Nov 22, 2008

Report: Sandia Violated Nuke Standards

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

Sandia National Laboratories cut corners in the manufacture of a key component for U.S. nuclear warheads, government investigators have found.

In one case, engineers responsible for ensuring quality standards for the warhead parts were removed from their jobs because of a disagreement over the approach to ensuring the components met the exacting standards required for parts that go into the nuclear stockpile, according to the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General.

The office Friday released a terse, one page summary of a classified report on the agency's investigation.

According to the sum-mary, the investigators were responding to an anonymous letter alleging "serious problems" with the way Sandia handled manufacturing of the parts, used in the Navy's W76 submarine-launched nuclear warhead.

Spokesman Michael Padilla issued a statement saying "only products with the highest quality" are provided by Sandia for the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Sandia is responsible for manufacturing neutron generators, small devices that help jump-start a nuclear warhead's detonation. Because they decay over time, they must be routinely replaced.

In April 2001, Sandia went looking for a new supplier for one of the components needed for the W76 "after disagreements between Sandia and the existing supplier," according to the investigation report summary.

The new supplier "had no experience" making the nuclear weapon parts in question.

The change to a new supplier, according to the report, was made despite the fact that there was only a small number of parts left to be built.

Quality control standards for nuclear weapon parts are highly exacting, and the Inspector General's report questions whether those standards were met in the case of the W76 parts. For example, Sandia failed to follow procedures intended to ensure the new supplier was qualified to do the work, according to the report.

Sandia also dropped the requirement for a "pilot" manufacturing phase to screen out manufacturing problems, according to the report.

Padilla said the supplier selected for the work was the "best technically qualified and best value supplier," and that improvements in Sandia's procedures have been made in response to the issues raised by the Inspector General.


Anonymous said...

It's beginning to sound like NNSA may be itching to find some excuse with which to pull the SNL contract from Lockheed and hand it over to those wonderful Bechtel Boys.

And why not? They've got LANL, they've got LLNL. SNL is the only missing piece. I'm sure NNSA will find a way.

Anonymous said...

Wanna know why things at DOE HQ and other government Departments always seem so screwed up? Just read this WaPo article. It will answer your questions...

Top Scientist Rails Against Hirings
Bush Appointees Land Career Jobs Without Technical Backgrounds

By Juliet Eilperin and Carol D. Leonnig

Washington Post, November 22, 2008

The president of the nation's largest general science organization yesterday sharply criticized recent cases of Bush administration political appointees gaining permanent federal jobs with responsibility for making or administering scientific policies, saying the result would be "to leave wreckage behind."

"It's ludicrous to have people who do not have a scientific background, who are not trained and skilled in the ways of science, make decisions that involve resources, that involve facilities in the scientific infrastructure," said James McCarthy, a Harvard University oceanographer who is president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "You'd just like to think people have more respect for the institution of government than to leave wreckage behind with these appointments."

His comments came as several new examples surfaced of political appointees gaining coveted, high-level civil service positions as the administration winds down. The White House has said repeatedly that all gained their new posts in an open, competitive process, but congressional Democrats and others questioned why political appointees had won out over qualified federal career employees.

In one recent example, Todd Harding -- a 30-year-old political appointee at the Energy Department -- applied for and won a post this month at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There, he told colleagues in a Nov. 12 e-mail, he will work on "space-based science using satellites for geostationary and meteorological data." Harding earned a bachelor's degree in government from Kentucky's Centre College, where he also chaired the Kentucky Federation of College Republicans.

Also this month, Erik Akers, the congressional relations chief for the Drug Enforcement Administration, gained a permanent post at the agency after being denied a lower-level career appointment late last year.

And in mid-July, Jeffrey T. Salmon, who has a doctorate in world politics and was a speechwriter for Vice President Cheney when he served as defense secretary, had been selected as deputy director for resource management in the Energy Department's Office of Science. In that position, he oversees decisions on its grants and budget.

Their recent career moves, along with those of several other Bush appointees, highlight the extent to which personnel who started their federal careers as presidential picks are making the transition into civil service. That practice, known as "burrowing" by career government workers, has been a regular occurrence in the waning days of previous administrations, as well.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the administration was not involved in orchestrating any hires of political appointees, and he defended the right of political aides to apply for career positions.

"The White House has no policy on individuals applying for career jobs," he said. "There is no deliberate effort to shift political staff into career jobs."

At least one agency yesterday initially referred questions about the personnel moves to the White House, but Fratto said that was because the agency was wary of the media.

"We expect agencies to follow the rules as laid out" by the Office of Personnel Management, he said. "If there is an instance where those rules are not followed, OPM has the obligation and the responsibility to follow up with the career officials at those departments and agencies and take corrective measures."

But Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), raised concerns about the shifts in an interview yesterday.

"I believe it's unethical to do this. Clearly the people voted for change," Boxer said. She said she had discussed the issue with members of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, adding: "They are on top of it."

Responding to congressional inquiries, Luis A. Reyes, deputy assistant to the president for presidential personnel, sent a letter yesterday to Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) denying that a concerted effort was taking place.

"In hiring our Nation's Federal career workforce, the Administration adheres to a rigorous, transparent and competitive process in place at each agency that is managed by career officials and safeguarded by the merit system principles upheld by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), without White House involvement," Reyes wrote.

McCarthy at the AAAS specifically questioned Salmon's and Harding's qualifications, but DOE spokeswoman Healy Baumgardner said Salmon's duties include "operational administration and management," which are "not science-based." Baumgardner added that Salmon competed for the high-level Senior Executive Service post against "a number of other applicants."

At NOAA, spokesman Anson Franklin said Harding was selected in "a competitive process by career executives" and "the position did not require a scientific background, but a background in international relations."

Akers, a former GOP Capitol Hill staffer who did not make the list for the three best-qualified candidates when he initially applied for a GS-15 job at the DEA, got a second chance last month when the agency advertised it was taking applications for two weeks for a soon-to-be-vacant job in the Senior Executive Service.

Acting DEA chief Michele Leonhart announced on Nov. 13 that she had chosen Akers for the career position to help oversee a division called Demand Reduction, a headquarters job that the agency had previously told budget analysts it planned to eliminate.

A source familiar with the situation said the Justice Department raised concerns about the initial plan to hire Akers without opening the position for full competition. A Justice Department spokesman declined to elaborate but said the agency instructed the DEA to make the process fair and open.

Akers's career path within the DEA over the past three years has yielded considerable financial benefits. For nine years before joining the DEA, he worked for Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and as the director of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, where in 2005, his last year on the Hill, he made $39,000, legislative records show.

In his political "Schedule C" job at the DEA, Akers had a salary range of $115,00 to $149,000, depending on his step. His new senior executive position pays from $114,000 to $172,200.

Anonymous said...

Just look at the guy who heads NNSA, Tom D'Agostino. He has a BS in physical science and nothing more. And yet he has oversight of all the nation's nuclear weapons research labs. The dry rot starts at the very top.

Anonymous said...

A PhD obviously does not qualify you to manage a single lab. How would it be relevant for someone managing the whole complex.

Anonymous said...

10:52, and what was Richardson's background as Sec Energy? I guess you're really going to be unhappy if Gov Schwarzenegger becomes Sec Energy.

From wiki -
"After taking English classes at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, California, he earned a B.A., from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where he graduated Business and International Economics, in 1979.