Jul 16, 2008

GAO: LANL security lapses not fixed

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

The Government Accountability Office has returned to the subject of security at Los Alamos National Laboratory, this time calling for long-term strategies for improvement.

In the first part of a lengthy report released this morning, GAO responded to a request by lawmakers to describe the security environment at LANL and determine whether new management approaches would sustain security improvements over the long term.

The laboratory responded this morning with a statement that emphasized improvements identified in the report and actions taken to correct “legacy issues,” including a positive trend in reducing security incidents since 2005, consolidations and reductions in a variety classified media, assets and parts, and the creation of a “Super Vault Type Rooms,” for further limiting routine access to classified materials.

The auditors found that the laboratory is addressing problems raised in previous evaluations on many fronts and has more than two dozen initiatives underway to boost security.

“However, we found that significant security problems identified in these evaluations have not been fully addressed,” the report states. “Specifically, while LANL’s storage of classified parts in unapproved storage containers and its process for ensuring that actions to correct identified security deficiencies have been cited in external security evaluations for years, complete security solutions in these areas have not been implemented.”

The authors of the report were puzzled to find that LANL and its supervisors at the National Nuclear Security Administration had not taken advantage of their initiative calling for a reduction in physical plant to make corresponding reductions in security exposures.

They were also doubtful that the annual performance evaluations by which the laboratory’s management fees are calculated were adequately focused to encourage significant security improvements.

For the most recent evaluation period, the auditors noted, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, the private partnership that manages LANL, was docked 65 percent of the fees available for leadership because of a particularly egregious security incident in the fall of 2006, but at the same time LANS earned 90 percent of the $2.7 million performance award fee available for security performance that year.

“Furthermore, of the $1.43 million potentially available for LANS security performance award fee in fiscal 2008, all but $30,000 is allocated” to paper pushing projects, publishing plans and policies, making lists, and doing well on a survey, the report observed.

The audit was requested by the John D. Dingell, D-Mich. and Joe Barton, R-Tex., the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, along with Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and John Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman and ranking member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, that has held numerous hearings on security issues at Los Alamos in recent years.

“World War II was prosecuted in less time than it is taking DOE and its contractor to bring a robust security system into force at this nuclear weapons lab,” Dingell said in a press release.

Barton said GAO’s findings were the no different than the dozen hearings that have been held on the subject by the Energy and Commerce Committee, and that “the lab was run more like a corner hamburger stand than the crown jewel of the nation’s nuclear weapons.”

NNSA declined to provide specific comment on any recommendations, but stated, “that while there is still much to be accomplished, NNSA believes that progress has been made in addressing a number of specific areas.”

“While time will be the ultimate measure of whether these actions can be sustained, we believe that we have, developed a process to focus on continuous improvement,” the laboratory’s prepared statement added. “Together with an aggressive approach to reducing our classified holdings and providing engineering solutions to common human performance issues, we consider our efforts to be a responsible and focused approach to protecting national security.”

The audit was performed between March 2007 and June 2008. This is the fourth complete assessment of security at LANL since 2000.

Another seven surveys have been conducted by NNSA’s local site office during that period.

The GAO report can be downloaded here.
The congressional news release can be viewed here.
The Washington Post also covered this story here.


Anonymous said...

All the secrets at LANL, like other NNSA sites, walk out the gates at 4:30pm everyday.

Anonymous said...

LANL set the standard for poor performance in this regard a long, long time ago. That's just something we have to admit to. Too many arrogant butt-head cowboys for our own good. But thank goodness we now have some true world class leadership taking root in these here parts, and together we're going to turn this campus wannabe corporate culture on its head once and for all. It may take time, but we're going to get there...King Anastasio and I.

--Sir Richard of LANS

Anonymous said...

I've worked both at LANL and at DOE HQ. LANL certainly could be improved but compared with the DOE, the security environment at LANL excels.

Anonymous said...

Anyone seen TSM salary figures for the finalized Phase 2 compensation program yet?

Anonymous said...

Another bullet for the Energy and Water Committee to use against us in the next funding cyle, and more ammunition to re-define the LANL mission. Wow why can't they get it together?

Anonymous said...

Say, is this going to affect my bonus?


Anonymous said...

"All the secrets at LANL, like other NNSA sites, walk out the gates at 4:30pm everyday." - 7/16/08 2:54 PM\

You still stay round until 4:30 PM each day? That's impressive! You must have a modicum of dedication left toward LANL. Why not join the rest of us and sneak out around 3:30.

Of course, in the good old days, people worked until late in the night and even on weekends for an institution that they loved and which treated them well. Those days are over.

Anonymous said...

You never hear about security problems at headquarters...why is that? Well I can tell you that they do not like to receive, handle or even read classified documents...and they certainly do not handle classified parts or other items. I have traveled to HQ for numerous meetings, and either the classified presentations are sent via e-mail, or if you can find somebody who has access, classified e-mail. They are terified to handle the stuff. God forbid if they have to even handle UCNI or OUO information. They often demand that you "dumb it down".

Anonymous said...

12:25 pm: "You still stay round until 4:30 PM each day? That's impressive! You must have a modicum of dedication left toward LANL. Why not join the rest of us and sneak out around 3:30."

Yeah, I recently was driving up the hill from Santa Fe on a weekday around 3:40 pm, and couldn't believe the continuous stream of traffic headed down. I tried to do the math - these folks started their 9 hour day at 5:30 am, assuming they took an hour for lunch. I bet they all work in service groups too - lots of customers around at 5:30 am.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there are a lot of people taking off by 3:30 PM.

Why not? There is no incentive to work hard. The promotions, salary increases, and bonuses all go to the Rechtel people.

As they say, "Working hard at LANL is like wetting your pants in a dark suit. It gives you a warm feeling, but nobody notices."

Anonymous said...

7:04 am: "Yes, there are a lot of people taking off by 3:30 PM. Why not? There is no incentive to work hard. The promotions, salary increases, and bonuses all go to the Rechtel people."

We're not talking about "working hard." We're talkig about at least putting in the hours you are paid for. Obviously you won't be "working hard" no matter what. What happened to personal integrity? Do your family members trust you to do what's right? If your employer can't, why should they? If distrust and dislike of your employer is grounds for cheating on time and salary, why aren't you out robbing banks? Why not find a job (or better yet, a career) you can be happy in? You have let your anger at your employer make you become as bad as them. Where's the superiority there?

Anonymous said...

7/20/08 8:32 PM

When will the Rechtel people start putting in their nine hours of PRODUCTIVE TIME each day? My experience is that the division leader is absent most of the day, if we see him on the elevator he pretends he doesn't know us or he walks away as fast as he can, if he happens to go to the kitchen at the same time as one of us, he quickly leaves without any kind of acknowledgement. None of these managers engage their employees in any kind of interaction, like my boss says, we are the unwashed, I guess. So is merely putting in the 9 hours meeting the time and effort standard, when nothing gets done by these managers for those entire 9 hours, except hide behind meetings and their closed doors. Yeah right, that's personal integrity. I too remember putting in 50 hours or more at work because I was faithful to the institution and it was meaningful work. Now is is punch the clock and nothing gets done.

Anonymous said...

7/22 9:03 pm:
So you believe that as long as your boss(es) show a lack of personal integrity it is ok for you to do the same? That translates to no one having any integrity. Are you ok with that?