LA Monitor Editorial Board
The news that the National Nuclear Security Administration has evaluated Los Alamos National Laboratory’s performance for last year and settled its accounts with Los Alamos National Security, LLC, under the cover of secrecy is disturbing.
Some may be suspicious that the federal government has let its problem-prone creation too easily off the hook for the management partnership’s first 18 months of what has been, to say the least, a rocky road.
Others may believe Washington has once again made a scapegoat of one of its most visible and iconic national jewels.
And there are plenty of signs that NNSA’s own issues may be to blame for a good portion of LANL’s shortcomings.
A current special report by the Inspector General of the Department Energy on the department’s management challenges notes a particularly alarming discrepancy along this line.
“Our review found that while the dollar value and complexity of department contracts has increased in recent years, the overall number of acquisition officials has essentially remained constant,” the IG wrote in the document released last month. “Looking at this issue from another perspective, in 2006, contract specialists accounted for 2.9 percent of the Department’s workforce, but were responsible for important aspects of 90 percent of the Department’s acquisition workforce.”
To what extent, therefore, were safety and security demerits blamed on the laboratory really traceable to Washington? How do we know, without a full discussion with detailed comments and explanations of this and many other matters, that this review has been handled properly?
Furthermore, what are we to make of the fact that laboratory managers have been given a grade of 71 percent, which we take to be a very weak C average. Given, what the director said were high marks for the core mission nuclear weapons work, there must be a few Fs and Ds in there to arrive at a C.
Despite that, and despite many other problems for which a responsible official or system is not to be found or designated, the lab’s private managers have pulled down a nearly $60 million profit. And there is no guarantee that this will not go on for another 20 years.
Certainly, from a community perspective, LANS and NNSA can both be faulted for the “discovery” after the contract award that they were hundreds of millions of dollars short in running the laboratory and that the management efficiencies that were announced at the beginning contained too much of dumping jobs and laying off employees.
Many realized only after the laboratory’s highly publicized meltdowns in recent years the deep-seated problems went completely unnoticed in evaluations at the time. Those evaluations were laughed at as political and expedient, but the outcome resulted in a competition for the contract.
The current evaluation, assigning the managers profit for a C performance that seems to come under conditions of near zero accountability, makes us wonder if anything has been learned at all.