Published Monday, November 5, 2007
Facing charges regarding the mismanagement of a federal laboratory, the University of California has opted to contest a $3 million fine from the Dept. of Energy.
The proposed fine stems from an October 2006 incident in which police discovered over 1,000 pages of unauthorized documents on a former Los Alamos National Laboratory subcontracted employee’s computer. LANL, which conducts nuclear weapons research and other studies, is managed by the Los Alamos National Security, LLC -a joint venture between the UC, Bechtel National Inc., BWX Technologies Inc. and the Washington Group International Inc. The UC solely managed and operated the laboratories from 1943 to May 2006.
According to a D.O.E. letter, the UC could either pay the $3 million fine or contest the violations by providing refutations of the accusations including evidence of extenuating circumstances or any relevant court rulings supporting the UC’s arguments.
In an e-mail, UC spokesman Chris Harrington said the University has chosen to pursue judicial review.
“Consistent with federal law and regulations the University has filed a protective notice of its intent to obtain judicial review which preserves the University’s right to continue ongoing discussions with the department regarding the notice of violation,” Harrington wrote.
The D.O.E.’s National Nuclear Security Administration alleges that it found security deficiencies during its investigations of the UC’s original term as the sole manager of the labs. In particular, D.O.E. alleges that the UC was not quick in complying with its request to remove portable media such as USB thumb drives from the labs prior to the incident.
Jessica Quintana, the former subcontracted employee, claimed she had removed the documents with a portable drive to catch up with work, which included scanning classified materials. She pled guilty to a misdemeanor.
The D.O.E. detailed five violations of classified material protection requirements. The alleged negligence leading to the breach included a failure to protect vulnerable data ports, deficiencies in establishing the roles and responsibilities of the oversight of the project, not instituting security requirements for the scanning project and providing poor oversight of subcontracted employees such as Quintana.
The U.S. Dept. of Energy officially served the charge on Sept. 28 after the UC received a preliminary notice of the alleged violation in July 2007. The University had 30 days to submit a written response of appeal or pay the D.O.E. fine, which is the largest the department has ever assessed. The UC receives $512 million for its contract with LANL.