Jan 9, 2008

And now for something different

An optimist's point of view on LANL, from the All-employee meeting at 10:30 this morning post.



Thanks for posting the two paragraphs from Jeff Johnson's interview with Mr. Crandall. The important point is that there seems to be two diverging views of what these words mean. I understood the paragraphs to mean that NNSA was moving from merely tolerating WFO that didn't interfere with mission towards actually encouraging more WFO that is synergistic with the mission. Others here read the same words to mean that NNSA is moving from tolerating some WFO towards tolerating only pit production-related work. That might be a bit of an oversimplification but you get the idea.

Not having enough data to tell for sure which interpretation was closer to reality, I e-mailed Jeff Johnson at Chemical & Engineering News and asked him what he thought Mr. Crandall meant. I then talked with a Program Office guy that I know at LANL that has some responsibility for the WFO portfolio at LANL and got his input as well. Both of their responses lead me to believe that NNSA is, at least momentarily, interested in me bringing in WFO dollars.

I don't have permission from Mr. Johnson to disseminate his e-mail response and I won't shop around the opinion of other staff and management so don't ask me to post names. But th elittle bit of homework that I have done makes me feel that I have a chance to not only keep my job but to actually grow my programs a bit if I am careful.

The main reason that I respond to some of the postings here is that some of what is posted here is not representative of my experience at the lab. There are enough other blogs, like John Fleck's, that have links to this site that I am concerned that the continual doom and gloom that is posted here may actually be perceived by the outside world as the only reality at LANL. We do have more than our fair share of serious trouble right now. But there are some good things going on, as well.


Anonymous said...

Many people working at LANL would love to be optimists about LANL's future. The events of last five years, however, gives us great pause.

Anonymous said...

Five years? More like twenty. Things haven't been peachy-keen for quite awhile actually.

Anonymous said...

At some point blind optimism becomes just plain old foolishness. Knowing what I know about LANL after having worked here for so many years, I see no hope for positive change. Those hopes went out the window when the contract was handed over to Bechtel and friends.

Couple this with NNSA's downsizing goals for their labs, and their narrowing of LANL's mission to just those areas of science that relate to plutonium pit production makes the prospect of doing the kinds of diverse science that I feel could be done at LANL very dim indeed.

I'll be gone soon. Good luck to the rest of you.

Anonymous said...

I believe the original poster's view is similar to the overcomer's spirit revealed in Viktor Frankl's quote: "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

In times of uncertainty or disappointment, we all would be better off taking the approach that we are in charge of our own happiness, well being and contentment. If your stability is truly under the control of another human and can be thrashed or destroyed by administrative necessity or whim, there are bigger problems than just keeping your job.

I realize that our income and its associated economic stability are important and can be adversely affected by the employer, the governing agencies or the political leaders who are detached from the community but it still behooves each individual to determine where their real stability must come from - themselves - lest they become a languid maladapted dependent on a system that won't waste a moment's breath on them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, 3:04, that was a remarkably lucid posting for this blog, and a pleasure to read. I'd love to see that emblazoned along the top of the site, but it goes against the general grain of anger and despair, so perhaps would merely become a target. But well done, you've posted just what we should all be thinking about.

Anonymous said...

Some good news.
A bunch of colleagues needed/wanted another year or two of work so they didn't take the SSP. They will be ready to bail in fy09 thereby preserving some jobs for younger folks. Of course DOE/LANS management may be so dysfunctional they won't allow those who want to go to volunteer to leave but let's be optimistic!

Anonymous said...

Good post. And on target. Nice that someone did a little bit of homework rather than just spewing nonsense. I'll bet this positive post does not generate the same number of comments as the others. Sad.

Anonymous said...

The whole document from Chemical & Engineering News, Latest News, November 19, 2007, Volume 85, Number 47, p12, Focus Shift, Jeff Johnson reads:

"THE FOCUS on nuclear weapons science and engineering at the Department of Energy´s three nuclear weapons laboratories - Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia National Laboratories - will be transformed , say officials in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees DOE´s nuclear weapons work.

NNSA will aggressively seek national-security-related but nonweapons contract work, David H. Crandall, NNSA assistant deputy administrator for research, development, and simulation told C&EN in an interview on Nov. 14. Earlier, NNSA officials announced that the workforce of the three weapons labs will be cut by 20-30% over the next 10-20 years and that the size of the facilities will be reduced by one-third.

´We fundamentally do not see the weapons budget account growing over time,´Crandall said. ´We do see, however, the importance of the labs and their science base as essential to the nation, but we are going to have to look at our role in a different way. I don´t think the status quo of what we have done in the past is sustainable in the future.´

´We are moving from a mode where we would tolerate research that doesn´t interfere with our nuclear weapons mission to one in which we are encouraging new research that is synergistic to our mission.´

Crandall continued, adding that researchers outside NNSA will have to pay the full price of using lab staff and facilities.

He predicts the labs will have more nonweapons research partners and a more diversified research portfolio and will operate in a more competitive environment. Crandall acknowledges that the labs were well-funded in the past and that they have high overhead charges for contract work, which could stymie new contracts. He laid out a new system intended to lower costs by streamlining operations and eliminating and consolidating duplicate facilities.

Crandall has met with the directors of the three labs to assess their national security R&D capabilities that could be of interest to the Department of Defense, DOE Office of Science, Department of Homeland Security, and private companies."


(I now would like to put up the idea that Directed Energy Weapons, EMP Weapons, e.g. E-bomb(s) become an issue for DOE/NNSA, especially at LANL, LLNL, SNL.

To strengthen my argument:

(1) "As we enter the twenty-first century we find ourselves on the verge of a new breakthrough in warfare with the application of Directed Energy technology to the battlefield. As advanced sensors and kill mechanisms. Directed Energy applications in the laser and high power microwave areas will become the centerpiece of twenty-first century arsenals.
We are in an era in which precision and the lack of collateral damage are determinants in the acceptability of weapons. Directed Energy weapons with their ability to generate both lethal and non-lethal effects at the speed of light will gain greater acceptance.
The nation with the vision to embrace these weapons will dominate the battlefield for the foreseeable future. When combined with near real time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets, the ability to strike quickly with ... Directed Energy weapons will revolutionize warfare for surface forces. For an aggressor, sanctuaries will be few and retribution swift when faced with such revolutionary systems..." (Duffner, Butts, Beason, and Fogleman, Directed Energy: The Wave of the Future, in The Limitless Sky: Air Force Science and Technology Contribution to the nation, and also in The E-Bomb, How America´s New Directed Energy Weapons Will Change The Way Future Wars Will Be Fought, by Doug Beason, Da Capo Press, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2005, page xv.)

(2) "It isn´t very often an innovation comes along that revolutionizes our operational concepts, tactics and strategies. You can probaly name them on one hand - the atomic bomb, the satellite, the jet engine, stealth, and the microchip. It´s possible the airborne laser is in this league." (Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall, Airman, April 1997, and in Beason, ibid. page 127.)

(3) "Future Weapons is a television program series first shown on April 19, 2006 on Discovery Channel. Host Richard Machowicz, a former Navy SEAL, reviews and demonstrates war technologies. The program is currently broadcast on Discovery Channel and Military Channel."

(3.1) "Future Shock," May 10, 2006:

-- EMP Weapons (USA)
-- Advanced tactical laser (USA)
-- Tactical High Energy Laser (Israel/USA)
-- Airborne Laser (USA)"


Anonymous said...

Threats of future layoffs and job insecurity are a strong morale killers and can breed pessimism. In this regard, Mike mentioned 3 important things that need to happen if LANL is to forestall future layoffs:

(1) We need to grow new programs

(2) We need to see normal (historical) attrition rates

(3) We need to have a decent FY09 budget.

The only item in our control is the first one, to grow new programs. This will require LANS to help the staff bring these new programs into being (i.e., real support, lower costs, and good program managers).

We have absolutely no control over the other two items in this list.

As far as item (2) goes, the SSP will probably result in LANL not seeing historical attrition rates for some time.

Congress has control over item (3) and, as Mike mentioned, the clear trend is for LANL to see reductions in the weapons budget. NNSA has also warned us to expect at least 20% reductions in the LANL workforce over the next decade.

Given the strong possibility of layoffs over the next few years due to the sub-optimal outlook for (2) and (3), perhaps being optimistic means one believes that LANL will be a better place to work when it is (a) smaller and (b) you are one of the lucky ones who manage to hold on to your job. Even if you believe this to be true, getting to a smaller lab with your job intact is going to be very painful for the surrounding community. Insecurity during any future layoffs is going to create large amounts of stress in the remaining work force.

It's difficult to see the optimistic side in all of this. I do agree, however, with the post of 3:04 PM. We are in control of our own happiness. The key is to not look at your happiness as something that depends on the state of LANL. You can be pessimistic about the future of LANL and still remain a cheerful person. I guess it's a Zen thing.

Anonymous said...

The key to Crandall's plan for reducing costs at their NNSA labs is this:

"He laid out a new system intended to lower costs by streamlining operations and eliminating and consolidating duplicate facilities."

So, now for our local perspective:

Uh, oh. LANL and LLNL are the two redundant nuclear weapons design labs.

Uh, oh (#2): We've all seen how much more [sarcasm] streamlined LANL is thanks to LANS.

Uh, oh (#3): The same "streamliners" just took over LLNL.

Yep, I'm pretty optimistic that LANL's overhead rates and FTE costs aren't coming down any time soon.

Anonymous said...

LANS receives a fixed % bonus from NNSA for every WFO dollar that's brought in to the Lab.

This, above all, gives me hope that there is a future for LANL.

Anonymous said...


I think someone has been telling you fairy tales. I know of no such provision in LANS' contract.

Anonymous said...

No, 7:19 AM, you are mistaken. LANS receives no bonus from NNSA for WFO projects. Instead, LANS **TAXES** incoming WFO project funds which serves to raise labor costs and make WFO projects even more difficult to develop at LANL.

I'm continually amazed at just how poorly informed much of the staff at LANL is about these affairs.

Anonymous said...

Nobody can be a ignorant as 7:19 unless he wants to be that way. It is a studied ignorance. It must be easier for him to remain uninformed than facing the reality of LANL's current situation.

Staff in general are having trouble grasping the strategic nature of NNSA's plan to reduce costs. The plan is to reduce costs for the entire NNSA complex by eliminating redundancy. Reducing footprint.

Which means eliminating staff, buildings, and possibly whole facilities.

WFO simply is not part of their game plan, except for paying lip service to the concept in an attempt to appease the current NNSA lab employees by having said that they will encourage NNSA-approved WFO projects.

There is no plan to lower the FTE rates at LANL, and LANL will not be able to recruit WFO at current FTE rates, much less at the higher FTE rates that are projected for FY'08 and beyond. Crandall knows this; NNSA will not have to worry about being placed in the position of disapproving non-NNSA-compliant WFO sponsors for LANL because there won't be any.

Anonymous said...

LANS gets 0.9% fixed fee and 2.1% performance fee on DOE/NNSA work. They get 2.5% fixed fee on WFO. See Section B-2 in New LANL Contract Documents at the LASO Site.

This is the fee LANS earns for administering the funds. So yes, LANS, LLC does make money, "fee," administering WFO.

Both of the above fees are authorized for "draw-dawn" by the contractor on prescribed schedules from the "Contract’s special financial institution account."

And yes, LANL taxes WFO more than NNSA funds.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, folks, but I need to rant on the subject of WFOs at LANL.

I've been bringing in WFO money for many years and am growing weary of doing so. You work hard to get the outside funds only to see DOE take a cut, LANS take profit-fee cut, LANL Program Managers take a cut, LDRD take a cut, stealth taxes take a cut, support take a cut, and the enormous overhead used to pay for our management and nuclear facilities take a cut. Once the money gets down to the TSMs who actually write these proposals to bring in the funding, large portions of the cash have already been frittered away.

I know staff who put in half a dozen WFO proposals this last year and not one of them got funded. Suppose they get lucky and one of their proposals succeeds. Suppose they get outside funding of $250K from a sponsor for a year of work. By the time that money is fully taxed on its way into LANL and makes it down to the group level it would fund the average TSM for only about 5 months of work! Writing a good proposal and making the calls and networking with the movers and shakers who pay for the WFOs can easily take 2 months of effort. And your reward for the rare success? Maybe five months worth of funding in a work environment of crazy policies and "support" that are going to hinder your productive efforts at almost every turn.

Why bother anymore? LANS has no idea how to grow the WFO portfolio. Doing so would require actions that they are never going to enact. There is a vested interest at LANL in the 1:8 manager ratios, bloated support divisions, and the growing stealth tax system which finds new and innovative ways to take a cut in any funding that happen to arrive at LANL.

I'm tired of pulling this wagon. It just seems to get heavier and heavier with each year. Almost all of the staff members who have left my division during this last year were those who brought in funding for WFO projects. It's no mystery to me as to why they finally decided to escape LANL and move to places that are far more WFO friendly. It says something when you hear LANS talk about the importance of WFO projects to LANL's future growth and yet all the people you see jumping ship are those who have been working on WFO projects.

I give up. LANL is a basket case as far as WFO is concerned. There will be no real growth in LANL funding through the use of this mechanism. LANS will give it lip service, but not much else. By next year the FTE rates on WFO projects are probably going to average close to $500 K per year.

There was a time at LANL many years ago when you could actually make a go of it if you decided to work on WFO projects. In fact, back in the 80's LANL had around a quarter of the lab's project portfolio taken up with WFO projects. Today, it's become a sucker's game and I'm growing very weary of playing the part of the patsy.

Anonymous said...

"It isn´t very often an innovation comes along that revolutionizes our operational concepts, tactics and strategies. You can probaly [sic] name them on one hand - the atomic bomb, the satellite, the jet engine, stealth, and the microchip. It´s possible the airborne laser is in this league." (Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall, Airman, April 1997 -- from the 1/9 10:41pm post

This is an interesting string of comments. What it shows an outsider is that LANL has many facets. What I hope most people realize is that nuclear weapons have not prevented the U.S. or any other country from engaging in war that kills people. Whether it's 30,000 or 150,000 Iraqis dead and 4,000 Americans, or twice that many if civilians are included, it's not in any national interest to continue. The Air Force has little standing in these arguments. They don't see the carnage in person like the Army and Marines. I suppose that's why it's the Air Force and not the ground-pounders that are pushing to hit Iran. The question I have is are these WFO people working on only weapons or on more potentially beneficial projects such as genome work and climate modeling?

Anonymous said...

Doing national security work, including WFO projects, means you may end up doing research that could end up killing people. It's not pleasant to think about, but the world we live in is far from ideal.

If you work at LANL and the ethics of this bothers you, then you should really consider moving to a place where the institution's philosophy is more in line with your belief system, 9:56 AM.

War is hideous and wasteful and repugnant. It is also necessary when all other options have been exhausted. It's an old cliche, but freedom is not free.

Anonymous said...

11:43: This 9:56

1. I don't work at your lab or any other lab.
2. Performing research related to weapons doesn't mean they will kill anybody. It also doesn't necessarily mean that doing so enhances national security. In the end, people use weapons to kill people.
3. For the present wars, all other options were not exhausted before they were started.
4. If the goal is to provide jobs for northern New Mexicans and DC bureaucrats, it doesn't matter if the WFO overhead rates are $250K/per person/year or $1M/per person/year. The trickle down effect is the same. It's just that more useful work, weapons or other types, gets done at the $250K rate.
5. True, freedom is not free, but it is not necessarily promoted for either side when one nation's military destroys another nation's infrastructure, and there is great loss of life on both sides.
6. My question remains unanswered: What percentage of the WFO has mostly to do with weapons, and what percentage is mostly not associated with weapons?