again. Remember, Roark has already said that the KSL problem has been fixed.

Any takers?


Science in the Nuclear Weapons Complex Transformation

John Fleck just sent me this, with the following note:

Of possible interest to a wider audience than the tiny handful of people who read my Journal blog:


Thanks, John.



Written by John Fleck Wednesday, 31 October 2007

When I was working over the last week on this morning's story on the National Nuclear Security Administration's "Complex Transformation," there was an interesting subtext that didn't make it into the story, but that is worth fleshing out in a bit more detail here.

It's the question of the future of science at the labs.

Both Los Alamos and Sandia are fundamentally research institutions, but they both have long been involved, to greater or lesser degrees, in nuclear weapons manufacturing as well.

Back in the 1990s, when the Cold War ended and the federal government was trying to figure out how to shrink the footprint of its massive nuclear weapons complex, both Sandia and Los Alamos picked up production missions that used to be done at weapons factories that were being closed. Sandia, for example, now makes little gizmos called "neutron generators" for U.S. nuclear weapons. The plant that used to make them, Pinellas in Florida, was closed. Los Alamos, meanwhile, took over the manufacture of beryllium parts once made at Rocky Flats, outside Denver.

Most importantly, Los Alamos has picked up interim responsibility for making plutonium pits, which were also made at Rocky Flats. One of the big issue hanging fire right now is the question of whether that interim job because a permanent assignment. Major infrastructure spending decisions hang on the answer to that question.

The interface between research and weapons manufacturing has always been an uncomfortable one, and that issue is lurking behind the current discussion about the "transformation" of the nuclear weapons complex. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., issued a statement to me yesterday about the subject. It didn't make the story, but it's worth sharing:

I have had initial briefings with the NNSA, and I have stressed to the NNSA that strong investment in the scientific capabilities of our labs must be included in any long-term plan to reform and manage the complex. This new plan must also involve a long-term evaluation of our nonproliferation capabilities of the national labs. We cannot forget the importance of science facilities and the important role advanced computing has had on our stockpile stewardship program. I have encouraged the DOE to improve its vision for investing in scientific research and advanced computing at our national laboratories which will put them in the best position to excel in the future.

Clearly Domenici, guardian of the labs, thinks an emphasis on science is important, and must be included in the final plan that when it comes out in November or December.

I didn't put it in the story because I'm not sure what, in practice, it might mean in terms of the NNSA's proposal. But it will be worth watching how NNSA, in its proposal, characterizes the role of science in the labs' futures.

You don't want to miss this one

Nuclear Weapons Program's successful FY '07 celebrated

October 31, 2007

Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Tom D'Agostino, DOE under secretary for Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administration administrator, join Marty Schoenbauer, principal assistant deputy administrator for operations at NNSA, and management from across the nuclear weapons complex in celebrating a successful fiscal year 2007 for the nuclear weapons program.

The event, hosted by the Pantex Plant, will be broadcast across the complex today at 9:30 a.m. MDT. It can be viewed on LABNET Channel 9 and on desktop computers using Real Media Stream and IPTV technology.

Getting an eyeful

Somebody at HQ is catching up on their morning reading.

Click an image to enlarge.

Lab-contractor laxity

Santa Fe New Mexican Editorial

Editorial: Lab-contractor laxity in the past? Right ...

Yesterday's front-page news is no such thing to hundreds of the Northern New Mexicans who've worked for subcontractors at Los Alamos National Laboratory, nor to anyone else up there:

The largest of those "subs," KSL Services, is under investigation for, to put it mildly, running a sloppy operation. To hear high-paid lab spokespeople covering posteriors public-relationswise, the report from the federal Energy Department's Office of Inspector General should be seen solely in past tense: We've already taken steps to resolve the problems.

What problems? Oh, like an employee putting in for 35 hours of work repairing concrete steps that already had been repaired. Or those guys sleeping in their trucks, but still managing to put those hours on the company's tab. Or double-charging LANL, and the grateful taxpayers supporting it, for electrical wire. And, often, charging 20 percent over a project's cost estimate.

All part of doing business with Uncle Sugar? Or inadvertent lapses which, henceforth, won't happen?

Don't bet on the latter, even though the report is further fodder for the flinty-eyed members of Congress who've supplanted our state's long-generous Sen. Pete Domenici as the lab's budgetmasters. The amount of work done by the private outfits on "the Hill," and the amount billed, were at odds long before KSL entered the scene nearly five years ago. Many a hardworking and capable New Mexican, once on the payroll of a lab subcontractor, is somehow encouraged to, uh, take it easy.

What didja do at work today? Oh, I moved a two-by-four from one building to another one. Tomorrow they'll prob'ly tell me to move it back ... The guy no doubt is exaggerating — but what with indecisive bosses and those seeking to squeeze maximum profits out of their contracts, there's lots of slippage, followed by balance-sheet scrambling to make up for it.

Lab critics are calling for criminal charges — and, considering KSL's connections with Bush administration pals, such a reaction is understandable. But proving intent to defraud might be difficult, if not impossible.

Instead, New Mexicans and their fellow Americans should be glad inspectors are on top of the situation — and that the lab itself has at least taken over responsibility for estimating project costs.

Overcoming a six-decades-old culture of arrogance, and fallout in managerial shoddiness, isn't easy. Lab director Michael Anastasio last year waded into a maelstrom of inherited problems he's doing his best to clear away with congressional kibitzers all over his back.

If, as his public-relations folks claim, the situation already has been taken care of, we expect to see that reflected next time the Inspector General pays a visit.

Bush Plan May Cut Nuke Jobs

ABQ Journal
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bush Plan May Cut Nuke Jobs

By John Fleck, Journal Staff Writer

The Bush administration is readying a plan that could cut 6,000 to 9,000 jobs from the U.S. nuclear weapons complex over the next decade.

The cuts, along with a reduction of one-third in the complex's square footage, would be spread across the eight U.S. sites that design, build and maintain U.S. nuclear weapons— including Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

Specifics, including details of the proposed changes at individual sites, remain under wraps. But officials have begun talking publicly about the process in recent weeks.

The plan would upgrade the labs and factories, creating a smaller and more modern complex. In the process, the government would replace buildings that in some cases are half a century old, said David Campbell, director of congressional, intergovernmental and public affairs for the National Nuclear Security Administration.

None of the eight sites would be closed, Campbell said.

The cost of maintaining the aging Cold War complex continues to rise, but the federal budget for the work is not keeping pace, Campbell said.

"It's pretty clear that our budgets will not be going up," Campbell said.

The plan assumes the federal agency will continue to maintain U.S. nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. "NNSA's mission is not going away," Campbell said. "We have a duty, a responsibility to maintain the stockpile, make it secure and reliable."

Integral to the plan is the elimination of some 600 buildings at the eight nuclear weapon sites and a cut of 20 percent to 30 percent in the complex's 32,000-person work force.

Campbell would not talk about specific plans at the individual sites, but did say that the job cuts would not necessarily be shared evenly among them.

"Not every site will go down 20 to 30 percent," Campbell said. "Those are things that need to be worked out."

More than 13,000 people are directly employed at Los Alamos and Sandia labs in the nuclear weapons program. A cut of 20 percent would mean the loss of more than 2,600 jobs in New Mexico.

The planning effort, dubbed "Complex Transformation," is the latest episode in a saga that dates to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

At the time, the United States maintained an arsenal of more than 20,000 nuclear warheads and bombs designed to counter the Soviet threat. Today, that has dropped to about 5,500, with further reductions planned.

A year ago, the National Nuclear Security Administration unveiled a proposal it called "Complex 2030"— a proposal for creating a new nuclear weapons research and manufacturing complex over the next two-plus decades.

This year's plan builds on the ideas developed for Complex 2030, but the focus has changed to look at what can be accomplished in the next decade, Campbell said. To that end, the "2030" has been dropped from the name. The project is now called simply "Complex Transformation."

One Complex 2030 idea still being considered is the need to consolidate work with plutonium and other potentially dangerous nuclear materials at a small number of sites.

Currently, such material is spread across seven separate sites around the country, driving up security costs.

Earlier efforts to create a post-Cold War nuclear weapons complex have seen mixed success. In January 1991, in the waning days of the Cold War, then-Energy Secretary James Watkins issued a report outlining what he called "Complex-21"— a network of labs and factories that "would be smaller, less diverse, and less expensive to operate than the Complex of today."

Part of what Watkins proposed, including the closure of some weapons plants, was completed. But the biggest piece of the puzzle— what to do with plutonium processing and manufacturing— has remained an unresolved problem as new leadership repeatedly abandons old ideas and launches new planning processes in their place, government documents show.

Campbell said the current team is trying to come up with a plan that will survive a change in leadership in Washington, D.C. "We're trying to do this in a way that's sustainable for the future," he said, "that's sustainable for administrations beyond this one."

An NNSA spokesman said details of the plan, including impacts on each of the eight sites, will be released in late November or December.

Facing cuts
Sites affected by proposed nuclear weapons complex cuts:
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico— design and manufacturing
  • Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico— design and manufacturing
  • Kansas City Plant, Missouri— manufacturing
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California— design
  • Nevada Test Site, Nevada— testing
  • Y-12, Tennessee— manufacturing
  • Pantex, Texas— assembly and disassembly
  • Savannah River Site, South Carolina— nuclear processing and storage

Oct 30, 2007

Wednesday Edition

Lotsa good comments coming in. Here's today's pick, from the This one summarizes the KSL business nicely post.



I am one of those who complained to the IG after I complained to my GL (more times than I count) and he complained to his DL(FWO) who ignored/swept it under the rug (more times than he could count). Lots of folks posting to this blog have said that this type of stuff has been going on since Zia days.Maybe but not like KSL....KSL has raised it to a level that is ...the only word I can come up with is criminal. People from both KSL and LANS should go to prison. This not a union thing.This is not a craft thing. This is not a Facility coordinator, engineering, programatic or facility thing. It is a senior level KSL and senior level LANS/LANL/MSS/FM/FWO thing. KSL should fired along with a few current LANS managers. This stuff has been going on for a long time, lots of folks have reported it and were ignored. I suspect this will blow over just like everthing else and every other time

Comment of the Week, Tuesday Edition

IN case you don't have time to dig through all the latest news and comments, this one nicely summarizes what LANS has been up to lately, from the The Decline and Fall of a Nuclear Weapons Laboratory? post:



Let's see if we can tally up the score for LANS just from today's breaking news. It appears as if LANS has

1) been cooking the books on safety and security stats since they took over,
2) been operating TA-55 outside of industry-standard criticality safety limits, and
3) been colluding with other managers over at KSL to continue a long-held tradition of over-charging DOE for work performed (or not performed, as the case may be).

Yep, no doubt about it: LANS is here for the long haul -- DOE picked the kind of contractor they feel comfortable with: corrupt and inept.

This one summarizes the KSL business nicely

A summary from the Washington Post.

More Troubles at Los Alamos

The management of Los Alamos National Laboratory is being questioned again. See the story in today's Washington Post by my colleague Dana Hedgpeth.

The lab, one of the largest science centers in the world, came under fire not long ago for lax security after investigators discovered more than 1,000 pages of classified documents and computer storage devices in a personal trailer occupied by a subcontractor who once worked as an archivist at the lab.

Now the inspector general at the Department of Energy -- which has responsibility for Los Alamos -- is alleging that a contractor working under a deal worth up to nearly $800 million has systematically charged the government more for work than its estimates.

The report by IG Gregory H. Friedman says that KSL Services Joint Venture, which provides an array of maintenance and other services, charged the government more than its estimates about 75 percent of the time, "often by significant amounts."

Auditors found that the lab's work control system, known as PassPort, allowed charges to be added without the knowledge of lab officials. Such work, labeled "Other Costs" in the system, added up to $41 million last year.

"The Department of Energy, directly or indirectly, paid or will pay all of these charges, the source being taxpayer-provided funds," the Oct. 25 report said.

KSL Services Joint Venture was formed by Kellogg Brown and Root Inc., Shaw Infrastructure Inc., and Los Alamos Technical Associates Inc.

"The Office of Inspector General received multiple complaints alleging irregularities by KSL in cost estimating and charging of work orders. It was alleged that actual costs frequently exceeded estimated costs and that KSL often mischarged labor and materials," the report said. "Our work substantiated the allegations."

By Robert O'Harrow | October 30, 2007; 6:59 AM ET ffrdc

Energy Dept. Audit Finds Overcharges On Contracts

I have every confidence that the internal lab audit will fix everything.



Washington Post Article

Alleged 'Padding' By KBR Affiliate

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 30, 2007; Page D01

The Los Alamos National Laboratory paid millions of dollars in questionable charges to a contractor affiliated with KBR, according to a recent audit by the Energy Department's inspector general.

In three-quarters of the "work order tasks" analyzed from the last two years, the inspector general found cost overruns of 20 percent or more. The inspector general examined 94,561 cases.

KBR was formerly known as Kellogg, Brown and Root.

In several cases, the contractor -- KSL Services Joint Venture, which was formed by KBR, Shaw Infrastructure and Los Alamos Technical Associates -- put estimates of 1 cent into a computerized payment system as a "place holder," according to a report by Gregory H. Friedman, the Energy Department's inspector general. For example, one work order actually totaled $101,978.08.

Eight of 10 managers at the Los Alamos lab whom auditors talked to said "estimates are overrun a fair amount of the time" or "estimates are overrun consistently," the report said.

KBR spokeswoman Heather Browne disagreed with the findings. She said that before the report came out, "KSL Services worked with LANL to implement new processes and procedures designed to address many of the issues raised in the report."

KSL was awarded a contract in February 2003 valued at nearly $800 million over five years, under which it provides mechanical and site-support services such as repairing doors, fixing plumbing and maintaining landscaping.

The University of California and Bechtel have a $2 billion contract with the Energy Department to run the laboratory. The facility recently has experienced several security lapses, lost computer drives and contracting problems. KSL operates under a subcontract to the lab.

The inspector general's report also found substantial problems with KSL overcharging for labor and materials.

In one case, $10,191 was paid for more than twice the amount of electrical wire that a job needed. In another instance, a nuclear safety engineer charged $4,900 on a job, triple the expected cost. In working on patching cracks on a loading dock, a foreman charged three hours to the work order -- more than four months before the job being done. And one KSL employee charged eight hours for re-gluing carpet tiles, a job that only took him 15 minutes to finish, according to the report.

Another $9,780 was paid for work to upgrade fire alarms that was never done. Lab officials told auditors that charges for labor and material were "questionable, inappropriate, excessive, or unsupported based on their knowledge of the work performed," the inspector general said.

Auditors were told of inappropriate timekeeping charges, work orders being submitted by people who did not work on them, unapproved overtime charges and other unexplained charges.

An official at the lab said that "when KSL workers have no work to do, they are being subsidized, and work order 'padding' is common," the report said.

The lab's computerized billing system, called PassPort, had a category called "Other Costs" that allowed KSL to recover up to $20,000 a year in unanticipated costs. But the costs reached $41 million last year and were already over $14 million by the end of May 2007, according to the inspector general's report, and it was unclear what the lab had paid for.

The lab is also conducting an internal audit of the KSL contract.

Oct 29, 2007

The Decline and Fall of a Nuclear Weapons Laboratory?

Another bit sent in today by a reader.



October 29, 2007

Action Alert #79

(Subscription information is at the bottom. Please forward to others if you wish.)

1. Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in a world of hurt
2. Weekly seminar seminar series in Santa Fe and Albuquerque announced
3. Please consider renewing your financial support of the Los Alamos Study Group
(You can contribute by credit card or electronic check here.)

This week: "Los Alamos in Crisis -- The Decline and Fall of a Nuclear Weapons Laboratory?"

Dear colleagues and friends –

1. LANL is in a world of hurt.

Questions of policy aside, right now I would like to alert you to just two of the latest ways LANL is hurting. There are obviously more; for an overview of the current crisis at LANL please consider coming to the public discussions to be held on Wednesday and Thursday of this week in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, about which more below.

First, today the Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General (IG) released a blockbuster report detailing widespread overcharging by LANL's principal subcontractor KSL, partnership of former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), the Shaw Group, and Los Alamos Technical Associates (LATA). (KBR became independent of Halliburton in April of this year.) The dollar amounts being questioned by the IG are in the tens of millions of dollars annually. Clearly many people at KSL and LANL have been involved, including managers. The overcharging has been going on a long time and both the University of California (UC) and Los Alamos National Security (LANS) have known about it. The problems -- not all of which are in the IG report -- are not yet corrected.

Second, most fissile material operations at the plutonium facility in TA-55, including pit production, have been suspended since late September pending further reviews of criticality safety. Some of the pertinent details and history are available at the Study Group web site, here. Congressional staff have been briefed since then, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is investigating the situation further. The production shut-down may extend until January 2008, combined with a two-month outage previously planned, or else there may be a brief operational restart this fall, depending on resolution of some of the issues involved.

More broadly, LANS has now admitted that LANL's TA-55 nuclear facility has been operating outside accepted nuclear industry safety standards. In our view the nuclear safety situation at LANL is not improving and may be getting worse.

These two issues, both of which have deep roots, comprise just a fraction of the serious management and policy issues LANL is now facing.


See http://www.lasg.org/ActionAlerts/ActionAlerts2007.htm#AA79 for the rest of the article.

Newsflash! KSL overcharges for work done at LANL!

This was sent in by a reader (thanks, reader, and thanks in advance for letting us "borrow" it, John). Read the DOE IG report here.



Hi Gussie!

From John Fleck's blog: ( http://www.abqjournal.com/abqnews/content/view/5334/31/ ):

A new report out today alleges overbilling by KSL, the main support ...
... services contractor at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The report, from the DOE's Office of Inspector General, found procedures that allowed KSL to bill $41 million in 2006 without the knowledge or approval of the Los Alamos officials who were supposed to oversee the company's work. Investigators also found a regular pattern of projects coming in substantially over budget. "Again," the IG's report pointedly notes, "the Department of Energy, directly or indirectly, paid or will pay these charges, the source being taxpayer-provided funds."

KSL is a joint venture of Shaw Group, Los Alamos Technical Associates and KBR. Its contract is worth an estimated $800 million over five years.

Imagine, KSL overbilling! And remind us again, KBR is a branch of what large, infamous company?

Welcome to the club, PNNL

From this story, it looks like the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is going to get to start playing the "DOE no WFO" game. I believe we're beginning to see a pattern...



New PNNL contract would restrict private work

Oct 25, 9:49 PM EDT
Associated Press Writer

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) -- A provision that allows the contractor managing Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to conduct research for private companies will be removed from the next contract, under a draft request for proposals released by the federal government Thursday.

Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit group based in Columbus, Ohio, has managed and operated the national science laboratory in south-central Washington since its inception in 1965. The laboratory had a business volume of $765 million in 2007.

An estimated 10 percent of that work was for private companies under a "special-use permit" approved by the U.S. Department of Energy under each contract since 1965. The permit allows Battelle to use government-owned facilities to conduct outside work.

In a statement announcing the draft request for proposals Thursday, the department said it would eliminate the special-use permit to foster competition through a "level playing field" and to better align the new laboratory contract with other contracts in the Energy Department's complex. The draft will be open for comments through Dec. 10.

Members of Washington's congressional delegation immediately criticized the proposal, arguing it could result in layoffs and cripple the laboratory.

"The use permit is responsible for 300-400 jobs at PNNL alone, and has led to job and business creation in the Tri-Cities and across our state. It should not be summarily ended as this draft proposes," read a joint statement by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Norm Dicks, both Democrats, and Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, whose district includes the laboratory.

Battelle has operated the laboratory under a series of extended contracts since 1965. Its current contract, which expired Sept. 30, has been extended while the government seeks new bids.

The laboratory's research areas include science and environment, energy, defense and national security.

Battelle officials were disappointed about the Energy Department's decision to eliminate the special-use permit, spokeswoman Katy Delaney said in a telephone interview.

"Historically, we believe it's been a good means of connecting the lab to industry," she said.

However, she said Battelle was excited about the opportunity to bid and was putting together its "A Team" to do so.

"We consider this our flagship lab in the national laboratory system, and we intent to put together a winning proposal," Delaney said.

Battelle also is a partner in operating Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, Idaho National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

PNNL, located in Richland, conducts nearly 60 percent of its research for the Energy Department, and about 25 percent for the departments of Homeland Security and Defense. Private work accounts for about 10 percent of the laboratory's business.

In 2005, 11 percent of the work conducted at the laboratory for the Energy Department, or an estimated $76.5 million, was related to the Hanford nuclear reservation, a nuclear weapons facility created during World War II as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb.

Since 1965, the laboratory has received a total of 1,466 U.S. and foreign patents. It employs about 4,300 people and has a payroll of $327 million.


On the Net:

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: http://www.pnl.gov

Cooked Books?

"Michael Anastasio" (presumably not the real one) left a comment on a recent post reiterating rumors that I have been hearing this past week from Washington about the, shall we say, accuracy of LAN's bookkeeping regarding reportable safety and security incidents. The rumors from DOE are that a large part of LANS's $79 million annual award fee is at risk, should it be found that incidents were not being honestly recorded and reported.

For background, recall that it is stipulated in LANS' contract that the LANS award fee will be computed, in part, on LANS being able to reduce the number of security and safety incidents by 30% this year. We can probably expect to be hearing more about this.


In the absence of any news

As we enter into yet another week under the LANS-imposed RIF news blackout, I saw some good advice received as a comment to the At the heart of new nuclear weapons post:

For the coming financial storm, the government seems to be taking the approach known in football as the 'look out' block.

In this approach, the center says to the quarterback,

"Look out, here he comes."


U.S. Energy Department lags in meeting deadlines for securing nuclear sites

By Matthew L. Wald

WASHINGTON: More than a year after the U.S. Congress told the Energy Department to harden U.S. nuclear bomb factories and laboratories against terrorist raids, 5 of the 11 sites are certain to miss their deadlines, some by many years, the Government Accountability Office has found.

The Energy Department has put off security improvements at some sites that store plutonium because it plans to consolidate the material at central locations, but the GAO said in a Senate briefing that that project is also likely to lag. A copy of the briefing materials was provided to The New York Times by a private group, the Project on Government Oversight, which has long been pushing for better security at the weapons sites.

Danielle Brian, the group's executive director, said that although the deadline set by Congress was tight, if the Energy Department "had taken seriously consolidating and making this an expedited effort, they wouldn't be having these problems now."

Robert Alvarez, an adviser to the energy secretary in the Clinton administration, said that there was wide agreement that centralizing the fuel was a good idea. But Alvarez added, "There's a lot of pushback about moving fissile materials from a site, because then you lose a portion of your budget and prestige."

The Energy Department declined requests for an interview, but Michael Kilpatrick, a deputy chief at the department's Office of Health, Safety and Security, said in a statement that the steps under way were "further enhancements and better protection to some of the most secure facilities in the country."

But Representative Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who has taken a particular interest in nuclear security, said in a statement, "The department seems to think that the terrorist threat to its nuclear facilities is no more serious than a Halloween prank, as evidenced by its failure - more than six years after the 9/11 attacks - to do what it must to keep our stores of nuclear-weapons-grade materials secure." Markey said the delay was unsurprising but unacceptable.

One site that will miss its deadline by years is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which holds a large stock of weapons-usable uranium. The laboratory plans to dilute the uranium, but that will take until 2015, the auditors found.

Two other sites that will miss their deadlines are operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for weapons security. The agency was established in 1999 after a number of security breaches in the weapons complex, and in January its director was forced to resign because of other security lapses.

After the 9/11 attacks, the Energy Department changed its "design basis threat," the description of the attacking force against which the weapons sites should prepare their defenses. The details of this hypothetical design basis threat are classified, but the new definition specifies a larger and more capable group of attackers.

To emphasize the importance of the preparations, Congress wrote into law that the Energy Department sites should submit plans on how they would meet the requirements. Recognizing that much of the department's work runs far behind schedule, Congress specified that if a delay were necessary, it would have to be approved by the secretary or deputy secretary of energy.

An unclassified version of the Energy Department's first report to Congress, in July 2006, said that more than $420 million had been spent in the previous three years in an "aggressive" program. Among the changes was giving security officers armored vehicles and large-caliber weapons. That change reduced "the need to hire more security officers to account for the expected attrition that would be a natural result of the increased adversary force."

The department has rewritten its design basis threat several times.

Kilpatrick said in his statement that all sites now meet the 2003 version of the design basis threat and are working toward the current version, set in 2005.

The Energy Department told Congress in 2006 that six sites would meet the 2008 deadline. But the accountability office said one of those, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, would not make the deadline.

The Energy Department said work at the five other sites would be completed later; those are the Nevada Test Site, the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington State, the Idaho National Laboratory, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Y-12, a weapons site in Tennessee.

The GAO said in July that the Idaho National Laboratory would not be done until 2013, four years later than the Energy Department's estimate.

Oct 28, 2007

At the heart of new nuclear weapons

Pantex looks to build plutonium cores in addition to disassembly


A timeline of events at the Pantex Plant:
  • 1942: Pantex Ordnance Plant built in a field between Amarillo and Panhandle, with the first conventional bombs produced less than 10 months after the Pearl Harbor attacks.
  • 1945: Pantex closes as World War II ends.
  • 1949: Texas Tech buys the parcel for $1; military retains the right to take it back.
  • 1951: Pantex becomes part of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and evolves into the main assembly site.
  • 1991: Soviet Union dissolves, Cold War ends. Pantex focus becomes warhead disassembly.
  • 2007: Warhead disassembly accelerates, with an estimated 13,000-plus plutonium cores in storage. Plant is one of five candidates for production of next-generation plutonium pits.
Sources: Pantex Plant, National Nuclear Security Administration, Natural Resources Defense Council, Peace Farm

PANHANDLE — The United States ran the Cold War arms race in a fortified pasture on Amarillo's outskirts.

The sprawling Pantex Plant is where workers put together nuclear warheads for decades, competing with the Soviets who were doing the same. But once the Iron Curtain fell, the plant kicked into reverse and became the primary atomic bomb disassembly site.

In the next few weeks, a unit of the Department of Energy is set to release a plan outlining the future of the nation's arsenal, envisioned to consist of 1,700 to 2,200 newly designed warheads. There's little question they, like their predecessors, will be assembled here.

Pantex also is one of five sites under consideration for a new "consolidated plutonium center" to process and build the lethal hearts of nuclear warheads — the plutonium cores that cause the mushroom-cloud detonations when properly triggered.

The cores, known as "pits," traditionally have been made at Los Alamos, N.M., and the now-defunct Rocky Flats Plant near Denver. That kind of work hasn't been done at Pantex, and the prospect of it coming to the Panhandle plains has resident anti-nuke activist Mavis Belisle gearing up like the old days.

"When you're talking about producing new plutonium or new plutonium cores, it doesn't matter where, we don't want it to happen at all," said Belisle, director of the Peace Farm, a 20-acre spread across the highway from the plant that has served as a permanent vigil against weapons of mass destruction since 1986.

There's plenty of local support, though. Gary Molberg wants to see them do a lot more at Pantex, which in addition to disassembly continues to maintain active weapons.

President and chief executive of the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce, Molberg is for anything that increases the size of the area's second-largest private employer, with an estimated 3,200 workers.

"The mission they're doing right now will continue on, and we hope they get some additional missions and have some expansion out there," he said.

The 'soap plant'
The 16,000-acre Pantex Ordnance Plant began in 1942 as a conventional weapons site, then closed once the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — both weapons built at Los Alamos — forced Japan's surrender in 1945. Texas Tech took over the property.

But with the Cold War raging in 1951, the Army reclaimed 10,000 acres and contractor Mason & Hanger remodeled the facility to assemble explosives for atomic bombs. Procter & Gamble operated it for a short time, prompting locals to refer to the secret operation as the "soap plant."

"Although everyone knew they didn't make soap," Belisle said.

By the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission had taken over from the Army, making the plant's duties more obvious. Still, Pantex managed to keep a low profile despite the steady flow of conspicuous "white trains" ferrying new warheads out the gates.

Pantex drew unwanted scrutiny in March 1977 when three workers died in an accidental plastic explosives detonation, making the general public aware of its peculiar specialty. The Red River Peace Network started protesting outside the gates in the early 1980s, Belisle said, and the Peace Farm started across from the Pantex rail entrance in 1986.

Things changed fast after that. Rocky Flats closed in 1989, and the Cold War ended in 1991. The U.S. complex of nuclear weapons sites has been reinventing itself ever since.

"Right now, we have buildings that date back to 1945. They're crumbling, unsafe and inefficient," said John Broehm, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the DOE unit in charge of bomb-building. "Also, we have special nuclear material — plutonium, highly enriched uranium — spread out over seven of the eight sites. What we want to do is consolidate some of the special nuclear material, get rid of buildings, reduce the footprint physically.

"It's 1950s-1960s manufacturing versus 21st century manufacturing. You could do a lot more with a lot less space."

Speaking at a Department of Energy public hearing last year, Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt testified that the estimated 13,000-plus warhead cores in storage (the exact figure is classified) means "virtually all of the nation's plutonium is already here at Pantex," so the site makes sense for a new plutonium operation.

"The department could not find a more congenial place for a proposed center," she added, noting high local approval ratings for Pantex in various polls.

Longtime Amarillo resident Allen Finegold wasn't so congenial. "We have no experience dealing with plutonium here. Rocky Flats had that experience. It wasn't a very good one," he said.

Rocky Flats ceased plutonium work after an FBI probe uncovered environmental violations that resulted in the discovery of rampant contamination and millions of dollars in fines and judgments against contractors. The massive cleanup was only certified as complete by the Environmental Protection Agency on June 11.

The government, which is trying to come up with a "Reliable Replacement Warhead" design that can be tested on a computer rather than physically, says it has learned from past mistakes.

"This design we know will last far into the future, components in there will last longer, that sort of thing," he said. "The weapon itself will be more secure, safer for workers and the environment."

Standing their ground
In 2004, President Bush called for the weapons stockpile to be halved by 2012. Beyond that, the idea is to substitute antiquated systems with the new models and maintain a tiny stockpile compared to the peak, which surpassed 32,000 in 1966.

The last time intensive plutonium work was proposed for Pantex was in the mid-1990s when it competed for a plant to convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors. Belisle and others fought the so-called MOX fuel fabricator, in part citing existing aquifer contamination from World War II-era activities. The Savannah River Site in South Carolina won the plant.

Ironically, Belisle's preferred course for Pantex is for it to keep storing a growing cache of decommissioned plutonium cores, which she said is safer than transporting them half a continent away for MOX processing. While there's no risk of accidental nuclear explosion, Belisle worries that a mishap in transit could cause a release of radioactive plutonium.

She hasn't learned to love the bomb, only to live with it. And the Peace Farm will continue to joust with Amarillo's business elite and its nuclear neighbors over the site's future as long as troubling potential new tasks keep cropping up.

"We haven't really won any ground," she said, "but we haven't really lost any."


Man who designed tail fins for Nagasaki atom bomb has no regrets

By Billy Cox | Associated Press

A bomb. That's all Avery Warner was told upon his arrival at a place that did not officially exist. He would be working on a bomb like none other. And he couldn't talk to anybody about it. Not even his wife.

It was called Los Alamos, but it may as well have been the Twilight Zone. "P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico," says Warner, reciting the uniform mailbox assigned to him and 6,000 colleagues laboring under the information lockdown. His offers a wry smile. "The world's most famous address."

At age 91, the Sarasota resident is among the last of the crew. As one of the original workers recruited for the top-secret, super-weapon initiative called the Manhattan Project, Warner's job was to design the tail fins that guided the plutonium bomb to its appointment with Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.

Exactly how many Los Alamos survivors remain today is hard to figure. In Washington, D.C., Tim Malacarne says anywhere from 90,000 to 100,000 Americans worked for the Manhattan Project in the 1940s.

"Unfortunately," he says, "there's no independent database. We'd love to have it. There's no easy way to verify the personnel, because so much of that work was classified."

Malacarne is the project manager for the Atomic Heritage Foundation, a 5-year-old nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the Manhattan Project's three main sites at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Hanford, Wash.

Oak Ridge and Hanford employed tens of thousands of workers who refined the weapons-grade uranium and plutonium that B-29 bombers would unload on Japan to end World War II.

Los Alamos was more exclusive. That is where Project co-directors Gen. Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer huddled with the theoretical physicists who learned how to channel fission into sustained explosive chain reactions.

Warner retains a few relics from those days. The most striking is a chunk of greenish glass created when radioactive heat from the first experimental atomic bomb (Trinity, N.M., July 16, 1945) fused desert sand into a jade-like basin nearly half a mile in diameter. He has that souvenir, called Trinitite, preserved inside a tube of Plexiglas.

Warner also saved brittle newspaper accounts of that blast. They unanimously trumpeted the military's cover story, which attributed the explosion to an ammo dump accident at Alamogordo Army Air Field, some 80 miles away from the Trinity site.

Warner never banked on a career in lethal pyrotechnics. He was on an assembly line in Flint, Mich., in 1944 when one of his co-workers mentioned the FBI was headhunting in Detroit for engineers to work a secret military project in New Mexico. Warner, a tinkerer who liked hovering with pencils over drawing boards, applied because of prospects for an outdoor lifestyle in vast open spaces.

Having cleared his background checks, Warner received instructions in Santa Fe, then drove to the clandestine base with his first wife and 2-year-old son. That was where he learned he would be working with bomb makers.

Prison-tight security - censored mail, chain-link fences, military police, snarling guard dogs, no personal bank accounts within 100 miles of Los Alamos - was mitigated by rural environs that allowed him to buy two horses.

"Back home, I used to pass 32 stoplights on my way to work," Warner says. "In New Mexico, I didn't see a stoplight for a whole year."

The nondescript wooden houses were like military barracks sharing adjoining furnaces. Accommodations were adequate but Spartan. His son once stumbled into the cast-iron kitchen range and emerged with a serious arm burn.

Warner worked on the second floor of the Engineering Building. To reach the bathroom, he passed Oppenheimer's office, just down the hall. Details about the big picture were vague and compartmentalized. Engineers worked in ignorance of each other's jobs.

Warner's assignment was called "Fat Man," a radiation bomb whose identity was so closely guarded, photos would not be declassified until 1960. Five feet in diameter and weighing in at 10,000 pounds, Fat Man was twice as wide as the Little Boy uranium weapon that would obliterate Hiroshima three days before the larger bomb hit Nagasaki.

Given the precision sensing devices installed in its nose - which were programmed to detonate via atmospheric pressure, radar, timers or, if all else failed, impact - Fat Man's descent was critical. If it broke into a tumble and failed to explode, the technological windfall available to Japanese recovery teams would be incalculable.

Warner knew the stakes. He produced tail fins designed to ensure a stable descent. Prototype tests went smoothly. Fat Man and Little Boy were assembled on the Pacific island bomber base of Tinian. Warner stayed behind and waited. After the test at Trinity, he knew the world would be stunned.

"We knew it was going to happen, we just didn't know when," Warner says. "You can't imagine what the tension was like, the fingernail biting, just waiting and waiting and waiting."

Warner was in the men's room at work when the announcement crackled over the public address. It went something like this, he says: "A successful drop of one of our units has just been made on the city of Hiroshima."

"Well, we all went crazy," he said. "We didn't know which one it was at that point, but it didn't matter. We also knew that it was a terrible thing, that a lot of people were killed, but that wasn't what we talked about. We were just glad it worked."

Almost immediately after Nagasaki was destroyed three days later, employees began clearing out, Warner said. He reviewed photos of the carnage in Japan, but he did not dwell on them.

He left for California in search of a job before settling on Colorado. In 1952, Warner moved to the ground floor of yet another controversial enterprise - the Rocky Flats Plant outside Denver. For the next 23 years, the Indiana native would serve as engineering manager for a facility that produced hydrogen bomb triggers. Between the anti-nuke protesters and the headline-grabbing radiation spills, Rocky Flats provided unending fodder for public debate.

"Oh, the protesters blocked the roads, they threw roofing nails on the road. Once I even got a flat tire," Warner says. "Sure, what we were doing was horrible. But we had to keep abreast of what the Russians were doing. We couldn't fall behind."

So America's nuclear weapons program was good to Warner, even though, in retrospect, the future did not quite turn out the way he had envisioned.

Warner says he expected the Los Alamos facility to become a ghost town when the war ended. "I thought it would just start falling down after we left," Warner says. "Instead, it just got larger."

The fruits of Warner's labors made an immediate and profound impact on his third wife, Peggy. Sixty-two years ago, she was a college kid, interning at a hospital with plans to join the Women's Army Corps, when train whistles at the Elmhurst station west of Chicago started screaming the news from half a world away.

The war ended, and her boyfriend, who was studying medicine in Michigan, asked her to marry him. They exchanged vows on Sept. 2, 1945, as Japan's warlords signed surrender documents aboard a U.S. battleship in Tokyo Bay.

"It was all like a miracle to me," she recalls.

Little could Peggy have known, more than half a century later, she would meet a man whose singular skills with a super bomb helped transform her into such a joyous young bride.

She was introduced to Avery Warner through her daughter, a nurse at Home Health Care. They were married in 2004. It was the third wedding for each.

Retirement in Sarasota is good. Avery naps in the morning and in the afternoon. "She likes to dance, but I've got arthritis," he says. "So we go to the pool and she sings and we dance there."

A Meals On Wheels delivery signals another break in the day.

"Avery's amazing," says Peggy, 85. "He's one of those kind, gentle, sweet people. He gets really hurt when somebody speaks against the bomb. They weren't there, they don't know. It was a horrible, horrible period."

Oct 27, 2007

LANL answers call for help from CA

ASPECT plane deploys to wildfires

CAROL A. CLARK Monitor County Editor

At 2 p.m. Thursday, after Bob Kroutil of Los Alamos National Laboratory's Bioscience Division got a call for help, the ASPECT plane deployed to the wildfires of Southern California.

ASPECT (Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology), is a one-of-a-kind emergency response aircraft operated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and supported by LANL.

It's the nation's only 24/7 emergency response aircraft with chemical plume mapping capability. It uses infrared technology to visualize invisible, odorless chemicals in the air.

During a telephone interview late Friday from Long Beach, Kroutil explained that the aircraft is providing chemical analysis support to the EPA, Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.

"We are looking for potential chemical vapors that might be emanating from structure fires," Kroutil said. "We are supporting the EPA and providing them with data analysis and assessment of chemical data and they are forwarding it to the JFO (Joint Field Operations) in Pasadena, which is operated by FEMA.

ASPECT detectors can determine the chemical composition of a plume and its level of concentration from a distance, alerting emergency crews on the ground to potential hazards.

"The air quality in this general area looks pretty good," Kroutil said. "It looks like the fires on the north side of Los Angeles are out. The fires down south near San Diego are not completely contained."

Kroutil said EPA personnel flew the plane into California. It is now traveling at about 3,000 feet about the ground, mapping any potential chemical hazards.

All data and photos collected are going to a central repository at LANL, he said. Various agencies from around the country will be able to extract the data they need.

ASPECT will remain on duty in Southern California from a few days up to two weeks, Kroutil said, adding that the aircraft has responded 62 times to incidents and disasters since the program began in September 2001.

Richardson's disinterest leaves bad taste behind

LA Monitor Editorial

What began as an upbeat reception ended in disappointment a week ago Monday in Santa Fe when presidential candidate Bill Richardson ignored two requests to address his position on Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Given the financial uncertainties plaguing LANL and Sandia National Laboratories, we thought the former secretary of energy and our current governor would jump at the chance to clear up the conflicting messages he's recently expressed on the subject.

We were wrong.

What has us troubled is that Richardson, as governor, sent a letter to Congress last month voicing opposition to a proposed 3.2-percent budget cut to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which funds LANL and Sandia. Then he turned around the next day, as presidential candidate, and proposed a 53-percent cut to NNSA's budget.

We wanted to know why he gave opposite messages to opposite audiences. We wanted the people of Los Alamos to know why, too.

So Richardson was asked - twice - and he refused to answer - twice. He didn't even acknowledge the questions. His cold reaction caught us off guard, especially after observing his effusive speech to some 100 women at the inauguration of the New Mexico chapter of Women for Richardson moments earlier.

Following his speech, the presidential hopeful worked the crowd, shaking hands and patting backs, and with a load of conviction, yelled, "I love you" to the cheering women.

When it came time to meet the press, his jovial demeanor shut down after being asked about Los Alamos. We find this puzzling. Is it the realization that he was caught here with inconsistencies?

That he can't undo the damage no matter how he answers the question? Or is it arrogance?

The New Mexico Republican Party said he threw us under the bus on this issue. We now tend to wonder.

We can't forget how Richardson the governor made several visits to Los Alamos during last year's gubernatorial election, expressing interest in the town and the laboratory. We find that interest now falls flat. Richardson the governor may have needed us, but it appears pretty clear that to Richardson the presidential candidate, Los Alamos and Sandia are no longer worth his attention.

He's appealing to the national audience now and leaving us behind. What a pity.

And what if Richardson returns to New Mexico in January having lost the primary and eyes the senate seat? He may just find that he is no longer worth our attention.

Legendary Soviet spymaster Feklisov dies

By Guy Faulconbridge | October 26, 2007

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A KGB master agent who ran some of Moscow's most damaging Cold War spies in the West -- Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs -- died on Friday after a lifetime of espionage that helped the Soviet Union acquire the nuclear bomb.

Alexander Feklisov, who also played a key role as a mediator in the Cuban Missile Crisis, was 93, a spokesman for Russia's foreign intelligence service (SVR) said.

He arrived in New York in 1941 and began running Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a married couple who supplied the Soviet Union with top secret information on the U.S. Manhattan project to develop the atomic bomb.

Feklisov later called the Rosenberg network one of the greatest in the history of Soviet espionage. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953.

"Feklisov made an important contribution to the activity of Russia's foreign intelligence network in New York on nuclear issues," a spokesman for the foreign spy service was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

"He conducted serious missions related to the procurement of secret scientific and technical information, including in the area of electronics, radiolocation and jet aircraft technology," the spokesman said.

In his autobiography, "The Man Behind the Rosenbergs," Feklisov recounted how he had played Le Carre-style espionage games to throw off U.S. minders in New York. He said he ran a total of 17 foreign agents in his lifetime.

After working the Rosenbergs, Feklisov returned as a silent hero to Moscow. But he was quickly dispatched to London in 1947 as deputy chief of intelligence operations for science and technology.


He soon made contact -- in a London pub -- with Fuchs, a German-born scientist who worked at the U.S. atom bomb project in Los Alamos and at Britain's Harwell nuclear research laboratory.

Fuchs passed on secrets that helped speed Moscow's race for the nuclear bomb by at least 18 months, intelligence officials said later when the extent of Fuchs' treachery was examined.

"Feklisov was in contact with Klaus Fuchs, who provided important nuclear information, including on the structure of the hydrogen bomb," the SVR spokesman said.

Fuchs served a 14-year sentence for treason after admitting passing nuclear secrets to Moscow.

Feklisov later called him the most important spy the Soviet Union ever had in its race for the bomb and said the information he gleaned from Fuchs was translated specially for Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The Soviet Union exploded its first nuclear bomb in 1949, striking fear into the world and surprising Western intelligence who believed they were at least five years away.

Feklisov returned to the United States to head Soviet intelligence operations in Washington from 1960 to 1964.

As the KGB resident, Feklisov played a key role as a behind-the-scenes intermediary between the Kremlin and Washington in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, widely seen as the closest the world ever came to nuclear war.

Comment of the Week, Saturday Edition

Well, it was inevitable. The comment that I selected for this week's 'Comment of the Week' was one of my own. Somebody registered a complaint on our A Black Belt in What!?! post.. The impact, or 'punch' of his comment was unfortunately somewhat diminished by the 5th-grade level of his command of English grammar. People who write using ignorant grammar sound, well, just plain ignorant.

Here 'tis.



We definitely understand that we are not CNN.

But, we do have certain spelling and grammar usage standards. For example, 'their', vs. 'they're', as demonstrated by your comment.


he1 /hi; unstressed i/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[hee; unstressed ee] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation pronoun, nominative he, possessive his, objective him; plural nominative they, possessive their or theirs, objective them; noun, plural hes; adjective
1. the male person or animal being discussed or last mentioned; that male.
2. anyone (without reference to sex); that person: He who hesitates is lost.
3. any male person or animal; a man: hes and shes.
4. male (usually used in combination): a he-goat.
[Origin: bef. 900; ME, OE hé (masc. nom. sing.); c. D hij, OS hé, OHG her he; see his, him, she, her, it1]

—Usage note Traditionally, the masculine singular pronouns he1, his, and him have been used generically to refer to indefinite pronouns like anyone, everyone, and someone (Everyone who agrees should raise his right hand) and to singular nouns that can be applied to either sex (painter, parent, person, teacher, writer, etc.): Every writer knows that his first book is not likely to be a bestseller. This generic use is often criticized as sexist, although many speakers and writers continue the practice.
Those who object to the generic use of he have developed various ways of avoiding it. One is to use he/she or she/he (or he or she or she or he) or the appropriate case forms of these pairs: Everyone who agrees should raise his or her (or her or his or his/her or her/his) right hand. Forms blending the feminine and masculine pronouns, as s/he, have not been widely adopted, probably because of confusion over how to say them.
Another solution is to change the antecedent pronoun or noun from singular to plural so that the plural pronouns they, their, and them can be used: All who agree should raise their right hands. All writers know that their first books are not likely to be bestsellers. See also they.


they're /ðɛər; unstressed ðər/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[thair; unstressed ther] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
contraction of they are.
—Usage note See contraction.

There (third usage form; note), do you see the difference? You used 'their' when you should have used 'they're' in your criticism of this blog. Grammatically incorrect, and sub-standard quality for our posting standards. Please clean up your grammar, or cease posting to this blog.


Oct 26, 2007

At a conference this week

Submitted by a reader.



At a conference this week we (LANL people) had a chance to compare transition notes with Livermore. The people we talked to were actually positive about some aspects of the transition - they claim that the number of managers has been significantly reduced! Functions have been combined, and support staff reduced! So here we have just adopted the old LLNL failed management model, and there, a new management has cast out the old failed model.

Another issue that they told us - they were just notified that their salary raises were put on hold for several months, possibly longer. There again their management is showing some guts compared to our spineless management - wouldn't we all prefer some semblance of job security, rather than a meaningless raise when we are all in jeopardy?

Lastly, Mary Ann With (with@lanl.gov) who manages the postdoc program, sent out a broad email at Terry W's behest, trying to find out why less postdoc packages have been submitted in this last quarter. What a mystery... Here's my take: anyone applying for a postdoc position here is stupid, and we don't want stupid applicants. How's that for Catch 22?

Oct 25, 2007

Terry Wallace's talk this morning, with editorial comments from an attendee.....

Sent in by a reader.


Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2007 12:something -0600
Subject: Terry Wallace's talk this morning

Here are me notes from Terry Wallace’s talk this morning regarding the potential RIF. If you were present and would like to correct or add, please feel free.

[I’ve added some editorial comments in brackets.]

One of Terry Wallace’s messages to us was that he *hopes* a voluntary separation plan will be approved by congress, and that there will be enough voluntary separations so that we are not forced to go to an involuntary reduction.

Currently, the House budget is $188M low and the President’s is $80M low. The senate hasn't passed a budget.

Another driver for a RIF is that fact that Los Alamos spends about 70% of its funds on labor and other labs spend less than 60%. We need to get our number down so that we have money for other things such as infrastructure.

Attrition as always been low at LANL. We usually run about 3% as compared to 6% at other labs. [Well duh, at other places people can change jobs without relocating their families.]

Attrition over the past couple of years has been about 1.5% [Well double-duh, we can't sell our houses. Potential retirees at sitting back and waiting for incentives.]

*If* a voluntary separation is approved, takers would get the severance pay and possibly some percentage as an incentive.

Our severance pay rate is built into our contract. The Los Alamos severance is more generous than that of other sites. DOE does not like this, but can't change it until they are allowed to change the contract, which can't happen this year.

*If* a voluntary separation happens, they want it done in 2 weeks. Basically, we will be given 2 weeks to decide. It will be a lump sum of money and LANL wants it paid out in this CY. (It’s cheaper for LANL to pay it out this CY, but it would mean a big tax burden on those accepting it.)

There will not be anything like a 3+3 incentive. DOE is ultimately responsible for the pension plan (This is probably good news.), and they will *not* take on the liability of such an incentive. Also, I think Wallace said something about congress outlawing such incentives for government/contract workers sometime after the last ones were done, but I didn't quite catch what he said.

The AD will make decisions about whether an individual will be allowed to take the voluntary separation. He may deny it because LANL has met its target or because the individual is crucial to a program. [So doing would simply create a disgruntled employee who will be leaving at the first opportunity anyway.]

Note again that LANL does *not* have approval for a voluntary separation plan nor for an incentive. So, talk of such things is speculative.

We have all been placed into job categories based on a skills inventory. They are broad like Physicist, chemist, and computer scientist, manager, etc. If an involuntary RIF happens, ADs will have targets (the number they RIF from a certain category) and they will be allowed caps (If they lose more than the cap, they can't complete the given function.)

Deciding factors for an involuntary RIF are: performance, capability, and seniority.

Some have been given exclusions – they won't be RIFed. For example, ADs and above are excluded from the RIF.

ADs will decide who will go in an involuntary RIF.

Seniority counts in our favor if we want to take a voluntary, and counts in our favor should we find ourselves on an involuntary RIF list.

LANL (out of LANL funds) will have to pay for both severance and incentives. (This is some carry-over money that would be used.)

There have been rumors about a furlough – everyone go home for a while and not get paid. This will not happen.

Wallace is concerned that we are still not paying our best people well enough, and that is something that they want to fix.

Bechtel and the other contractors brought in about 210 people.

The average age of the Lab population is a little under 50.

All internal transfers will be frozen during a RIF period so as not to confuse the job categories. If a voluntary separation succeeds in meeting targets, the freeze can be lifted at that point. If not, it may last longer.

The director talked about the 120 clock from when we are notified to when an involuntary RIF and occur. When did or does that clock start ticking? Wallace wasn't sure, but he said that it may have started back when this process started – about 60 days ago. [This is *not* what the director said.]

Wallace believes that if a worse-case reduction happened, for example, if we lost ¼ of the workforce all at once, then the Lab would have to shut down: Losing that many people would mean that we couldn't meet our compliance deadlines, we couldn't even do our regular jobs so everyone in that function would have to stop work, and that the internal taxes generated would not be available to fund other activities. Anyway, he doesn't believe that we will suffer such a drastic cut.

Budget and headcount numbers
Over the years, weapons budgets have increased gradually. Under Carter, budgets increased and the money was earmarked for energy work. Under Reagan, there were bigger increases for SDI. In the late 90s that were increase for the LEP (Lifetime Extension Program). We hired like crazy during those times, and we still ended up with some carry-over because we couldn't spend it all. Over the past couple of years, we have been in deficit because of reduced budgets and this carry-over has made us solvent. There is some of the carry-over left and that’s the money that would be used for severance and incentive pay.

In 2007, we have 8597 Regular employees, 359 Post docs, 1027 Students, and 454 ?. (Total 10, 437). The year before, the number was 11,034.

The total population is about 13,500 when you include PTLA, KSL, and other contractors.

Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.