Apr 30, 2008

Tell Me More About PF-4

Since the Cooking with Plutonium post last Friday I've received reports of a second furnace event at PF-4.
...this is a second event and it just happened. My point was that this was a test of a new system but the box is hooked to zone one (contaminated box hence real not cold box)... the issue is that another screw up occurred and it involved a furnace operation during what is supposed to be high-level scrutiny of these operations.
It may be a few weeks before there is some official word on what happened. Thankfully, so far it seems no one was injured and there was no release of contamination.

Whatever happened it cracked the glovebox glass. If anyone has a photo of the broken glovebox glass please email it to me. I'll post it here.

For anyone wanting to read more about PF-4 operations I suggest The Pit Production Story (Number 28 2003, Los Alamos Science), where I found the photo for this post.

Regulator won't reopen LANL cleanup deal

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

A townhall meeting with officials of the New Mexico Environment Department returned repeatedly to the subject of a landmark Consent Order and the possibility that Los Alamos National Laboratory may fail to meet its cleanup obligations.

Several dozen people turned out for the parley between the two camps and the public, including political leaders and a representative showing of professionals engaged in environmental issues.

“I don’t think we quite have you guys outnumbered, so that’s a good sign,” said Jon Goldstein, the department’s deputy secretary, as he surveyed the audience in Fuller Lodge Tuesday night.

Secretary Ron Curry opened the meeting by introducing his staff and recalling his personal relationship with the laboratory that goes back to when his father worked on the Manhattan Project.

The general topic of the meeting was the range of work the department does in Los Alamos.

A primary responsibility involves supervising the comprehensive environmental cleanup program under the terms of a court settlement known as the Consent Order. But the much broader responsibilities include regulating laboratory operations and how much and what kind of hazardous waste is generated, as well as such tasks as air and environmental monitoring, and inspecting food services in the cafeteria.

The germ of the meeting, however, had to do with “the money.”

A persistent budgetary concern was confirmed earlier in the month. A Department of Energy report revealed that milestones for finishing the environmental cleanup by 2015 might not be met because of funding shortfalls that have been apparent since the Consent Order was signed in 2005.

“We don’t buy that they don’t have the money,” said Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief James Bearzi, who heads the cleanup process for the department.

“Lack of funding is not an excuse,” Curry said, emphasizing the department’s refusal to renegotiate the order.

He appreciated the fact that the laboratory had requested the funding, but noted that the lab is getting less than what it asked for this year and next. He insisted that there would be no compromise and that penalties would be the consequence of default.

A question from the audience asked the following: If the cleanup process were fully funded, could more of it go into actual cleanup rather than into the characterization process in order to accomplish the job sooner?

“If you show us the money, our hearing becomes better,” Curry said, adding that full funding was not yet forthcoming.

A more pointed manifestation of the argument was raised by another question from the audience about a disagreement between the department and the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board (NNMCAB) relating to a letter written last month by board chair J.D. Campbell to the managers of the Los Alamos Site Office.

Because of the letter, Curry had said, NMED declined to participate in a forum arranged by the advisory board April 16.

In a recent e-mail to the Monitor, Campbell said the letter did not recommend renegotiating the Consent Order.

“We recommended that NMED, DOE and LANL work together to set near-term priorities and schedules within the Consent Order to obtain the data … necessary to make future decisions,” Campbell wrote.

Fran Berting, a Los Alamos County Councilor and also vice chair of the citizens advisory board, told Curry that the letter was not intended to suggest renegotiations, but rather to have a short term reorganization of the priorities.

“Heaven forbid – we don’t want to renegotiate the whole Consent Order; that would be a slippery slope,” she said.

“This was and is a controversy,” Curry said. “I’m hoping some of the noise will go down.”

Curry and Campbell have agreed to meet in the near future to discuss the matter.

The public forum won’t be the last the community hears of NMED. The question of the laboratory’s hazardous waste permit and water issues related to Santa Fe will be coming up for public discussion and possible hearings.

In addition, the department plans a series of four “listening” sessions in the region to respond to questions and answer concerns about LANL’s impact on the environment.

Apr 29, 2008

On the Next Steps for Los Alamos. . . Lab Director Michael Anastasio

The following interview with Michael Anastasio, the Director of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, was conducted by Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor Reporter Todd Jacobson. [28 April 2008]

Each of the directors of the NNSA’s weapons laboratories have been outspoken about their concern for science funding and how it might affect the future of the labs and the ability to certify the nuclear weapons stockpile. What does the future hold for ‘big science’ at the labs if the concerns aren’t addressed?

I think our concern is that the role of the laboratories for the country is to take science, the science we have, and bring it forward to help solve national problems. The trend is what our concern is. It’s not about a particular year budget, but it’s the trend over a period of time, and the look out into the future. We have concerns that there’s real risks; that science is getting squeezed out between the needs to maintain an infrastructure versus the need to take care of the mission. Both of those things are kind of growing, but the budget is declining, or at least we have to absorb inflation even if the budget is less, so that squeezes out our ability to actually execute the science.

And, of course, we think that these laboratories are really special places that are providing the kinds of large-scale science that takes on these kinds of missions. The same science that this program funds puts in place science that we then use to do all the other programmatic work that we do for corporations, for counter-terrorism, for energy, supporting other parts of the national security community.

Is it possible to put a dollar figure on how much more is needed in terms of increased funding for science?

Well, I mean, in a laboratory with over $2 billion, it’s a 10 or 15 percent effect. That’s real money. We heard from Sen. Byron Dorgan on the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee and he’s got budget problems as well. So, the question is, how do we renew an infrastructure? How do we change our fixed cost? So we, at the laboratory, are trying to do that internally. We’re reducing the number of facilities we have—out of nine million square feet we are trying to get rid of two million of it. We’re aligning our workforce size with the kind of budget we have. We’re trying to reduce our cost so that the money that we get through Congress we can actually spend more of it on science. We’re trying to do what we can, and we have more we can do and we’re working on that.

The budget issues the labs are facing have resulted in workforce restructuring that’s happening to various degrees at each of the labs. What are the challenges of managing a workforce that is enduring these kinds of changes?

Yes, that’s been a huge problem, and of course we’re almost two years into the new contract at Los Alamos, and there’s a lot of change going on. Of course, the laboratory was facing lots of challenges and was under lots of pressure for the perceived issues around security and so forth, and then we bring in a new contract and a new approach to doing things, and that causes a lot of anxiety amongst people. Managing change is always difficult, but I’m feeling better that the morale at the laboratory has gone up, that the people are starting to focus, and I’m trying to get us all focused on the real exciting science that we are doing and the opportunities we have to help solve some really important plans for the country.

Of all the labs, Sandia seems to have done the best with expanding its mission and increasing its Work for Others repertoire. How can that be applied at Los Alamos?

Of course we’re pursuing it vigorously. One way to deal with some of these issues is to grow other parts of your budget. And, so, in fact we are actually being very effective at that. Some of our Work for Others areas are growing by over 20 percent this year already. We’ve done a good job of that and will continue to do that. But, at the same time, if you look at what NNSA’s approach is, they’re starting to concentrate some of the capability they want nationally at Los Alamos. So, we’re trying to manage through taking that set of missions on and at the same time grow. That’s part of the way they keep the science at the lab vital—you have a variety of things to do so that the scientists can all get enthused about a variety of different missions and the way they can apply their science.

Is the Work for Others issue more difficult at Los Alamos and Livermore than it is at Sandia? Is it harder to attract that kind of work and keep rates down?

I think there’s two pieces of that. Sandia is a little more focused on the engineering. Los Alamos and Livermore are a little more heavy on the physical sciences, but we do a lot of engineering, and of course they do physical science as well. The kinds of programs they attract are somewhat different than we do at Los Alamos, that’s one point. The second point is that because we have so many nuclear facilities at Los Alamos that means our infrastructure costs are necessarily higher. And, so, in some ways that makes us look more expensive to our Work for Others customers.

But there are lots of opportunities for that. For instance, we make the batteries that power the NASA space missions that go out. Those are made in our nuclear facilities. When it comes to nonproliferation work addressing how to detect nuclear materials that move around—well, let’s go bring it in to our facility and let’s go test out the detectors with real nuclear material. So, there’s real opportunities for that kind of work, and for nuclear forensics, for other things.

Congress is currently debating the future of the Administration’s Reliable Replacement Warhead program. One of the positives talked about by the Administration for developing an RRW-type warhead is the human capital issue—the issue of the weapons labs staying current on designing nuclear weapons. If there’s not an RRW, how would that affect the nation’s nuclear design capability?

I think the RRW does two things. It gives us a way to build more margin into the weapons systems that we would deploy. Hence, that leads to more confidence. It also gives us the opportunity to get rid of a lot of the difficult materials they handle in nuclear weapons, and, hence, we have to have a production capability that does that. That drives cost in the production complex. So, if we can use that as a method to shrink the cost in the production complex, then we can, of course, have more money to underpin the confidence that we have, the kinds of issues we were talking about.

The other aspect is that one of the risks we run is we have a stockpile from the Cold War and the last people that were putting weapons in the stockpile were people like me, who are nearing the end of their careers. And if you think of 10 or 20 years from now when I expect we’ll probably still have some nuclear weapons left as part of our deterrent, there won’t be anybody around that was there when we put it in. If we work on an alternate approach to our stockpile, whatever it be—RRW or something else—that gives this current generation a chance to be the ones who develop that, and they’re the ones that are going to sustain it for their whole generation, and you won’t have to rely on a bunch of old fogies like us.

Do you fear for the nuclear design capability if there’s not the need for advancing it?

Yes. One of the things we’ve done is we’ve taken our scientists and turned them into analysts. So, here’s a weapon that we know works. When it will fail, that’s the question we’re trying to answer today, and that’s not the same kind of function that we had during the Cold War. Now, of course, I agree that we never want to be in a position where the President ever has to make a decision on, do we use nuclear weapons? These are our weapons of policy, and the goal is for the country to never have to use a nuclear weapon. But, we need to maintain our confidence, so it can play its deterrent role.

The safety and security problems at Los Alamos have been well chronicled, and part of the rationale for recompeting the contract was to correct those issues. In terms of making progress, how far along are you and how far do you need to go?

I think we’ve made a lot of progress. I also believe that we knew this would be a multi-year task. This is not something you can get done in one or two years. It would take some real time to do. But, I do think we are making very significant progress in improving our safety. We’ve reduced a lot of our injury rates and those sorts of things. We’ve dramatically improved our security, and reduced our security risks. We’ve been very innovative in dealing with those security issues, and really changing the whole approach that will give us a lot stronger laboratory.

But we’ve also increased our program delivery, our ability to deliver to our customers, whether it be in NNSA in the Stockpile Stewardship Program or in Work for Others. I still see the really outstanding innovative science that’s going on in the laboratories. So, all of those things, of course, are there, but there’s more to do. We have to learn how to be more efficient and more effective at delivering what we do, to bring our overall costs down. We’re leaning how to do that, but there’s a lot more to do.

When the contracts for the laboratories were re-competed, there was the promise of increased coordination between Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia. Has that come to fruition?

I think we’re seeing that happen. I have, of course, a lot of background at Livermore as the former lab director. That concerns some people at Los Alamos. And LLNL Director George Miller and I have a very close relationship, so we are seeing more and more cooperation, appropriate kinds of cooperation, while we maintain that technical competition, which is so important to peer review. We’re working closely with Sandia, the super-computing issue that came up is one example. Sandia Director Tom Hunter and I have signed a Memorandum of Understanding about how we’re going to cooperate on this high performance computing. That’s one example. Even if they’re not a center for platform computing, we’re going to be working together to maintain world-class simulation capability.

Much was made during the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations hearing April 16 about the issues facing Lawrence Livermore and the economic shortfall that lab faces—particularly in light of increased fees paid at a time when the workforce is shrinking. Los Alamos National Security is further along in the process, so with that in mind, has the transition from public to private been worth it?

As we near the second year of LANS management, it’s clear that the corporate partnership has benefitted the laboratory. We’re seeing outstanding performance built on great science at the lab. We’re performing exceptionally well in our key mission areas of science, nuclear weapons and threat reduction, and are making demonstrable improvement in safety, security, business practices and overall management.

Did the transition need to take place for that progress on safety and security issues to really take root and be effective?

Because of the hard work by lab employees and resources brought in from our corporate partners, our trends in safety and security are good. Reportable injuries and lost work days are down by more than 40 percent and we’ve cut the average number of security incidents in half, both indicating that the partnership has improved our way of dealing with those issues. But it’s important not to lose focus and to remember that safety and security are day-to-day jobs and that safety and security goes hand-in-hand with the great science and engineering that we provide.

There have been concerns raised, both in private and public, about the plutonium mission at Los Alamos cutting into the more prestigious weapons design role. Do you think that’s a fair critique?

We firmly believe that Los Alamos is the right place for the proposed limited plutonium manufacturing role in support of national security. But it’s a misconception that this would somehow ‘take away’ from other work, particularly science. Limited plutonium manufacturing—and other actinide research and development—enables a wide variety of science and informs specific disciplines such as design physics and supports key missions such as power sources for spacecraft and proliferation-resistant fuel rods for power generation.

In your mind, how do the two missions—plutonium production and weapons design—complement each other?

They actually depend on each other. We use the tools of science to qualify and certify our manufacturing processes. And our ability to soundly design weapons depends on what we learn from limited manufacturing.

I'll share an interesting and telling statistic. Los Alamos was asked to undertake a limited pit manufacturing role in 1997, 10 pits per year, which we achieved in 2006. During those nine years, our number of actinide science publications doubled compared to the prior two decades. Other science at LANL also increased.

Do you feel plutonium production changes the identity of the lab?

Los Alamos has always had a limited manufacturing role. In fact, during the days of nuclear testing in Nevada, the laboratory had a much larger manufacturing role, producing systems for testing and providing plutonium metal to Rocky Flats. The proposed limited manufacturing mission does not change our identity as a national security science laboratory.

As support to that plutonium mission, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility will be constructed. How essential is the CMRR-Nuclear Facility to the plutonium mission that is part of the NNSA’s draft preferred alternative for Complex Transformation?

The CMRR is an essential research and development laboratory as it supports not only weapons-related work but also threat reduction, nonproliferation, energy security, and space applications. While we currently operate the Chemistry and Metallurgy Researh building safety and securely, because of it’s age and size, doing so in the long-term becomes increasingly difficult.

Could you explain the role CMRR-Nuclear Facility will play with PF-4 in pit production?

No pits would be made in the CMRR. The CMRR nuclear facility would fulfill the same basic role as the current CMR with one additional function as a state-of-the-art storage facility. CMR does analytical chemistry and materials characterization of very small amounts of plutonium. The “manufacturing line” will continue to be located in another existing nuclear facility, Plutonium Facility 4 or PF-4.

Are there any scenarios where the CMRR-Nuclear Facility would be used to produce pits?

Again, the plans call for CMRR to be the laboratory’s center for analytical chemistry and materials characterization, pit manufacturing takes place in a different facility, PF-4.

There have been concerns raised about the cost of that facility and how it will be paid for in light of flat NNSA budgets in the next decade. Do you share those concerns?

Budgets are always a challenge. We see the CMRR project as an essential component of scientific research and development in support of a broad set of missions, both weapons and non-weapons. CMRR would also enable consolidation of nuclear materials from around the complex, its design would be more environmentally responsible and it would efficiently manage safety and security, resulting in a net reduction in operating costs.

Environment Dept. schedules hearing in Los Alamos

New Mexico Business Weekly - NMBW Staff

The New Mexico Environment Department will host a community meeting in Los Alamos on April 29 to hear concerns regarding the environment and state programs under the department's purview.

The meeting is among 16 the department has held around the state. The agenda will include Los Alamos National Laboratory, oversight by the U.S. Department of Energy and topics such as soil, sediment, surface water and groundwater data from LANL and the Environment Department.

The meeting is designed to provide a forum to listen to citizens' concerns and facilitate discussion about how the department can improve its programs. It will be held at Fuller Lodge, 2132 Central Ave., at 5:30 p.m.

For more information, call (505) 827-0314.

Apr 25, 2008

Cooking with Plutonium

I never expected safety to come up at last week's Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, and it didn't. Well, not exactly. It came up two days later in weekly reports released by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

There was another event at PF-4 during the week of 3-28-08. Unless I somehow missed it, this event still has not been publicly acknowledged by the lab. Let's first take a look at what happened in PF-4, then what was said in the Senate hearing.

From the March 28, 2008 DNFSB weekly report for LANL:
"Plutonium Facility (TA-55): On Thursday, TA-55 had a valid glove-box over-temperature alarm during a furnace operation that resulted in a fire department response. The facility appears to have responded appropriately and is critiquing the event and the response next week.
"Formality of Operations: LANL needs to execute on a number of proposed institutional initiatives to improve worker safety and the site's overall nuclear safety posture. These principally involve four areas: safety bases, integrated work management, quality assurance, and formality of operations. The last focuses on operations, engineering, maintenance, and training.

"Implementation of formality of operations appears to be slipping. Last week, LANL submitted to NNSA a revised schedule and draft criteria-for-success for a two-phased implementation of formality of operations. "Core" implementation would constitute a minimum state of compliance with applicable requirements and may include interim compensatory measures that are no longer required once "mature" implementation is achieved."
From the April 4, 2008 DNFSB weekly report for LANL:
"Plutonium Facility (TA-55): Last week, operators were conducting normal plutonium operations in two furnaces and post-modification function-testing on a third furnace that was in an abnormal configuration that heated the glove-box more than normal. In this condition, rising ambient glove-box temperature exceeded the thermal detector setpoint of 190° F, prompting an alarm. Personnel exited to the corridor and upon assessment of the situation made a conscious decision to re-enter the room to de-energize the 3 operating furnaces in the alarmed box. There was no damage or material release. The Fire Department responded.

"Follow-up investigation identified issues with the configuration management of over-temperature controls for furnace operations: some interlocked over-temperature alarms were found to be disabled; over-temperature set-points were higher than necessary; and the abnormally-configured furnace was operating without one of its normally-installed temperature sensors. In response to this event, facility management has suspended all furnace operations. Identified corrective actions include evaluating, baselining, and formalizing configuration control for alarm status and set-points for all furnace controllers; and establishing formal pre-operational checks to ensure proper equipment configuration and system line-ups. Operating groups must present corrective actions to a board that will evaluate their adequacy and approve resumption (site rep weekly 3/28/08)."
What does that all mean? The bottom line is the work was not planned. Thanks and kudos to the person who re-entered the room to shut off the furnaces, but had the work been planned the furnaces would have been switched off when the alarm sounded.

By the way, how much plutonium was in that glovebox when the alarm sounded?

Given that context, here is what Director Anastasio had to say about safety at the hearing:
"The confluence of an aging infrastructure; demanding increasing standards for safety, security, and the environment; a recent focus on near-term deliverables; and declining operating budgets are squeezing out science at the laboratory."
Increasing safety standards squeezes out science? Alrighty then! We know where he stands.

NNSA Administrator Tom D'Agostino was more in touch with reality, though even he did not refer to safety problems at PF-4 in the present tense. Here is what he told the committee:
"We actually have very good evidence from when we moved material out of Rocky Flats on how difficult it is to reestablish a capability dealing with special materials. It took us much longer than expected and cost a lot more money than we ever expected it to cost. I'm talking in particular in this case about the plutonium mission."
And finally, here's a quote from a hearing three years ago.

From NNSA Principal Deputy Administrator Jerry Paul (May 5, 2005):
"While much of the public attention to events leading to the laboratory stand down focused on the supposedly missing classified media, we in NNSA felt that inattention to safety procedures at the laboratory presented a greater problem. Together they led us to believe that a culture of non-compliance existed within the laboratory. A careful review of leading indicators for operations of hazardous facilities, that is, events that are precursors to low probability-high consequence accidents, suggested that laboratory performance had been declining. Some employees simply were not complying with regulations or working with regulatory agencies or bodies, including NNSA and the rest of the Department of Energy."
What progress has been made since then?

JRO Fellows

Posted anonymously by request. See LANL's Postdoc page for more information on JRO Fellows.

I just saw a graph of the number of Oppenheimer fellows as a function of the calendar year. Three years ago, we had more than 10. Today (and for the past 2 years) we have only one! This is another "metric" of what LANS has done to us. Is it that the best young people have no one to work with, so they are not attracted here? Is it that one can't get anything done at LANL without taking weeks of training that discourages them? Is it that they stay away from an institution that is constantly under scrutiny for everything except science? Is it that they see people like Wallace and Seestrom in charge, and shy away from their demonstrated mediocrity? Or maybe all of the above...

PS - LANL can hire 2 per year, for 3 years. But previous directors would often hire a third candidate if they thought that s/he would be a great asset.

Apr 22, 2008

New Climate Change Lab for New Mexico?

Keith Cowing, SpaceRef.com

Editor's note: Word has it that a $400 million earmark for a climate research center is being prepared on behalf of Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) who is retiring. Think of this as legacy pork.

This climate change research center would not run be run by NASA or NOAA or EPA. Nor will there be any competitive bidding. Instead it would be run through the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) which runs Los Alamos National Laboratory located in Domenici's home state of New Mexico.

With all the arm waving and complaints about NASA not doing enough on the issue of climate change you'd think that this effort would go to NASA or if not NASA, then to NOAA. That is, if climate change research was really the prime overarching intent of this proposed allocation.

One mechanism whereby this pork might begin to work its way into the funding que is via the Supplemental Intelligence Authorization Bill which is due for mark-up this week. If this does not work then other approaches are under consideration. Scott O'Malia, a minority staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee is reportedly taking the lead on pushing this legacy pork through.

Sen. Domenici serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is chairman of that committee. Domenici is also Ranking Member of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. Talk about a one-two punch.

Apparently other members of the Senate and key House appropriators only learned of this activity in the past few days.

The National Nuclear Security Administration and the Supplemental Intelligence Authorization Bill are such logical places to put climate change funding, right?

Happy EarthPork Day.

Learn about LANL subcontracting

Local small businesses can learn about subcontracting opportunities with Los Alamos National Laboratory at a small-business supplier forum from 8 a.m. to noon Thursday at the Cities of Gold Conference Center in Pojoaque.

Business owners are asked to call 665-5793 or e-mail anmx@lanl.gov to RSVP. They should also register between 7:45 and 8:30 a.m.

There will be more than a dozen resource tables staffed by representatives from LANL and Sandia National Laboratories.

A Web-based presentation on procurement possibilities at Sandia National Laboratories is also scheduled.

Apr 18, 2008

"The Real Story": Blogs as a Mechanism for Employee Voice

A couple of days ago I stumbled across the citation to a new paper written about my 2004 LANL blog. I contacted the author, Mary Meares, of Washington State University and asked for a copy of the paper, which she sent.

Here's the citation:
Meares, M. M. and Islam-Zwart, K. "The Real Story”: Blogs as a Mechanism for Employee Voice" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Dresden International Congress Centre, Dresden, Germany Online Retrieved 2008-04-11 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p92355_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript

Abstract: The purpose of the current paper is to explore the role of blogs as a mechanism for expression of employee concerns in a time of conflict and, using structuration theory (Giddens, 1984), to examine the ways in which bloggers can influence organizational structures. A qualitative analysis of messages posted on a community blog (LANL: The Real Story) identified ways in which the blog was used both to express opinions related to past events (remedial voice) and give input on future actions (preventive voice). In addition, the study identified four values communicated in the blog (justice, honesty, courage, and science), as well as the ways that these values were used to challenge the legitimacy of the organizational authorities and contest distanciation.
Prof. Meares is preparing a revised edition that will be published in Management Communication Quarterly soon, so she cannot make the paper generally available for download. However, she indicated that interested parties can contact her directly to request a copy. Prof. Meares' email address is mmmeares@wsu.edu

The summary part of the paper was particularly interesting:
Practical Implications

The use of this new technology as a mechanism for remedial voice also has practical implications for employees and organizational authorities. From the employees' perspective, this study may provide an example for how employee concerns can become part of the organizational discourse. We hope it will encourage employees to look for opportunities to express their frustration as well as their constructive ideas for their organizations. Rather than ceding the responsibility for providing mechanisms for voice to the organizational authorities as if they are the only ones who can initiate contact, this study illustrates the ways in which employees have agency and the ability to influence the structures in their organizations.

For managers and other authorities in organizations, the current study emphasizes the need to provide employees with real opportunities for constructive voice (preventive and remedial) in order to prevent challenges to the legitimacy of the organizational authorities. This organization provides an example of how the legitimacy of individuals can be challenged through the construction of normative rules outside the control of the organizational power structures. Dialogue between organization members at different levels needs to take place in order to build collective, rather than polarized, structures of signification. In order to have dialogue, managers need to need to listen to employees sincerely without causing them to fear sanctions and must also be willing to take remedial action when managers do not live up to the expectations for legitimation.

It makes me wonder if this blog will some day be considered to have had social merit.

--Doug Roberts
LANL, Retired 2005

Doug and Mary, thank you for allowing me to share this with the blog readers! -Frank

Apr 17, 2008

Waste options open chasm

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

SANTA FE – A forum on closing Material Disposal Area G Wednesday night grappled with one of the most nearly impossible tasks of cleaning up legacy waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Under the current schedule and under penalty of a legally binding agreement, LANL and the Department of Energy are supposed to find a way by the end of 2015 to close out a complex disposal area that has slowly accumulated nearly one million cubic yards of exposed clothing, equipment, and other junk and materials contaminated by radioactivity or chemicals or both.

“At its current state MDA-G doesn’t pose a risk,” said Dave McInroy, LANL environmental program director, who made the central presentation, “but we don’t know what risks it may pose in a future state.”

The forum was sponsored by the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board (NNMCAB), an advisory group that is chartered by the DOE to provide input on environmental issues at Los Alamos.

While the meeting was related to a formal Consent Order between the state and the laboratory as well as its institutional managers, officials of the New Mexico Environment Department, the main regulator of that agreement, did not attend.

Earlier in the week a federal audit revealed that DOE officials have significant doubts that the cleanup can be accomplished on time because of budget limitations.

Marissa Stone, spokeswoman for the New Mexico Environment Department, said the state had informed the advisory board that the department would not be attending.

“We informed the CAB in advance we would not be attending because of its letter to the Department of Energy,” Marissa Stone, spokesperson for NMED said this morning.

The letter expressed NNMCAB’s willingness to cooperate with DOE’s intentions to renegotiate aspects of the consent order, based on its current budget shortfall.

NMED has taken the position that there will be no changes to the Consent Order as it stands.

The forum did not deal with that controversy, but focused on the job at hand.

The solution for closing out MDA-G, as indicated in the presentations and discussions, must be made to work for a thousand years, a fraction of the active life of some of the radioactive materials that must be held in check – and considerably longer than the life-spans of all but a few institutions in human history.

The disposal area, MDA-G, is not one just one thing, as McInroy made clear. The area breaks down into a welter of types of units, pits, shafts, trenches, below and above ground, and with various combinations and conditions of regulatory responsibilities.

By September 2008, LANL and the Department of Energy are scheduled to deliver to the New Mexico Environment Department a formal document known as a Corrective Measures Evaluation, which will evaluate ways to go about the job. Sometime afterward, NMED will select a preliminary remedy, and then, after a round of public input, a final one.

Although McInroy acknowledged reluctance to discuss the preliminary options for closure at MDA-G, he summarized current information about the two poles of a possible solution and the difficult balancing propositions that remain to be calculated.

The range of remedies discussed in public runs from some kind of surface barrier or cover system (a cap), potentially combined with various degrees of engineered containment structures and assorted treatments of excavated materials, to a comprehensive retrieval and evacuation of the waste for off-site disposal.

In terms of time and money there is a huge difference between the simplest engineered cover and the most comprehensive total-removal scenario.

The cap and related activities would cost “in the neighborhood” of $64 million, would require the shortest amount of time to accomplish would have the lowest risk to workers and the public, according to McInroy.

By contrast, removing and hauling the million cubic yards of waste would cost as much as $15 billion, and take as long as 20 years, 70 million miles of transport. While this option would also have the highest risk of workers and the public, it would also eliminate long-term risks.

Comments during a question and answer session focused on the immense scope of the project and ongoing disagreements about the adequacy of the laboratory’s systems for monitoring contaminants in the groundwater.

Bob Neill, retired director of the Environmental Evaluation Group that provided independent analysis of DOE proposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, noted that previous analysis has concluded that “institutional control is lost beyond 100 years and caps fail in 500 years.”

In answer to questions that were raised about human intruders over vast periods of time, Tom Longo of DOE said, “All tough policy decisions must involve intangibles.”

Apr 16, 2008

Directors Say National Labs Are Underfunded

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008; Page A03

The directors of the nation's three national nuclear weapons laboratories say that budget cuts by Congress and the Bush administration have reduced their ability to carry out scientific research needed to reassure the reliability of the nation's nuclear arsenal in future years.

Citing growing financial demands, George H. Miller, director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said, "science is being squeezed out," during a meeting yesterday with Washington Post editors and reporters. He said the labs in total had experienced a shortfall of several hundred million dollars in needed funds.

Miller, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Michael R. Anastasio and Sandia National Laboratories Director Thomas O. Hunter also jointly conveyed that warning at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing yesterday.

The Bush administration is already pursuing a costly restructuring of the U.S. nuclear complex, including many buildings that date from the Manhattan Project of the 1940s. It is also funding the refurbishment of a reduced number of the Cold War-era warheads and bombs and buying costly equipment that can ensure the weapons work without underground testing.

But the administration has been unable to gain congressional approval to develop a new generation of warheads under the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, using old, tested nuclear components. A bipartisan congressional group said the executive branch should decide the number of warheads necessary through the year 2030 before the program can be approved.

Miller said there is a risk of "confidence eroding in the current stockpile" over the next few years if a decision is not made to proceed with the RRW program, which will determine the size of a future weapons complex. The directors also said that Livermore and Los Alamos have lost about 2,000 employees each since 2006, including scientists they wanted to retain.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development Hearing

Update 2: Audio of this hearing is now available from the Senate Appropriations Committee website.

2:00 p.m., Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, hearing on National Nuclear Security Administration and the national nuclear weapons laboratories, with Thomas D'Agostino, National Nuclear Security Administration; George Miller, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Mike Anastasio, Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Tom Hunter, Sandia National Laboratory. 138 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington. Webcast on CapitolHearings.org.

Apr 15, 2008

The New Compensation Design

Posted anonymously by request:

The new compensation design will soon be cast upon us. I sincerely hope all the employees will watch closely. We all are impacted, and not in a positive manner.

In my management role, one task was to provide input to job documents and to provide input to a mapping exercise. I will soon be placed into a situation of defending what was done, how it was done, and more. If I fail to support my upper management, I then am looked upon as not supporting the effort. But I cannot speak openly about the blatant disregard and lack of integrity to this new design.

My own attempts at providing an accurate representation of my employees has been undermined by higher powers that be. This has resulted in what I, along with other colleagues, have determined to be false elevations of leveling, and a significant injustice to what may indeed be a best practice. Once again, our esteemed Laboratory management has adulterated a design for self-serving purposes.

To further this argument, there is no longer a trust of the HR management team. My fellow colleagues recently became aware that a thespian is the lead person of this design. Pray tell, how does one support and defend that which is created and sold to us by an actor?

I am required to defend this new design to my subordinates. But how does one do so when there is apparently no leading expert in such matters within our own HR arena. I am able to defend my own credentials to peers and colleagues. Can that now be said of our own HR department? I submit that it cannot. What credentials can be provided by the HR team leading this new design effort?

Caution to my fellow employees. We often state that we hire the best and brightest. I now presume that we mean the best and brightest at "something", but not necessarily the best or brightest within the desired field of expertise.

And to our Laboratory Director. What has allowed you to bear consideration for a person of the stage to lead and be the spokesman for such an important endeavor?

A continued sham on the part of our new corporate parents. How sad. Most unfortunate in all this will be our staff, all of them. They now have the best and brightest actor deciding their fate.


Date: Tue, 15 Apr 2008
From: Public Affairs Office


As you know we have been going through a series of transition activities involving workforce restructuring and cost reductions that are designed to make the Lab both more efficient and more competitive in the future. The goal is to enable programmatic growth among our traditional clients and to develop new ones as well. We are motivated to be more efficient because of the increased costs of doing business under the new contract, decreases in our funding, and because we must modernize our management methods for delivery of services.

Workforce restructuring has been an important component of our plan. Last fall, I announced a three-phase workforce-restructuring plan to streamline our staff. The first two phases included our flexible term and supplemental labor personnel, as well as a Voluntary Separation Program for indefinite career employees. Through these efforts and normal attrition, we have decreased the Lab‚s workforce by nearly 900 people. This is a good start, but not enough to meet our goals.

I have been notified that DOE Secretary Sam Bodman and National Nuclear Security Administrator Tom D'Agostino have approved the Lab's 3161 Workforce Restructuring Plan. This plan includes an Involuntary Separation Program (ISP) for up to 535 indefinite career employees. We are now proceeding with the detailed planning, including a timeline for implementation, consistent with this authorization.

As I mentioned to you last month, it is very important for me to share any news like this as soon as possible. I know that the best way to do this would have been to discuss it in an all-hands meeting today. Unfortunately I cannot do so until Thursday because I am in Washington D.C. today for meetings in preparation for my Wednesday testimony before the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. At this testimony I will discuss the country's nuclear weapons stockpile and nonproliferation programs, the Lab's science and technology contributions to the nation's security, and the proposed FY2009 budget. I believe that this testimony is extremely important for the Lab, the department and the nation.

I will hold an all-hands meeting as soon as I return on Thursday, April 17, at 1 p.m. in the Bldg. 123 auditorium to talk to you more about our path forward.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.


George Miller
[LLNL Director/LLNS, LLC President]

Apr 14, 2008

At-Will Employment

The comments and emails on the Trujillo case have me wondering if my understanding of at-will employment is incorrect. Why can't his employment be terminated?

My understanding is he'd be owed some severance pay if the termination was not for cause. So what? Just get the lab as far away from this as possible. Leave the rest to law enforcement.

Cap or Carry? Forum focuses on Area G closure

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

The deadline is still about eight years away, but getting to the end of the list of cleanup chores at Los Alamos National Laboratory is about to require some agonizing decisions.

To get the public up to speed and involved in those decisions, the Northern New Mexico Citizen’s Advisory Board (NNMCAB) will host in Santa Fe another forum on Area G, the controversial radioactive and mixed-waste landfill at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
This time the educational forum will focus on the range of options under consideration for closing out the dump, with implications that extend far into the future.

“We’re getting very close to LANL making a firm, formal recommendation on what to do,” said NNMCAB chair J.D. Campbell in a telephone interview Friday. “What’s done over the next few years will remain for the next hundreds and thousands of years.”

Campbell calls the process for deciding the fate of Area G, “the most important closure activity for LANL.”

He said the LANL representatives would present a range of options, from designing an engineered cap over the landfill that would leave the waste in place to digging the whole thing up and hauling it somewhere else.

Three years ago, when the advisory board’s first forum on Area G took up the subject, Cambell said, the public clearly favored the removal option.

“We want to explain to the public what is involved if even a portion is dug up and transported elsewhere,” he said. “It is expensive, complicated and there are many time-related issues.”

He said a lot of people don’t realize how many “hundreds of thousands” of truckloads and truck trips and general disruption that would create.

The closure of Area G is the last, the biggest and most difficult cleanup milestone under the comprehensive environmental cleanup and remediation agreement worked out between the state and the laboratory.

Many other factors may become involved, including the continuing battle to fund the cleanup project, despite commitments and now threats of fines for missing milestones.
Area G is also known as the Low-Level Radioactive Solid Waste Storage and Disposal Area. Occupying 66 acres of Mesita del Buey, between Pajarito Canyon and Canada del Buey, it is located in Technical Area 54, north of Pajarito Road.

During the forum representatives of the laboratory and the Department of Energy environmental programs will provide the latest information about Area G, what it contains and how the various types of waste are stored there now.

Dave McInroy, a LANL program director will discuss in detail each of the available options for restoration or closure of Area G, including risks, costs, schedules and regulations, according to the meeting agenda.

A spokesperson for San Ildefonso Pueblo will discuss the topic from the point of view of the closest neighboring pueblo community.

A poster session will take place from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday in the Jemez Complex at the Santa Fe Community College. The program runs from 6-9 p.m., including a question-and-answer period.

CAB Forum on Closure Alternatives for LANL Material Disposal Area G.
Date: Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Time: 4PM - 9PM MDT
Category: Public Meeting
For information please call the CAB office at (505) 989-1662.

Apr 12, 2008

Laboratory answers safety questions

April 11, 2008
Response to NNSA Special Report Order on glovebox safety delivered

The Laboratory responded Thursday, on schedule, to a Special Report Order from Tom D'Agostino, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, that was delivered to the Laboratory on January 4, 2008. The Special Report Order is focused on details of two separate glovebox accidents from January 2007 that involved worker injuries and radiological exposures.

The Special Report Order directed the Laboratory to respond with information on any corrective actions taken as a result of inquires into the circumstances of the accidents, and to outline current exposure dose estimates. The order also directed the Laboratory to provide information related to lessons learned, management assessments, improvements to nuclear safety, and any significant changes to glovebox operations.

In his cover letter to D'Agostino in response to the Special Report Order, Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio said, "I share your strong commitment that our corrective actions must be effective, and this commitment remains one of my highest priorities. [Los Alamos National Security] is implementing a formal corrective action plan that, when fully executed, will improve our ability to protect workers from glovebox hazards and will provide assurance that workers are following the processes and procedures designed to protect them. Many actions in this plan are now complete."

In the response the Laboratory acknowledges that, "the need for improvement cannot start with reactive activities associated with an accident. Rather, proactive activities such as a vigorous performance assessment program are critically important in finding and addressing precursor issues before they result in safety events. [The Laboratory] thus understands the human and financial toll on the institution that results from adverse safety events, and is placing its resources on those processes that will assist in avoiding these events."

The response provides detailed information to NNSA demonstrating that all identified causal factors have been addressed by one or more corrective actions. It contains the most current revision to the corrective action plan, a schedule that identifies the organizations involved in and resources required to complete the actions, and a description of the closure process. The response also outlines the root causes of the accidents, and how the Laboratory looked for similar conditions Labwide and took appropriate actions. Current dose estimates and medical treatment information is provided in the response, along with the each worker's status. Both injured employees have returned to work.

In conclusion the response states that the Laboratory understands what happened and why, and has taken appropriate corrective actions based on the causes of the two events, and has processes in place to assure both the effectiveness and sustainability of those corrective actions; and that the Laboratory understands the significance of these events, the impact they have had on the involved workers and their families, the challenges they have presented to the Laboratory and the reasons for NNSA's concerns. It further states that Anastasio and his senior management team pledge that progress toward improving the Laboratory's nuclear safety performance must continue and that the Laboratory can not assume that the task is complete.

Apr 10, 2008

Cleanup at LANL In Limbo

By Michael Coleman
Albuquerque Journal Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON— Environmental cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory remains in limbo because the Bush administration hasn't set aside enough money for the job.

Department of Energy officials said Wednesday they are reshuffling nuclear cleanup priorities nationwide because of tight federal budget constraints. It remains unclear which projects will move to the top of the list, the officials said.

The administration included $164 million in its 2009 budget proposal for cleanup at LANL, but that's about $100 million short of what's needed to meet federal benchmarks set in a 2005 cleanup agreement with the state Environment Department.

The so-called consent order calls for a fence-to-fence cleanup of hazardous waste over the lab's 40-square-mile property by 2015.

Regulators fear that if left untreated, contaminants could pollute regional drinking water supplies, among other problems.

James Rispoli, DOE's assistant secretary for environmental management, told a congressional subcommittee Wednesday that the federal government is negotiating with states, including New Mexico, to determine which cleanup projects should take priority.

"We are in a dialogue to discuss, from a relative risk standpoint, which cases need to be done and which ones could be postponed, if you will," Rispoli said.

State Environment Department officials in recent weeks have accused DOE of attempting to wiggle out of its commitments under the cleanup agreement and indicated it will continue to fine the lab when benchmarks are missed.

New Mexico already has fined the lab $750,000 for violations of the cleanup agreement.

Sen. Pete Domenici, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said during Wednesday's hearing the Bush administration's budget is inadequate.

"Your budget again fails to provide adequate funding to meet the milestones negotiated between DOE and the state of New Mexico for cleanup at Los Alamos," Domenici said.

Unlike in previous years, Domenici said he is not sure he can convince Congress to add the money to its budgets this year.

"I am not confident that I will be able to find $100 million needed to keep the cleanup in compliance with the agreement you negotiated," Domenici said.

Domenici said administration budget requests for the DOE environmental cleanup projects nationwide have dwindled from more than $7 billion in 2005 and 2006 to just $5.5 billion for 2009.

"It's really embarrassing and very troubling when they enter into an agreement and then the feds come along and don't have the money to do it," Domenici said in an interview after the hearing. "And that's where we are now."

Journal Northern Bureau staff writer Raam Wong contributed to this report.

Apr 9, 2008

TA-55 MOX Mission Terminated

The DNFSB Weekly Report for 14 March 2008 indicates that some operations at TA-55 have been terminated.
Plutonium Facility: The programmatic mission to use TA-55 aqueous processing capabilities to produce 330 kg of polished plutonium oxide by 2012 for use in the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility has been terminated. This provides an opportunity to use this newly available aqueous processing capacity to expedite other ongoing efforts, such as chemical stabilization of legacy materials (Rec 94-1/00-1). Current plans call for legacy residues to be repackaged into more robust storage containers by late-2010, but subsequent handling of these materials would still be required for ultimate processing and stabilization. Although it requires more up-front funding, accelerating legacy material stabilization would reduce worker exposure and risk by eliminating the need to handle these items multiple times. This approach could also increase operational flexibility by freeing up highly constrained vault space currently being consumed by these items.


HOUSTON, TX, April 9, 2008 --/WORLD-WIRE/--

Today Mr. Michael Howell, a partner from the law firm of Reich & Binstock, LLP of Houston, Texas, along with Mr. Phil Gaddy and Mr. David Jaramillo of the law firm Gaddy and Jaramillo, located in Albuquerque, NM, announced the filing of a landmark law suit by Dr. René Ryman of Illinois against The Regents of the University of California and the Zia Company for the releases of plutonium from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, which allegedly caused the death of Dr. Ryman’s father, Lowell Edward Ryman. The lawsuit has been filed in Federal District Court against the Regents of the University of California, who formerly operated the Los Alamos facility. Extensive research has determined that the facility released and disposed dangerous amounts of plutonium in several public areas, including canyons adjacent to the facility where children would frequently play. The lawsuit alleges that the radiation exposures in these canyons along with other releases from the Los Alamos facility caused the death of Lowell Ryman from multiple myeloma, an environmental cancer caused by exposure to plutonium. The United States Congress has determined that radiation causes many forms of cancer and leukemia, including multiple myeloma.

A recent report published by the Federal Government’s Centers for Disease Control confirmed that the Los Alamos facility has grossly under-reported historic radiation emissions by a factor of nearly 60-fold. This government report suggests that the plutonium emissions from the Los Alamos Laboratories exceeded the combined releases of the nation’s much larger plutonium production facilities in Hanford, Washington; Savannah River, Georgia; and Rocky Flats, Colorado.

In addition to the large plutonium releases, many residents lived very near the Los Alamos facility, across the street or adjacent to the property, compared to many miles of distance between the residents and plutonium production facilities located in other states. The combination of these conditions resulted in the residents of Los Alamos being exposed to much larger doses of radiation than any other production facility in the United States.

For more information please contact, Michael Howell at (800) 622-7271.

Requests for Information

Comments on the PBI 13.1 post have led to readers requesting information from me so they can try to help. "Management by blog" some are calling it. It might work and thank you for trying!

Here's a question from one of the latest comments:
Frank, I've worked at TA-55 for 7 years and I don't recall this incident.
It is possible the leak(s) happened even before you came to TA-55, I only know it was before 1 April 2002. Also remember this room is an electrical substation on the lower level. Very few people would have any reason to ever enter it.

One clue that I have found is in LA-UR-02-1673:
3.0 Preparations

3.1 Batch Feed

High-Radioactivity Influent
: RLWTF influent typically has concentrations ranging from 50- 150 nCi/L gross alpha. However, a slug of influent with a concentration of nearly 1100 nCi/L gross alpha was received on 29 and 30 March 2001. Rightfully concerned about the plant’s ability to process influent with an order of magnitude more radioactivity than normal, plant personnel were successful in side-streaming about 19,000 gallons of this influent.

Discussions about how to treat these waters led to the idea of processing it through the RLWTF as a batch. MTP unit operations would be sampled as was done during the plant test of May 2000 to acquire a supplemental set of performance data. One large and exciting difference, however, was the radioactive concentration. Plant Test 2000 used influent with a low gross alpha concentration of 33 nCi/L. The side-streamed influent would provide a test at the other extreme, and would thus provide complementary, as well as supplemental, data about plant performance.
If anyone could tell me what happened in PF-4 on 29 and 30 March 2001 I would love to hear about it.

This document also gives a fairly detailed description of what is typically in the waste that travels through the pipes that leaked. This is from Section 6.6 Radioactive Parameters:
The next six columns in Table 6-11 then present alpha activity for six isotopes. These columns reveal that 238Pu contributed about three-fourths of the alpha radioactivity in clarifier influent; that 239Pu and 241Am contributed about one-fourth of the alpha radioactivity; and that the three uranium isotopes contributed just one percent.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about LA-UR-02-1673 is that when I found it and forwarded it to the DOE Inspector General's office it was removed from LANL's web site. I had a formal complaint open with the IG's office at the time. I also did one of my first blog posts about it.

Apr 7, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

I have no phone calls nor emails from LANS to report today. The world is watching. Here are the stats from a few of the blog's recent visitors.
Domain Name sarov.ru ? (Russian Fed.)
IP Address 213.177.116.# (JSC SAROVSVJAZINFORM)
ISP OJSC VolgaTelecom
Continent : Asia
Country : Russian Federation (Facts)
State/Region : Nizhegorod
City : Sarov

Domain Name iaea.org ? (Organization)
IP Address 161.5.131.# (International Atomic Energy Centre (IAEA))
ISP International Atomic Energy Centre (IAEA)
Continent : Europe
Country : Austria (Facts)
State/Region : Wien
City : Vienna

Apr 4, 2008

PBI Measure 13.1 Management Leadership

I've been reading over the LANS 2007 Performance Evaluation and I just can't believe what I'm seeing. Hopefully some of our readers can help make sense of it.

Performance Based Initiative 13 is the one in which LANS earned the lowest percentage of it's possible management fee, 35%. Measure 13.1, which directs that LANS "Ensure highly effective leadership, integration, and excellence in management of programs", is found on pages 99 to 106. Of the $7,837,939 LANS could have earned for PBI Measure 13.1 (Management Leadership), they were awarded $1,810,000 (23%).

What caught my attention was this from page 105:
b) Fee was granted in recognition of:
  • the sound, critical investigations into the Pu uptake events
That seems an odd thing to say in light of D'Agostino formally admonishing LANS in his 4 January 2008 Special Report Order. I found it especially puzzling. Let me explain why.

I have been exposed to plutonium at LANL while working in their "pit factory" and I emailed Director Anastasio about this a long time ago. I was told that the lab would investigate and report to me what had spilled onto equipment I serviced, but they were confident it had not been a plutonium exposure. They followed up about a week later saying they had not completed their investigation. That was March of 2006 and I still await an answer.

I took up blogging while searching for the answer LANS refuses to give me. My name is Frank Young and most of you know me as Pinky.

What do I think? I think a portion of that $1.81M fee allocation needs to be returned to the taxpayers and LANS needs to work a lot harder on investigating Pu uptakes. Maybe this year LANS can really earn that fee.

What do you think, Mike Anastasio? Anyone?

Imperfect Performance

By Alyssa Rosenberg, arosenberg@govexec.com
April 3, 2008

During a recent trip to China, I visited a Tsinghua University classroom in Beijing to observe some graduate students in the school's international development program. But soon after settling into my seat at the back of the room, the students turned the tables and began asking me questions.

Specifically, they wanted to know how the U.S. government handles performance management. Most of the students are from Asian and African countries that look to China as a key driver of economic growth. But it was the United States they were interested in when it came to measuring the effectiveness of government.

I was obliged to tell them that, for all the combined efforts of public and private sector leaders, a library's-worth of studies and measurement tools, and many attempts to measure performance and to base compensation on those results, the U.S. government is still pretty bollixed up when it comes to evaluating itself and its employees.

A quick review of a few weeks' worth of stories from Government Executive illustrated how endemic the confusion over performance measurement is. For instance, in the past two weeks, advocates debated the role of politics in setting priorities and the grappling with budgets, Transportation Security Administrator Kip Hawley acknowledged that the agency's pay-for-performance system was sinking under the weight of its own complexity, and workforce planners and union leaders discussed whether inspiring extra effort or ensuring fairness should be the primary goal of a performance review and pay system.

The announcement last week that the National Nuclear Security Administration will launch pay for performance will do precisely nothing to help government leaders out of this compensation quagmire. If the program at NNSA succeeds, other agencies and departments likely will argue that the small agency's approach isn't scalable, or that the workforce profile is unique. If it fails, there will be a wide range of explanations for that failure. What is certain in any debate over performance measurement is there are no easy answers or simple blueprints.

None of this should come as a surprise to readers of this column. The National Security Personnel System alone provides a lifetime of cautionary tales about the difficulty of getting measurement and reward right, and the effect on employee morale and trust in managers when those programs fail.

But the Tsinghua students' questions were a reminder of how surprising -- and problematic -- it is that no one has really figured out how to measure government performance.

Government effectiveness isn't the only thing at stake. As one African student said, having a government that works lends credibility to other sectors of society. Until governments in developing countries can prove that their regulatory systems are strong and fair, the student pointed out, international investors may not -- and should not -- trust the businesses that they regulate.

The students couldn't come up with a solution either. I listened in on a group exercise to design a performance measurement system for a community center. Students tossed around ideas, including devising a customer service satisfaction survey, tracking the popularity of items in the center's food bank, and monitoring electricity records to see which facilities received the greatest use. None of the participants suggested evaluating the center's employees or surveying them on job satisfaction.

Perhaps in spite of its flawed programs, opposition and a lack of information, the U.S. government is ahead of the curve after all when it comes to performance management. No one may know precisely how to measure federal employees' job performance, but at least workforce planners and agency heads in this country know that it's a central issue.

Apr 3, 2008

State Drops Trujillo Case

By Sarah Welsh
SUN Assistant News Editor

A criminal case against former Española city councilor J. Patrick Trujillo has been dropped because the state discovered that the deadline for prosecution had already passed, District Attorney Henry Valdez confirmed Tuesday.

"Under any of the scenarios of potential charges, the statute of limitations would have run," Valdez said.

The news came as a surprise to Española Police, who just last week confirmed their investigation of Trujillo for alleged sexual misconduct involving minors during the 1990s. The case was picked up by the district attorney's office and was scheduled to go before a grand jury Wednesday (4/2), Española Police Sgt. Christian Lopez said.

Lopez learned Monday that his investigation, which was first opened in 2005, had stalled. Española Public Safety Chief Julian Gonzales said he and Lopez are both "miffed" that the case was dropped.

"Why we were going from zero to 60, back to zero, I can't tell you," Gonzales said. "I don't know."

Valdez, who agreed to comment only because the case had already been publicly disclosed by police, said proceedings are supposed to stay secret prior to charges being filed, precisely because sudden changes may occur.

"There's lots of cases that may or may not be scheduled for grand jury, that may be presented, for a number of reasons," Valdez said. "And that's why they're secret."

Valdez firmly denied that his office was under any political pressure to either prosecute or drop the case.

"In fact, I really hadn't spoken to anybody about this case until very, very recently," Valdez said. "There was absolutely no pressure or inquiry (of) any kind, of one way or the other."

Trujillo expressed relief at the outcome.

"I'm happy to hear that the grand jury target notice has been withdrawn and that the prosecution has been dropped," Trujillo said. "I hope that this will at least in part restore my good reputation, which I built on my long good work and concern for this community."

Last week Trujillo resigned from his position as Española Military Academy Board president. Board Vice President Joe Duran and Academy Principal Steven Baca both said the Board hadn't met to formally accept his request. Baca said he anticipates that Trujillo will return as Board president.

Asked about his status as the Academy, Trujillo said it was too soon to say.

"I haven't gotten that far," Trujillo said. "I'm trying to piece my life back together."

Time Runs Out
Valdez said it took time for his office to discover the time-limit issue because they were considering different charges which would have varying deadlines for prosecution. Although Valdez would not confirm the nature of Trujillo's case, he used child-abuse cases and sex cases involving minors as examples of differing legal rules.

"Particularly with child abuse cases, there's different scenarios when the statute (of limitations) begins to run," Valdez said. "It's not like other crimes (which is) just generally the date of the crime — the statute of limitations on sex cases involving minors, or abuse cases involving minors, has different rules."

According to state law, the time limit for prosecuting child abuse and molestation doesn't begin running when the crime is committed. Rather, it begins when the victim turns 18 or the incident is reported to police — whichever occurs first. From that point on, prosecutors are subject to standard statutes of limitations — six years for a second-degree felony, five years for a third-degree felony, and so on.

Valdez said all the scenarios considered by prosecutors had limitations expiring in October 2007 or earlier.

Lopez said he was told the statute of limitations in this case involved a third-degree felony — whose limit runs out after five years. Therefore, the state would have to bring formal charges by the time an alleged victim turned 23. If the crime rose to a more serious second-degree felony, the state would have just one additional year to launch prosecution. After that, no one can be prosecuted for the crime.

"It's too bad," Lopez said. "Knowing what I know about the case, I just feel bad for the (alleged) victims."

Lopez said he had originally been told the deadline for prosecution wouldn't pass until summertime, making an April grand jury date well within the limit.

"I didn't think there was a need for concern," Lopez said.

Apr 2, 2008

Judge Grants Judgment Against NNSA in Records Case

By Sue Major Holmes/Associated Press

A federal judge has ruled in favor of an activist group in its battle to obtain documents on nuclear waste sites, monitoring and 10-year plans for future activities at Sandia National Laboratories.

"In light of the kafkaesque review process adopted by defendant (the National Nuclear Security Administration), it is not surprising that the delay in this case stretched many months beyond the statutorily prescribed time frame'' under the Freedom of Information Act, U.S. District Judge Robert Brack of Las Cruces wrote in his decision Monday.

Citizen Action sued in August 2006 under the Freedom of Information Act to compel the NNSA and the Department of Energy to release the records.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, federal agencies must make a determination on a request within 20 working days. An agency can seek a brief extension, but can continue to withhold documents only if they fall under exceptions to the law.

Brack said he was reluctant to impose "arbitrary time limits'' beyond those set in the law because of the sensitive nature of the information. Instead, he directed both sides to confer over a reasonable time frame for responding to Citizen Action's requests.

Dave McCoy, director of Citizen Action, said he hopes the sessions will result in the group not only obtaining the documents but also working out a way to prevent problems in the future.

"The delay that they've engaged in really causes problems for our organization and other members of the public to review processes that they've got going,'' he said.

Brack plans another hearing on pending motions concerning information the NNSA wants to black out before releasing the documents. McCoy said he hopes that issue also can be handled in the sessions with the NNSA.

Brack denied the NNSA's partial motion to dismiss and granted Citizen Action's 2007 motion for a summary judgment on its claims that the federal agency violated the law by failing to respond in a timely manner to Citizen Action's requests in July 2004, August 2005 and November 2005 and by delaying processing requests submitted in September, October and November 2006.

"This decision should send a strong message to NNSA's management that NNSA can no longer use delay to create secrecy'' about lab operations, McCoy said.

A spokeswoman for the NNSA's Albuquerque office did not return a call Tuesday from The Associated Press seeking comment. There was no answer at NNSA's headquarters office after hours in Washington, D.C.

Citizen Action's lawsuit said that despite regular telephone and e-mail communication, it did not receive the requested documents nor a determination from NNSA about why they shouldn't be released. The lawsuit said the records are considered public.

Brack dismissed the NNSA's contention that case law didn't apply when requests require multiple layers of review.

"FOIA requirements apply with equal force to situations involving national security, sensational or complex issues,'' he wrote.

The judge also said the NNSA offered no rationale for its "exceedingly complex process'' for dealing with FOIA requests.

"Simply put, defendant may not evade judicial scrutiny by failing to publish its labyrinthine process for reviewing FOIA requests,'' he wrote.

Citizen Action, formed over concern about possible contamination from Sandia's Cold War-era mixed waste landfill, sought Sandia's 10-year comprehensive site plans and records related to irradiated reactor fuels and other irradiated materials at the landfill.

Apr 1, 2008

Thank You!

The blog is one year old today and I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone. I know better than anyone that I could not have run it without a lot of help. Whatever the blog has accomplished, the credit goes to the readers. Thank you!