Feb 6, 2009

Energy secretary limits role in lab oversight

By H. JOSEF HEBERT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Energy Secretary Steven Chu is limiting his direct involvement in overseeing three of the Energy Department's premier research laboratories to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

A department spokesman acknowledged Friday that Chu has informed the department's ethics office that he will recuse himself from contract, financial and certain work performance related decisions at the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories. They are managed by the University of California, the secretary's former employer.

Chu has also said in the past that he would recuse himself from certain issues involving the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where he was director until chosen by President Barack Obama to be energy secretary.

Los Alamos and Livermore are two of the government's premier nuclear weapons research facilities, but they also conduct other research. The Berkeley lab has been in the forefront of research into renewable energy.

Despite the recusals, department spokesman Dan Leistikow said Chu remains "actively engaged in oversight of the labs, is in frequent contact with the lab directors and is regularly briefed about the security situation" at the facilities.

Leistikow characterized the kinds of decisions that Chu will not get involved in as "mostly lower level" that normally would be taken care of by subordinates. "He put these recusals in writing so there would be no question about how seriously he takes matters of public trust," said Leistikow in an e-mail.

But the recusals, which largely involve contract and financial issues, raise questions as to what extent Chu could get involved in lab performance and possible future disciplinary action. The department's power to discipline a laboratory is largely limited to withholding fees paid for poor performance or mismanagement.

Los Alamos in New Mexico over the years has had a string of security lapses that have reverberated to the highest levels of the Energy Department and prompted fines and several management changes at the lab. Lawrence Livermore also has had past problems involving security and environmental issues.

Chu's recusal letter, dated Jan. 6, was first reported Friday by The Energy Daily trade publication.

69 comments:

Anonymous said...

What the heck does this mean? He's the head of DOE, yet he's not going to get involved in handling issues with LANL and LLNL? This is bizarre.

Anonymous said...

It means he doesn't want any stench rubbing off on him.

Bizarre? Maybe. Unprecedented? Yes. A sign off how bad the situation is? Definitely.

Anonymous said...

Frank, do you have any idea how big of a thorn you've become in DOE/NNSA's and LANS's hide?

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

what a pussy

Anonymous said...

The labs are no longer managed by UC. I assume Chu and/or his handlers know this. So, there is something else going on. This is scary for LANL and LLNL. If any management consortium includes UC, Chu cannot be involved? OK - back to NNSA running everything at LANL and LLNL without DOE oversight or control. "Change we can believe in" Yeah!! Obamarama!

Frank Young said...

"Frank, do you have any idea how big of a thorn you've become in DOE/NNSA's and LANS's hide?"

The real question is does DOE/NNSA and LANS have any idea how easy it would be to get me to go away? I'm not asking for money or even an apology. A one page letter stating what really happened would do the trick. Contest of egos I guess. At the moment I seem to be winning.

Frank Young said...

And thanks for your support! I mean everyone. I couldn't have done it without you. I hope we helped a few others along the way :)

Anonymous said...

I wish Mike would recuse himself...

Anonymous said...

Frank, your "one page letter" will never arrive. There was a time when those "cowboy-butthead-c-student" types would have accepted a simply apology from Nanos. Instead he showed up in a black hat, told us his lawyers were cheaper than ours, repeated the outrageous charges, and left in a huff pushing people out of the way with a small army of piss-ant co*&suckers in tow behind him. The latter group has now been put in charge of this once fine institution. Apparently Chu wants nothing to do with the situation. I cannot blame him. If you have a spine or if you have integrity, the DOE is not the place for you.

Anonymous said...

He's not a pussy. It's called integrity, something that we have not seen for a long time! Clean up these national labs and their cavalier behavior with taxpayers money.

Anonymous said...

You saw what happened to Big Bill when he was DOE Sec. This place is toxic, and I don't just mean the unreported exposures and releases. Chu is making a business decision. Can't say I blame him, but I can't say I'm impressed either.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this also means that he'll stay on the sidelines during the OMB debate over moving part or all of NNSA to DOD. Also, I think this is probably a bigger deal for LBNL since they are a DOE lab while LANL/LLNL are controlled by NNSA and two private companies.

Frank Young said...

2/7/09 6:50 AM,
You may be right about the letter. If so, it just means this blog isn't going away. That's probably the best outcome for most folks.

Anonymous said...

You may be right about the letter. If so, it just means this blog isn't going away. That's probably the best outcome for most folks.

Thank you Frank. That was what I wanted to hear. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

What it may mean is that when LANL is transferred to DOD, he can always say, "It's out my hands, Mike."

Anonymous said...

Dr. Chu, the brilliant Nobel scientist who was the last hope for many of the de-moralized researchers at the the NNSA labs, will now "recluse" himself.

The bean-counters of DOE and NNSA will now remain free to continue their beatings of the labs into submission, lowering the staff morale, and pushing these once great institutions towards the ultimate goal of complete and utter irrelevance.

That's just great.

Frank Young said...

2/7/09 9:52 AM,
It's not just me, I get a lot of help from a lot of people. I hope I never forget that.

Anonymous said...

Frank,

Please don't go away. This blog is so much bigger than just you. You provide a very valuable service to the rest of us. Oh well, I guess that means I'm hoping you never get that letter. :)

Anonymous said...

Keep the blog going, Frank. I work for a DoD lab, and wish we had a similar blog. I like to understand the climate at the National Laboratories and this blog helps me immensely. (By the way, we sent you Nanos and I apologize profusely.)

Angel of Death

Anonymous said...

I suggest we all send Chu a note a dissatisfaction, and also express and STRESS how demoralized we are with the status-quo here at the labs. Maybe we'll gain something from it, however small. At least it will plant a seed that may grow later...

Anonymous said...

I heartily wish NNSA would "recluse" themselves from having anything more to do with running the nation's weapons research labs.

I also wish Bingamin, Udall and Lujan would "recluse" themselves from interfering with the the matter of whether it would be better if these labs were run by DOD.

Anonymous said...

Different subject, but I heard that the LANS Board of Governors is very concerned about the continued loss of LANL's best scientists and will be discussing at their next meeting at LLNL this month. Seems like Mikey will need to do some explaining.

Has anyone heard more about this?

Anonymous said...

does anyone know how many "best and brightest" have left since lans took over? I know in C div, many have left to take faculty positions.

personally, i'm surprised that there aren't more people just walking away from their homes or selling their homes for what they have left on their mortgage. This area needs a drop like that in order for management to see that the problem isn't just those that bitch and moan on a blog. many are unhappy here, just look at the liquor aisle of smiths on a friday night.

Anonymous said...

LANS management has done their very best to cover up the 'brain drain' at LANL. We don't even see emails from Division management any more when a valued staff member decides to leave the lab.

But, then, LANS is hoping for attrition to salvage the lab's budget. In fact, higher attrition will probably be required in the next few years if layoffs are to be avoided. Mikey has all but said this to his staff. One of the reason that morale is so low at LANL is that most scientists know this lab is destined for downsizing, one way or another.

The LANS Board meetings will not change a thing. If Mikey attends the LANS Governors meeting and pulls a turd out of his ass and calls it a Milky Way, don't expect any of the Governors to tell him that his sh*t stinks! The people on the board have no idea what is happening at LANL and they would prefer to keep it that way. Being on a corporate board is typically little more than a prestige builder to place on one's bio.

Anonymous said...

"I wish Mike would recuse himself..."

Many people think he already has.

Anonymous said...

Heard by a fly on the wall at the next LANS Board Meeting:

"Dr. Anastasio, to paraphrase the words of Dr. Dynes, the former UC President... you need to help us (the LANS Board) so the we can help you (the Director) help them (Bechtel, BWXT, and their happy bankers).

That's what it's really all about. Got that? Good man! I knew you would understand.

Now, have you received your invitation for Riley Bechtel's Bohemian Grove encampment? We're all so looking forward to seeing your handsome fuzzy face there for this next summer's fun fest."

Anonymous said...

Running a highly complex contractor supported government department like DOE is not the same as writing a good research paper. Does Dr. Chu fully realize this fact?

Reclusing one's self from important managerial decisions at LBL, LLNL and LANL and delegating them to his dysfunctions DOE staff is a bad first step for him to make.

I trust Dr. Chu's scientific expertise, but I'm beginning to wonder if he has what it takes to manage a very badly broken DOE bureaucracy and get it under control.

Anonymous said...

"The people on the board have no idea what is happening at LANL and they would prefer to keep it that way."

Incorrect. They have begun paying attention. The recent rush of communication from Mikey is one result of this.

Anonymous said...

"does anyone know how many "best and brightest" have left since lans took over?"

That's a matter of opinion. You guys are so full of it!

Anonymous said...

Stop using the term "best and brightest". It's so 20th century.

The correct 21st century term to use at the new for-profit managed LANL is CSE (cognizant system engineer). It sounds so sexy and high tech, but it's really little more than your ordinary paper pushing plant manager.

LANS is shoving the researchers out the door, but can't seem to get enough of these CSEs. They'll even pay them a $30K premium to work here. It the future of LANL under Bechtel and BWXT management.

LANL, home of the CSEs!

Anonymous said...

He,he, does this really suprise you all "smart guy's"? LANL is going under DOD, Chu does not want any part of these lab's because he was told to stay out of the way, with regard to this move. His focus will be on the rest of the DOE complex. Say good bye to Mr.Chu, and hello to the Generals in the Pentagon, can you say: Yes sir real loud?
The fun days are over, LANL will be the Pit Manuf Center of the Weapons Complex and not much else. But we knew this was coming right?

Anonymous said...

Like Timothy Geithner being confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury, where this tax cheat will oversee the IRS, confirming a Secretary of Energy that can't oversee the DOE National Labs makes no sense at all.

It's an ObamaNation.

Anonymous said...

NNSA to DoD

and you guys complained about drug testing.

Hold on!!!

Anonymous said...

Chu has no business accepting the job if he is going to have to recuse himself from major decisions!

Anonymous said...

Chu has no business accepting the job if he is going to have to recuse himself from major decisions!

2/7/09 6:09 PM

Dr. Chu will be too busy working on renewable energy research. He won't have the time to carefully manage the UC labs. Thus, his statement will help free up his time for more important duties.

Anonymous said...

Chu must have told
them about this before they finally selected him, and they
obviously didn't care. That shows how LANL and LLNL
rates in the administration's
priority -- zero. No surprise there.

Anonymous said...

Being a layman, I don't have all the right terms. However, it seems to me that the lab and the infrastructure that supports it is undergoing an evolutionary process. It could never stay just as it was 60 years ago. That would be stasis and I don't know that exists any where but in theory. It's like a living thing. It grows older, it adjusts to new realities, it changes. Maybe it dies.

We want it to be just like it was. That's human nature. Change is scary. However, great science, locations to do great science, and the reward for great science don't depend on LANL.

Thankfully, there is a limited future for nuclear weapons. LANL has fulfilled its role in this field. No where is it written that LANL must exist in any particular form or at all. If it passes, something will take its place. I often wonder what Los Alamos would really evolve into without such a large mill stone around its neck. Many communities have lost a military installation and survived. Many towns have lost a prime employer and became a failed community. Again, it's not written that Los Alamos must have the lab and the lab must be what it always was.

Without the lab, Los Alamos might find itself a thriving little mountain community that has a lot going for it.

Anonymous said...

"does anyone know how many "best and brightest" have left since lans took over?"

That's a matter of opinion. You guys are so full of it!

2/7/09 3:02 PM

Go to bed Chrissy

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with Dr. Chu recusing himself.

Mikey obviously recused himself from actively running LANL when he took the job of LANL Director!

Anonymous said...

Who is Chrissy?

Anonymous said...

Hey folks - I know ya'll are really smart and all, but the word is "recuse" not "recluse." Please try to get it right, that is, if you care about the LANL blog posters actually being seen as intelligent.

Anonymous said...

2/7/09 6:09 PM said...

Chu has no business accepting the job if he is going to have to recuse himself from major decisions!

You guys are all conspiracy theorists. Chu's recusal from MAJOR CONTRACT DECISIONS for the labs managed -- in whole or in part -- by UC is standard practice where a potential or real conflict of interest exists. He was a UC employee up until January 20 or so.

It means none of the nefarious things postulated in this topic.

I can't remember the last time S-1 actually made a contract award decision.

Anonymous said...

I think using recluse instead of recuse is kind of amusing
mixup.... Speaks to truely unconnected management....

Anonymous said...

10:55 -- The article says Chu will recuse himself from "financial and certain work performance related decisions", not just contracts. Anyone have any input on what this means? Does this include budgets ?

Anonymous said...

10:55 pm: "I can't remember the last time S-1 actually made a contract award decision."

Oh, get over yourself. As if you were around the last time it happened and just "can't remember." Were you privy to all such decisions in the past. and just forgot? At least be honest enough to say "I don't know" instead of "I can't remember."

Anonymous said...

Can anyone post a copy of Dr. Chu's recusal letter?

The language of the letter would clear up a lot of things and allow comments to be more to the point.

Anonymous said...

Did Mikey and any other LANS "immortals" remain UC employees?
I've never been clear on this.

Anonymous said...

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is from the Navy. Did he recuse himself from making decisions involving the navy?

I could see Dr. Chu distancing himself from LBNL, UC is still running that and that is where he was employed. He didn't come from LLNL or LANL and I am pretty sure UC ain't running the show at those labs.

A tidal wave of congressional disregard / discontent is about to hit both labs and like the Titanic there's not enough life boats on deck. Just enough for upper managers.

Anonymous said...

A tidal wave of congressional disregard / discontent is about to hit both labs and like the Titanic there's not enough life boats on deck. Just enough for upper managers.

2/8/09 11:04 AM


You hit the nail on the head with that observation, 11:04 AM. Pay close attention, employees of LANL and LLNL.

In a few more months, the FY2010 fiscal budget will be rolled out. If there are any significant cuts for the labs in that budget (which seems likely) then layoffs will be inevitable and happen at a rapid rate. Our current NM political delegation are toothless dogs. They will not be able to offer much to counter any of these cuts.

A vibrant nuclear weapon research capability is the last thing on the mind of Congress at this moment in time. NNSA could become a sacrificial cow to the idea of fiscal budget discipline (what a joke!) immediately after the expensive stimulus bill is passed this month. The lab power vacuum caused by the loss of Domenici will become all too clear. All Bingamin, Udall and Lujan will be able to offer up is cheap talk and a few budgetary band-aids to help those who might be laid off.

Anonymous said...

"...LLNL or LANL and I am pretty sure UC ain't running the show at those labs."

Uh - what on earth are you talking about. UC owns at least half of LANS and LLNS. There is some odd concept out there that Bechtel is evil, and is steamrolling UC. On the contrary, UC is very willing and able to stand up for its interests.

Anonymous said...

2/8/09 5:13 PM

"On the contrary, UC is very willing and able to stand up for its interests"

Oh yeah? Just exactly what are UC's interests then? A black Audi sportscar? First class travel? Junkets to France? A big fat bonus check? What? Come on, what???

UC must not have any interest in running an efficient and productive National Laboratory.

Anonymous said...

2/8/09 9:56 AM "Did Mikey and any other LANS "immortals" remain UC employees?
I've never been clear on this."

Yes, to your question. And LANS/Bechtel employees remain Bechtel employees and same thing with BWXT and Washington Group (now URS). When the Titanic, uh I mean LANL, goes down, these are the people that have their life boats waiting. Why do you think they are get bonuses?

Anonymous said...

2/8/09 5:13 PM

"On the contrary, UC is very willing and able to stand up for its interests"

UC's interest is to name the Lab Director and split part of the fee. UC names one person and the other three partners name the remainder of the 21 PAD's/AD's. Why do you think we have all the corporate partners bringing their employees under ROSS arrangements. Who does UC bring in? Science is out the door and UC is happy just earning more fee than they did under the previous contract arrangements!

Anonymous said...

"Oh yeah? Just exactly what are UC's interests then? A black Audi sportscar? First class travel? Junkets to France? A big fat bonus check? What? Come on, what???"

How are any of these in the interest of Bechtel?

UC's interests are a big fee and especially funding of its pet lab, LBNL. Neither of these require running an "efficient and productive [Los Alamos] National Laboratory." Both of these interests do require that they run LANL according to NNSA/DOE wishes (and don't kid yourself that NNSA and DOE are different). These wishes are primarily that LANL does not get involved in scandals, and to a much lesser extent, that it actually does some nuke work. And sorry, but science and the happiness of the scientists are not requirements.

Anonymous said...

Get over it and get ready to take it up the ass. Chu is a smart man to distance himself from the toxic swamp that reaches from NNSA to the nuclear weapons labs. NNSA's administrators and Mikey can't wait to feel your pain. They hate you, and are sure lookin' forward to the 2000 or so of you that'll be laid off this spring.

Anonymous said...

Uh - what on earth are you talking about. UC owns at least half of LANS and LLNS. (5:13 PM)

This must be another one of those fools who were yelling "UC won!" after the decision of the NNSA competition was announced.

Most of the employees at LANL have learned that this is not true in any meaningful way. Bechtel and BWXT won, not UC.

Apparently at least one drooling village idiot is still about, roaming the halls at LANL. Either that, or it was a lame attempt at sarcasm. I'll hope for the latter.

Anonymous said...

"And LANS/Bechtel employees remain Bechtel employees and same thing with BWXT and Washington Group (now URS)." - 7:37 PM

And the long time LANL employees get to remain LANS employees when laid off. Wait a minute, that doesn't mean much in terms of a safety net, does it?

Before LANS, we would have been UC employees and had a much bigger safety net. Today, there is none. But, let me assure you, it's all "substantially equivalent". Somehow. Some way. In the aggregate. Kinda sorta.

Anonymous said...

How much longer until Tom D'Agostino finally gets replaced by Obama. I'm ready to celebrate on that day!

Frank Young said...

I saw D'Agostino in person in December at the Nuclear Deterrence Summit. I'm still curious why he is considered by so many as "the problem". Somebody clue me in. And who do you propose to replace him with?

Anonymous said...

Tom D. picked Bechtel over a far superior team from Lockheed. That makes him the enemy. It also demonstrated that he lacks any sort of integrity. I must admit, I'm beginning to expect that seriously lacking moral code from former Naval officers.

Anonymous said...

I have not yet read Chu's letter, but I have talked to people who have read it.

The letter is apparently innocuous and will not affect Chu's ability to be a good Secretary of Energy.

Anonymous said...

'I saw D'Agostino in person in December at the Nuclear Deterrence Summit. I'm still curious why he is considered by so many as "the problem".' (Frank)


I'll take a stab at that question.

(A) Tom D'Agostino was the sole person given the authority to decide the LANL contract. It wasn't a committee decision as you might expect with most government contracts. Even though the scoring system had Lockheed and LANS neck and neck, D'Agostino selected LANS. Many do not feel he was an honest broker. Some feel that the "fix was in" on the lab contract competition and LANL is now being run largely by the corporate types from Bechtel and BWXT. This is changing the whole flavor of the lab away from science and towards the Bechtel and BWXT desires for a "lab" that does mostly cleanup, construction and production work.

(B) Tom D'Agostino has been the champion of the NNSA Complex Transformation plan. This will cuts jobs (and likely reduce job benefits and salaries) and, again, tilt the labs away from science and toward engineering, cleanup and production work.

(C) Tom D'Agostino is the face of NNSA. The NNSA is widely regarded as being a failure. He runs it, so he takes the heat.

I could go on, but that's enough for now. As far as who he should be replaced with, I would suggest replacing the whole NNSA apparatus by either shifting LANL and LLNL back over to DOE or perhaps even DOD if (and that's a big *if*) the proper conditions for DOD management of LANL are carefully constructed.

Anonymous said...

Frank, to most of these jerkoffs, everyone is the problem. Except that ugly fucker in the mirror, of course. He/She is perfect.

Anonymous said...

"I saw D'Agostino in person in December at the Nuclear Deterrence Summit. I'm still curious why he is considered by so many as "the problem". Somebody clue me in. And who do you propose to replace him with?

2/10/09 12:28 PM"

Answer: Anyone who can lead a Boy Scout Troop. D'Agostino left the navy after more than 20 years with rank of Captain. Translation: An 'F' in leadership. Heck, even Pete Nanos made flag rank.

Frank Young said...

2/10/09 8:17 PM,
There is no arguing with (C). Something is very wrong with NNSA and D'Agostino hasn't fixed it. Maybe it's an impossible task. He'll walk away with his share of the blame.

It would be easier for me to be critical if I had the answer - the fix. I don't. At least not tonight. Two years ago I thought LANS was a good idea. I was wrong. So very wrong.

Anonymous said...

some many wrong notions, so little space.

UC owns one-half of LANS, and always has the deciding vote on the Board, so since Chu is from UC, then he really needed to recuse himself from certain decisions. This is not a surprise or shocking. It is government procurement law 101.

All of the LANS key personnel are LANS employees. Sorry guys.

D'Agostino is a career, hard-working well meaning bureaucrat. He is not a visionary. I have seen him allow himself to get over-ruled by the other well-meaning etc. etc. below him, so he isn't a particularly strong manager either. Happens all the time to high-level DOE appointees.

I seriously doubt if the UT-Lockmart team would have been a lot different if they had won. Paul Robinson is a very capable fellow, but LockMart has been completely hands-off at Sandia, and I can't imagine what Texas would have brought to the table other than the fact that the sitting President was from the same state (although he didn't and doesn't particularly like UT).

Anonymous said...

The head of NNSA's LASO office was at the last County Council meeting.

During his presentation, he was asked about how much stimulus bill money LANL might expect to see. He said LANL should expect to see some cleanup money. When asked whether LANL would be seeing any money for energy research (science!), he said that NREL out in Colorado will be seeing huge increases in energy research funding and perhaps LANL might see a "trickle down" effect if NREL scientists decided to partner with LANL and send over some money. Fat chance of that one!

Anonymous said...

Paul Robinson said during the contract competition that Pete Nanos' 4 month lab stand down was a big mistake. After that utterance, it was clear to me that NNSA would find some means to make sure that LockMart and Robinson lost the lab competition.

Yes, LANL would be a better place if LockMart and Robinson had won. At least in the case of Robinson, you can see some integrity. LANS and Mike Anastasio have none.

I also don't see Lockheed management weenies being parked into key positions over at SNL. Here at LANL, we see Bechtel and BWXT managers slowly taking over the lab and killing off the science in favor of cleanup, plant engineering work, and production efforts.

Anonymous said...

2/11/09 11:26 AM

Don't let the door kick you in the ass! Bye............