Jan 14, 2009

Senator Domenici's Exit Interview - Selected Excerpts

By Tom Michael, Innovation: America's Journal of Technology Commercialization

What advice do you have for the national laboratories, often called the crown jewels of American science and innovation?

Diversification. Los Alamos National Laboratory, for example, is not creating a great mix of science. They’re predominantly weapons and defense-oriented and they are just beginning to see some daylight on some other scientific options. On the contrary, at Sandia National Laboratories, a big percentage of what they do is new. More than 50 percent of their work is something other than defense. We’re not going to dramatically change overnight what the labs do, and where they get their money, but clearly they need to start diversifying.
"Do you have any comment on the organization of the DOE or advice for structuring the agency moving forward?

I was the one who got the National Nuclear Security Administration established. It was supposed to be a much cleaner operation from the expectation of security breaches or violations. When I look at it, I determine it’s not working very well...

[Read the entire interview here.]


Anonymous said...

Why is his face so red?

Anonymous said...

"George Bush’s presidency was and is better than has been portrayed by the media of the United States. I believe there is a chance that in the long run that when an agreement is entered into regarding Iraq in terms of pullout and stabilizing democracy, then over the long haul he will go down as a much better president than he has during these eight years."

Well, St Pete is a lot smarter about these things than me but, without a stabilized republic in Iran, I can see no stabilized democracy in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Pete was exposed to Frank's leaking TA-55 pipes, 4:17.

Anonymous said...

6:13. Couldn't be so...everyone knows radiation is green! ;-)

Anonymous said...

"Why is his face so red?"

Cuz he's the Devil!

Anonymous said...

Poor Pete, I wonder if he really know what he created with NNSA? Talked about a failed administration, NNSA, and the Bush presidency will go down as the absolute worst.

Anonymous said...

Dominici: "I was the one who got the National Nuclear Security Administration established. It was supposed to be a much cleaner operation from the expectation of security breaches or violations. When I look at it, I determine it’s not working very well..."

Obviously, Pete wasn't concerned enough to do anything about it before he left office. His passive-aggressive, annoyed parent approach to LANL in the last few years is disgusting. Thanks, Pete!

Anonymous said...

"I determine it’s (NNSA) not working very well." (Domenici)

Actually, Pete, it's not working at all. I've witnessed a serious "brain drain" during the last few years of LANS/Bechtel for-profit leadership and NNSA risk adverse micro-management. I'm sure many others still working at LANL have witnessed the same thing.

Regardless of what the LANS and NNSA cheerleaders may be saying, lab morale has sunk to extreme lows. For many scientists at LANL, the idea of bringing in a bright, young postdoc to this place is a non-starter.

The experiment was a failure. It's time to consider a reboot.

Anonymous said...

he helped create the NNSA? Thanks a lot dill weed.

Anonymous said...

I think the purple coloration on his white shirt is a pretty good indication that the color tones of the whole photo are out of whack rather than his face being inordinately red.

Anonymous said...

Not only was St. Pete responsible for the creation of the NNSA; but he was also one of the champions for Bechtel taking over at LANL! St. Pete should understand that for the most part LANL can only work on- do what Congress deems proper work- in this case weapons work! LANL would love to do "new" projects if only Congress would allow it to do so.

Anonymous said...

"LANL can only work on - do what Congress deems proper work - in this case weapons work!" (10:16 AM)

This is bull! You just need to get off your ass and start putting in proposals to other federal agencies for WFOs. It's hard work and the odds of success are low, but no one at LANL or in Congress is stopping you from taking this path.

Look, the days of living off the easy money of the weapons budget are over at LANL. You need to realize that LANS won't help you to bring in any outside funding and once it arrives they'll be first in line to tax the be-jesus out of it for overhead, but what other choice do you really have as a research scientist who works at this lab?

Of course, if you live off the overhead accounts, then don't sweat it. As the weapons budget shrinks, LANL's enormous overhead rates will simply be hiked on anything that is left coming in through the front door. This will help keep LANL above water for a little bit longer.

Financially, LANL appears to be in an unsustainable position, but perhaps if every TSM works like crazy to bring in more WFO funding then this lab can last a bit longer before it finally goes under.

Then, again, when you see a ship is sinking, heading for a life boat is a very good idea. You can only bail out the incoming flood of sea water with a Dixie cup for so long. And the captain of this ship? It appears he has a fast speed boat at hand (supplied by LANS LLC, of course) with which to make his quick getaway.

Anonymous said...

Do people find the new time entry system, and associated time entry policy for scientific staff, as idiotic as I do? The Oracle interface is a joke of a piece of (very expensive) software. It's clumsy in design and error-prone in execution.
The associated policy is that staff members with admin access now have to struggle with this idiocy weekly (secretaries entered time before) ... or they don't get paid for that period. Scientists have enough trouble just trying to get funds in at LANL, now if we don't waste precious time dealing with LANL institutionalized stupidity on a weekly basis we don't get paid.

How stupid is it? A few examples: time is entered in decimal fractions of an hour, but an error is generated if the total time isn't in whole 15 minute increments (to make it whole one has to go back and fiddle all the decimal numbers already entered). An error is generated if you enter the time for a week that has a federal holiday: it knows about the holiday enough to output an opaque error message, but stupidly doesn't state what the real problem is or what day is the federal holiday. An error is generated ... for no reason at all, the software is highly unstable.

Regarding the new policy of staff (not secretaries) directly entering time (or not get paid): what's the point of having to enter time, weekly, in 15 minute increments? Many scientist's schedules and charge codes are fixed at the beginning of the year and don't change for weeks, months, and potentially for the whole year. The new policy of "you have to deal with gross LANL incompetence on a weekly basis or not get paid" is arrogantly and agressively stupid.

Anonymous said...

"This is bull! You just need to get off your ass and start putting in proposals to other federal agencies for WFOs. It's hard work and the odds of success are low, but no one at LANL or in Congress is stopping you from taking this path."

A lot of us did have WFO monies and good interesting projects. WFO has always been difficult; but now it is almost impossible. Starting with the infamous Nanos shutdown WFO got even more impossible. Strangely enough WFO sponsors objected to paying for the shutdown. Of course they were promised that none of their money would be used for the shutdown! The end result is monies were used for the shutdown and projects missed deliverables because of the shutdown. Now the cost of doing business is too high coupled with the fact that Bechtel at best does not encourage WFO work and at worst makes it so hard for the sponsors as well as LANL to obtain and do the work! The shutdown and the current mindset at LANL is not conductive to WFO. Why go to LANL if you can get the work done quicker, cheaper, and more friendly some other place? If you have had luck I congratulate you; but for most of us it is a non starter especially if your group management does not want to mess with WFO!!!

Anonymous said...

This is 7:09 AM here. I fully understand your grief, 9:23 AM, with doing WFO work at LANL. My post was somewhat sarcastic. Executing WFO projects at LANL is extremely difficult under the crazy cost structures and policies of LANS and NNSA. Just finding the charge codes to use so that you can take the time and write a decent proposal is difficult!

LANS and NNSA talk loudly about wanting project diversity and more WFO projects. However, they have done almost nothing to enhance the ability of LANL to bring these projects into the lab. Some of the Program Managers whose job description say the are to develop these types of projects for the staff are also incapable of handling this task.

I see little hope for WFO project expansion at LANL. We would need to have a culture and management more like that at SNL to pull it off, and LANS obviously wants to keep things just the way they are, regardless of what may happen to LANL.

I think even former Sen. Domenici has slowly begun to recognizes LANS' stubbornness toward starting any serious efforts at project diversity at LANL. I fear we will soon suffer the consequences for LANS lack of action in this area.

Anonymous said...

NNSA has been a total failure. Hope that Secretary Chu detaches NNSA entirely from the DOE and hands it over to DOD, where it belongs.

Anonymous said...

6:54 pm: "Hope that Secretary Chu detaches NNSA entirely from the DOE and hands it over to DOD, where it belongs."

You do NOT want to be a DoD civilian scientist. And, you do NOT want nuclear weapon design, development, and testing in military hands (as examined exhaustively in the years following WWII). The DoD doesn't want it, either.

Anonymous said...

So Domenici spoke of the absolute importance of LANS diversification and technology transfer. So how did LANS respond to this? Re-hire (externally with no job advertisement) Steve Girrens as the new Division Leader of Technology Transfer just back from his failed attempt as an private-sector entrepreneur. Girrens was a complete disaster as a team leader, group leader, and division leader. My only guess was that LANS rewarded Girrens for having destroyed Los Alamos National Laboratory prior to his departure and being responsible for handing LANL to LANS and then getting out of their way.

Anonymous said...

"You do NOT want to be a DoD civilian scientist." - 8:23 PM

Yes, I DO.

Keeping the labs under DOE/NNSA is not a solution. When a procedure fails over and over again, it's insane to keep using the same procedure.

That's the point we've arrived at with the labs being mis-managed by NNSA/DOE. It's time to take a chance at something better. DOD offers that chance.

Frank Young said...

My experience is that DOD values leaders who take care of their people and gets rid of those who don't. Your mileage may vary.

Anonymous said...

"It's time to take a chance at something better. DOD offers that chance."

You are clueless about history and have no idea what "chance" you are taking. If you have an academic background, you should at least understand the concept of doing your homework. I know history holds no excitement for physicists, but give it a try, just this once.

Anonymous said...

"That's the point we've arrived at with the labs being mis-managed by NNSA/DOE. It's time to take a chance at something better. DOD offers that chance.
1/16/09 12:20 AM"

I agree. NNSA/DOE is a proven failure. There has to be a better way.

Frank Young said...

1/16/09 12:59 AM,
Copy and paste the history for us, or please take the time to type it out for us.

Anonymous said...

"History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside."

John F. Kennedy

Anonymous said...

10:22, that is incorrect. There was most certainly a job ad posted for TT DL.

Anonymous said...

"I know history holds no excitement for physicists, but give it a try, just this once.

1/16/09 12:59 AM"

Not true. You need to do your homework before you make lameass statments.

Eric said...


I have a simple challenge.

I have two decent sized potential WFO projects for LANL.

The commenters on this blog constantly say that WFO should go elsewhere and that LANS does not support it.

Are there any commenters willing to convince me that they can handle their part of either project whether the commenter works at LANL or moves elsewhere?

Blaming LANS is cheap. Convincing me that one of my projects (and its need for completion on time and under budget) should be done by LANL or by commenters on this blog is harder. Anyone willing to try?

At the moment, these projects are likely to go to SNL or other national labs, in part because LANL folks are not competing effectively and are not trying as hard as people at other places. One of these projects is in renewable energy, the big deal for the new administration and the new Secretary of Energy.

Anonymous said...

Eric, no one wants to participate in one of your little pet projects. Please stop pimping for cash on this blog.

Perhaps you should order one of those DVDs that teach people how to make a killing by buying and selling foreclosed real estate or day trading stocks.

Anonymous said...

1/15/09 8:44 AM,

Everything about the Lab's Oracle implementation is idiotic and has been for several years. Now that you know what your admins have been dealing with for the past three years, maybe you'll be nicer to them.

Anonymous said...

9:12 am, are you saying you have two projects for which you have already received funding and are trying to decide if you should include Sandia or LANL?

If so, why not just hire some folks willing to work as consultants/contractors outside of LANS or Sandia for much less?

Anonymous said...

The state pensions in NM are in trouble. LANS has been very quiet about TCP1, but you have to assume that it, too, is looking dicey...


Market losses batter state retirement

Friday, 16 Jan 2009
Reporter: Michael Herzenberg

SANTA FE (KRQE) - Several retirement funds for New Mexico public employees are in trouble, and that could mean changes for past, current and future workers.

Ten years, that's how long before state government retirees could lose their health insurance.

The New Mexico retiree health care authority is in such bad shape that without changes, it will go belly up in 2019.

60,000 New Mexico educators contribute part of their salaries to their retirement. 30,000 retirees depend on the money they gave while working to live now.

Wall Street dinged the pension fund managed by the educational retirement board by 33 percent last year, dropping it from about $10 billion to $6.7 billion.

"This is a very difficult time however our current retirees have nothing to worry about," Executive Director of the Educational Retirement Board Jan Goodwin said.

Goodwin pushed for the Legislative Finance Committee, or LFC, to make new hires work longer, 30 years instead of 25, before receiving full pensions. That's something the LFC chair admits may be necessary.

"It's not actually sound and it has not been and it's been made worse by market." LFC chairman Sen. John Arthur Smith, D, said.

The market also took a chunk out of the pension fund for New Mexico state, county and city retirees. A 25 percent hit from $12 billion to $9 billion.

Anonymous said...

9:10 pm: "The state pensions in NM are in trouble. LANS has been very quiet about TCP1, but you have to assume that it, too, is looking dicey..."

And what is your evidence for such a nonsensical, ridiculous statement? What is the connection you see between NM state pensions and the LANS pension fund? Be specific, if you want to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Don't know how LANS TCP1 is being funded, but NM Educational Retirement Board members contribute 7.9% of their earnings to the retirement plan, in addition to Social Security.

The employer (school board, institution of higher learning, state agency, etc.) contributes an amount equal to 10.9% (effective 7-1-07) of a members’ total salary. The employer contribution will increase by .75% each year until July 1, 2011 when the employer contribution will be 13.9%.
NMERB Fund Status - 11/30/2008
The $6.5 billion Educational Retirement Fund posted investment returns of -6.4% for the month ending November 30th, 2008.

For the trailing three and five year periods, the fund posted returns of -4.3% and 1.6%, respectively.
Quick current estimate. According to their 6/30/07 Annual Report, they had assets with a FMV of $9.5B. The actuarial value of the assets was $8.6B (90% FMV) and the accrued actuarial liability was $12.2B, which gave a funded ratio of 70%.

Presumably, things have deteriorated a bit. From the Annual Report it looks like the AAL is growing at about $0.6B/yr. Assuming a 90% FMV ratio for AVA (0.9 x $6.7B = $6B), the plan would have a current estimated funding ratio of ~6/12.8 = 47%.

Even with some 20% of payroll being put into the plan it appears to have issues.
NM is small population-wise of course, and I imagine this is being played out in many places around the country at a magnified level.

Following site not recommended for all-will-work-out-well types. These are primarily news articles. Tough decisions ahead.


Anonymous said...

LANS is a failure. An interview with any staff member would turn up many examples of overhead functions pushed down onto the the technical staff simply to hide overhead costs.

NNSA is a failure for continuing to pay the LANS fee despite LANL's decline in productivity, loss of talent, decaying physical plant, and huge increases in LANS management related costs.

If the Obama administration wants to show the country an early success, they should take on draining the LANS, LLNS, and NNSA swamps.

Anonymous said...

Saying that TCP1 may be facing funding problems in not a nonsensical statement. LANL Benefits put out a short memo that mentioned under-funding of about 25% back in November. This memo was not sent out by either Email or hard copy to LANL employees. Instead it was almost hidden on one of the Benefits web pages.

If problems with pension funds are being seen at all levels (cities, states, corporate), then you can bet that TCP1 is also seeing these very same problems.

The question I have is this: Why are all these companies and other public entities talking with their employees about the deteriorating pension situation, but LANS is almost complete silent on the subject? The employees of LANL deserve to be better informed about what is happening to their pension and the future mitigation efforts that will be required to put it back in balance.

If you want to believe that "no news means good news" as far as TCP1 goes, then be my guest, 10:42PM. However, no one should take you seriously.

Anonymous said...

"If the Obama administration wants to show the country an early success, they should take on draining the LANS, LLNS, and NNSA swamps." (8:24 AM)

Don't hold your breath on that wish.

According to recent press reports, Mikey has been spending quality time hanging out with Sen. Udall and telling him that the future of LANL looks bright and everything is great under LANS' leadership...

and Udall believes him!

Anonymous said...

1/17/09 11:34 AM

Remember that TPC-1 is a "closed" pension plan - no new participants. While cities, states, and corporate pensions are open and still adding new participants as future liabilities.

This not to say that LANS's TPC-1 is clear of problems.

LLNL has an identical TPC-1 (both are administered by Hewitt). LLNL's transition is a year and a half behind LANL so the publicly available annual summary reports are not aligned. However the end of CY07 comparison is interesting. As of December 31, 2007 - the LANS TPC-1 had a value of $1,517,299,409 with 6334 persons in it and the LLNS TPC-1 had a value of $1,657,376,087 with 3927 persons in it. This lends credence to the assertion that LANS TPC-1 is underfunded.

Anonymous said...

UC underfunded TCP1 at LANL from the get-go. They corrected this little "mistake" when it came time to fund the lab in their very own state, LLNL. Bottom line to this is that TCP1 at LLNL is in much better shape than TCP1 at LANL.

I expect LANS to suddenly announce this summer that LANL employees are going to be force to deposit a large percentage of their salary into TCP1 (~10% or more?).

And, no, don't expect to see any help to this pension mess from NNSA, LANS or the LANL budget. The funds to make TCP1 whole again will come only from the employees and, believe me, it's gonna hurt!

Eric said...

To 1:00 PM.
You are still an idiot, an anonymouse. You could not even read accurately what I wrote.

To 8:09PM

I am hiring people out of SNL and LANS. My question was more general. It was, 'Would people reading this blog take up the challenge to behave as adults toward potential funders or not?'

So far NOT is winning, which to me is why the lab (as represented by commenters here) is non competitive with other organizations.

Does this help?

Frank Young said...

Anonymouse? I think we've been insulted, Brain.

Anonymous said...

Eric, if you want people to work for you, don't you think acting like an arrogant cocksucker is the wrong way to go about it? Do you have any idea how your comments come across? Do you care?
Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

The document you speak of was the subject of a Lab-Wide distribution via LINKS/Newsbulletin, and the letter to employees is still available from the LANS Benefits "Retirement Planning" page. The letter does not say that TCP1 is underfunded by 25%, only that the fund balance is down 25%.(By the way the plan was indeed overfunded upon receipt of the funds from UCRP, not underfunded as so often claimed on this blog). Don't know why some folks want to keep adding unwarranted angst to folks who already have enough to deal with. Beginning this year, LANS will be required to distribute an annual plan funding status in lieu of the old SARs. Maybe this will be more informative for all.