Feb 6, 2009

Transparency We Can Believe In?

Written by John Fleck
Thursday, 05 February 2009 17:04

The new Obama administration has made a number of assertions about its intentions to make the operation of government more transparent. It has, for example, pledged to make legislation publicly available for five days before it is signed, and directed agencies to do a better job of responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.

How has it performed on my own first test?

I've been writing stories this week on a proposal to study the possibility of moving the nuclear weapons program, now run by the quasi-independent National Nuclear Security Administration from within the Department of Energy, to the Pentagon.

In reporting the story, I have called the Department of Energy to ask if it is true that our new Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, in an all-hands employee meeting, answered a question from the audience by saying that he thought such a move (removing nuclear weapons work from DOE) was a bad idea. To be clear here, I do not know whether Chu said he thinks the proposal is a bad idea. But if he did (and enough people have independently told me they think he did to make it a reasonable question), it would be an important element in moving forward the public's understanding of a story that is of great importance to the more than 20,000 New Mexicans who work for the NNSA.

Two days on, I've still not received a response from the Department of Energy in answer to my question about what Chu might have said.

John,
Since the passback memo was undated it is difficult to interpret DOE's response to your inquiry. Perhaps Secretary Chu answered "off the cuff" because he didn't know about the memo yet? That could explain why DOE wants to bury his response now. On the other hand, maybe he really does think it's a bad idea to move NNSA to DOD and has been admonished for being out of step with the Obama administration. From what I've seen so far, the former seems more likely. And this little misstep is just one more reason he'd be happy to be rid of the NNSA.
Frank

So, did anyone see the video feed of Secretary Chu's all hands meeting? What did he say?

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I watched Chu's all DOE hands a while back. At the very end of the event, an audience member asked about "the role of NNSA." Chu unequivocally said "Well, NNSA is not leaving DOE. How's that?" Or words to that effect. That was literally the last thing he said before he walked out of the room. He made it clear that NNSA was not going anywhere. He did not say NNSA would continue as is. But he did say it would stay in DOE, which I interpreted to mean that the nuclear weapons work and complex would remain in DOE.

Anonymous said...

Obama's transparency statements are just campaign lies.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of transparency, check this out from the Sandia website:
http://www.sandia.gov/about/faq/

Does this kind of information exist on the LANL website?

Anonymous said...

Everyone shouldn't get their panties all in a bunch over this. Moving NNSA under DoD will require Congressional leglislation to replace the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, The Atomic Energy Act, and the 1999 Defense Authorizatoin Act that created NNSA.

The legislation needed to make this change will likely be opposed by the California and New Mexico delegations, perhaps even with support from Tennessee and Washington. A joint committee would have to review this. The GAO will be asked to do a study on the cost impacts which will be huge.

Nothing will happen.

This is just another poorly thought out "what-if" exercise by the Obama transistion team. Just like when they asked NASA to evaluate the option of cancelling the Space Shuttle replacement rocket instead launching the American manned return to the Moon on top of a Japanese rocket. A Japanese rocket that doesn't exist.

Eric said...

Frank,
Here is the best I can do now.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2009/01/22/steven-chu-addresses-the-national-labs/

Anonymous said...

Poster 7:33 AM's recollection of the DOE meeting was on target. Dr. Chu took the question as he was leaving the podium and basically mumbled something to the effect that "NNSA would be remaining in DOE".

As as far as 8:31 AM's feeling that "nothing will happen", I wouldn't be so sure. The OMB has demanded that the report on the costs vs. benefits of this move be completed within about 6 months from today. That's extremely fast for the government.

I predict a decision to move NNSA over to DOE will be made about six months after the September '09 report is released. Preparation for the transition to DOD will then begin during the Mar-Sep 2010 time frame and the hand off will happen on schedule for FY2011 (Oct 1st 2010).

This thing is on fast track and Bob Gates wants it. The NM politicos will fight it, but many of the other powerful Dems in Congress will support this move. The deal will be sweetened in some way to comfort the New Mexico Democratic caucus.

The big question right now is what will be in the upcoming FY2010 budget for LANL? This year's budget had a $400 million cut for the lab. If cuts like that are in the next Administration's budget, then layoffs will be hitting LANL fairly soon. We should be seeing the new budget within about three months.

Anonymous said...

Obama's transparency statements are just campaign lies.

2/6/09 7:38 AM

LANS transparency statements are even bigger lies. How many employees/managers could be sent to prison if the information was available to the public. Oh! Soooo many.

Anonymous said...

The NM politicos don't really care what people are doing at LANL and SNL just so long as there are no layoffs. RIFs make for angry voters and hurt the local economy. Therefore, the NM politicos will be bought off with a promise like "no layoffs at the labs for at least the next 4 years after the DOD transfer." That will buy them off and make the voters happy. Problem solved.

Anonymous said...

"Obama's transparency statements are just campaign lies."

How is this not transparent? The memo is out there for all to see. Anyone surprised by it was not paying attention. Here's an idea, let's take this opportunity to excel and fix it right this time!

Anonymous said...

DOD in control of the New Mexico labs and Hollywood in control of the Governor's mansion. That's just frigg'n great!


* Val Kilmer ponders run for NM governor in 2010 - AP News, Feb 6, 2009 *

SANTA FE, N.M.—Holy hornet's nest, Batman! The New Mexico governor's mansion?

Fresh from the inauguration, actor Val Kilmer is pondering running for governor in 2010, when two-term Democrat Bill Richardson will be forced from office by term limits.

"I'm just looking for ways to be contributive," Kilmer told The Associated Press on Thursday. "And if that ends up being where I can make a substantial contribution, then I'll run."

But there's no decision yet.

"It's really day to day," he said over tea at a local restaurant.

Kilmer, 49, grew up in Los Angeles but has called New Mexico home for more than two decades. He's currently registered as a Democrat and said he cast a ballot for Barack Obama from Bulgaria, where he was filming.

A Kilmer candidacy could throw a monkey wrench into the well-oiled Democratic machine of Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who's already running for the job.

Kilmer's screen credits include Batman in "Batman Forever" in 1995, brash fighter pilot Lt. Tom 'Iceman' Kazansky in the 1986 hit "Top Gun," and rock icon Jim Morrison in the 1991 Oliver Stone film, "The Doors."

Anonymous said...

Given the lousy economy we'll be seeing for the next few years, a DOD hand off along with a promise of no lab layoffs for 4 years sounds pretty good. I would take it.

Anonymous said...

8:31 am is correct. The entire premise of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 as amended (USC, Title 42, Chapter 23,Division A; http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/usc_sup_01_42_10_23_15_A.html) is to maintain civilian control of nuclear weapon design, development, and testing, originally achieved by establishing the AEC. This would all have to be repealed. With all the other issues facing congress, I don't believe they would tackle this monster unless forced to. Where will that force come from?

Frank Young said...

I'll give it a shot. Anyone with me?

Anonymous said...

Being part of DoD would be pretty cool if the lab could fall under the control of DARPA. Of course, DARPA would likely get rid of a lot of deadwood.

Anonymous said...

11:43 AM, OK... so one obvious near-term alternative is to keep "design, development and testing" in civilian hands and move production and maintenance into the DoD.

Anonymous said...

11:43 AM

DOD is in fact today under civilian control. The Sec of Defense is by law a civilian. So if the NNSA was headed by a civilian Assistant Secretary who reported directly to the Sec of Defense, there will still be "civilian control of nuclear weapon design, development, and testing."

Now if you moved NNSA directly under the Joint Chiefs, then this would be military control, but I don't think anyone is suggesting this sort of structure.

Anonymous said...

Response to 2/6/09 11:15 AM:

Go Kilmer, we'll kick your ass!

THE KILMER BANDWAGON
A few years ago, before anyone was talking about Val Kilmer for governor, Rolling Stone quoted him saying, "80 percent of the people in my county are drunk." That of course caused an uproar and Kilmer said he was misquoted.

I wonder if he was misquoted in this 2005 Esquire interview drudged up by Matthew Reichbach at The New Mexico Independent:

(Question)You understand how it feels to shoot someone as much as a person who has actually committed a murder?

(Answer): I understand it more. It’s an actor’s job. A guy who’s lived through the horror of Vietnam has not spent his life preparing his mind for it. He’s some punk. Most guys were borderline criminal or poor, and that’s why they got sent to Vietnam. It was all the poor, wretched kids who got beat up by their dads, guys who didn’t get on the football team, couldn’t finagle a scholarship.

They didn’t have the emotional equipment to handle that experience. But this is what an actor trains to do. I can more effectively represent that kid in Vietnam than a guy who was there.

Reichbach quotes a military families blog that calls Kilmer the "brass-balled moron of the year.”

Anonymous said...

12:55pm: "DOD is in fact today under civilian control. The Sec of Defense is by law a civilian."

This was also true after WWII. Yet the AEC was created. I think you are using your own definition of "military" not the one used in creating the AEA.

Anonymous said...

Wow, anyone else read today's memo? No more laptops or computers allowed off-site. All equipment must be turned and remain on-site while they review the off-site policy. I know a lot of people who will suddenly become much less productive as they'll no longer be able to do any work on weekends and evenings.

Anonymous said...

Military control of the weapons complex will not be well received by the rest of the world - an issue that has been visited numerous time over the years.

Anonymous said...

"Wow, anyone else read today's memo? No more laptops or computers allowed off-site. All equipment must be turned and remain on-site while they review the off-site policy." (6:51 PM)


More crazy policies for the sheeple to obediently follow. Where will it end, one can only guess. NNSA and LANS over reaction will be seen, per the usual.

As of next week, no more using a LANL laptop for travel or kept at home. All laptops must be secured in your office. Since home owned computers are not allowed to use lab VPN, this means no access to the lab unclassified network from anywhere outside of the lab.

My guess is we are about to be shoe horned into the same laptop system currently used for foreign travel. Domestic lab travelers will only be allowed to use a laptop checked out from a LANL pool. No LANL laptops will be allowed for home use.

And Udall, Bingamin, and Lujan are yelling that the labs should be kept under DOE control? What a bunch of morons! NNSA was created because of the mess over at DOE. Going back to DOE will not solve anything.

Please come save use DOD! Most of us at LANL will welcome you with open arms.

Anonymous said...

2/6/09 7:12 PM

If the move of nukes, and moving forward with the NWC, from DOE/NNSA to DoD benefits US national security interests, then it should be adopted as policy, and what the rest of the world thinks, frankly, is of little or no interest.

Frank Young said...

Amen 8:00. I would only add that what the NM congressional delegation thinks is, frankly, of little or no interest either.

Anonymous said...

6:51 pm: "No more laptops or computers allowed off-site. All equipment must be turned and remain on-site while they review the off-site policy."

One kid speaks out of turn in class, and all the rest of the kids have to stay in from recess. Yeah, a great grade-school policy. One has come to expect no less from the cretins in LANL's CIO office. No technical expertise, no people skills, no clue about "tone" or credibility. Just punish the innocent until mistakes stop happening. I hope they have self-respect, because that's the only respect they'll get. Even that's undeserved. Tools of POGO? Nah, couldn't be...right??

Anonymous said...

Since home owned computers are not allowed to use lab VPN, this means no access to the lab unclassified network from anywhere outside of the lab.

They'll still be able to access LANL via VPN from LLNL.

Anonymous said...

Well, the (decidedly parochial) bandwagon has startd moving.

Frank said "what the NM congressional delegation thinks is, frankly, of little or no interest either" Well, then who will push it in congress? Methinks they have more important things to worry about. As an earlier poster so pragmatically said, "won't happen." If the local delegation doesn't want it, where is the politically powerful constituancy for it to happen? Nowhere. LANL employees have always engaged in fantasy when confronted with reality: "UC won the contract!"

Anonymous said...

The LANS/NNSA lashings will continue until all the good scientists have finally left the lab.

Frank Young said...

You are calling me parochial? Read the comment I was replying to. "US national security interests" trump every congressman or senator's pork as far as I'm concerned. If you don't agree, well then you don't agree. That doesn't make me the parochial one.

Anonymous said...

"If the local delegation doesn't want it, where is the politically powerful constituancy (sic) for it to happen?" (8:18 PM)


From DOD's SecDef Bob Gates, President Obama, and the Generals, that's who.

The US military are way more concerned about the serious decline of the NNSA research labs and the weapons complex than either NNSA or DOE. Funny that, huh?

Anonymous said...

9"19 pm: "If the local delegation doesn't want it, where is the politically powerful constituancy (sic) for it to happen?" (8:18 PM)


From DOD's SecDef Bob Gates, President Obama, and the Generals, that's who."

Speaking vaguely in support of some issue is way different than using Washington political clout to make it happem. Stop fantasizing. It won't.

Anonymous said...

"Speaking vaguely in support of some issue is way different than using Washington political clout to make it happem (sic). Stop fantasizing. It won't." (9:53 PM)

Fantasizing? Lay off the booze, 9:53 PM. It will help with your poor spelling and improve your concentration. And, yes... it will happen whether you like it or not.

Anonymous said...

10:38 pm: " And, yes... it will happen whether you like it or not."

Well, I don't care one way or another, since I left LANL (good riddance) quite a while ago. But, those still there should carefully consider whether they understand the potential for unintended consequences. Start with a study of history - why DoD was NOT given control in the beginning after WWII and the AEC was created. Just a little advice from someone who knows more than you do, if only by virtue of having been around longer, and a little thing called intellectual curiousity, which I'm surprised you refuse to exercise about your own future, being a scientist and all...

Anonymous said...

FY2010 is flat at best, FY2011 will see layoffs for sure. , i.e. pack your bags. I purchased a house in LA at the wrong time. I guess I could hang out for the next 15 years and see if I can keep my job and recoup some of my "investment",ya right! Guess it is time to stop putting good money after bad, begin looking foward and hand the keys back to LANB becoming a renter again..

signed
poor judgement

Anonymous said...

"Well, I don't care one way or another, since I left LANL (good riddance) quite a while ago." (12;19 AM)

So, you have no real idea of what we've been going through at LANL over the last few years with NNSA and LANS in charge. Those of us still here at LANL live it each and every day. The place has descended into a broken shell of its former glory. You've just proven my point, 12:19 AM. You're clueless about what is really occurring at LANL. Your vision of LANL comes from many years ago.

As for me and many of the other scientists still left working at LANL, we've had it with DOE, NNSA and LANS. Bring on the DOD!

Anonymous said...

10:13 am: "As for me and many of the other scientists still left working at LANL, we've had it with DOE, NNSA and LANS. Bring on the DOD!"

When most people declare they've "had it" with their employer, they mean that they are quitting to find a better job. Of course, that takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude, not to mention some cause for hope that an opportunity exits. Apparently, neither is the case for you. So in your case it's called "grasping at straws." Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

12:19 AM

I agree that posters need to know the history of the AEC, however, many are in error. The AEC was not just about weapons, as is noted in the intro to an official DOE history on AEC written by Alice L. Buck in 1983 -

"Almost a year after World War II ended, Congress established the United States Atomic Energy Commission to foster and control the peacetime development of atomic science and technology. Reflecting America’s postwar optimism, Congress declared that atomic energy should be employed not only in the Nation’s defense, but also to promote world peace, improve the public welfare, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise. After long months of intensive debate among politicians, military planners and atomic scientists, President Harry S. Truman confirmed the civilian control of atomic energy by signing the Atomic Energy Act on August 1,1946."

From the 1946 Act - "Section 1. (a) Findings and Declaration. Research and experimentation in the field of nuclear fission have attained the stage at which the release of atomic energy on a large scale is practical. The significance of the atomic bomb for military purposes is evident. The effect of the use of atomic energy for civilian purposes upon the social, economic, and political structures of today cannot now be determined. It is reasonable to anticipate, however, that tapping this new source of energy will cause profound changes in our present way of life. Accordingly, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the people of the United States that the development and utilization of atomic energy shall be directed toward improving the public welfare, increasing the standard of living, strengthening free competition among private enterprises so far as practicable, and cementing world peace."

If nuclear/atomic energy had been solely seen as a defense issue, control would probably have been given to DOD. But as the language of the Atomic Energy Act clearly states, Congress believed that "civilian" control was warranted because of the greater potential non-military uses of atomic energy. This is no longer the case with NNSA, given its sole military and national security mission. Today, R&D for civilian use of nuclear technology is still done in DOE (INEL, ANL ORNL), but not in NNSA. This is why I think the three NNSA national labs should go to DOE and the rest of NNSA transferred to DOD. This would still be in-line with the original intent of the '46 Atomic Energy Act.

Anonymous said...

"Pathetic." - 2:22 PM

What's even more pathetic is people like you, 2:22PM, who get their jolly's by coming here and calling miserable people like us "pathetic".

They say schedenfraud says more about the person experiencing it than the persons toward whom it is directed. And what it says about you is not very pretty.

Anonymous said...

"They say schedenfraud says more about the person experiencing it than the persons toward whom it is directed."

Really? 'They' say that. Any particular 'they'?

Actually, 'they' say Schadenfreude ist die schönste Freude, or Schadenfreude is the best form of joy.

Anonymous said...

8:33 pm: "What's even more pathetic is people like you, 2:22PM, who get their jolly's by coming here and calling miserable people like us "pathetic"."

Sorry, what's the difference between "miserable" and "pathetic"? Merriam Webster says "miserable":wretchedly inadequate or meager; "pathetic": pitifully inferior or inadequate. I think you made my point. Miserable people who refuse to take steps to get out of their misery are pathetic.

Anonymous said...

"Schadenfreude is the best form of joy." (9:01 PM)

Sick.... very, very sick! You have a dark and twisted soul, 9:01 PM.

Anonymous said...

Trapped in a Spy Hunt

In the mass-media age, news stories captivate us, then vanish. We revisit those stories to bring you the next chapter.

By Sarah Garland

NEWSWEEK

From the magazine issue dated Feb 16, 2009

STARTING POINT:
In 1998, after China develops a nuclear warhead with a design strikingly similar to the U.S.'s most advanced nuclear weapon, Department of Energy officials accuse Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese-born U.S. scientist at the Los Alamos National Lab, of being a spy.

FEVER PITCH:
In 1999, Lee is arrested on 59 charges of espionage and mishandling nuclear information. He spends nine months in solitary confinement until a federal district judge apologizes and releases him, calling the botched investigation a national embarrassment.

PRESENT DAY:
After winning a $1.6 million settlement from the federal government and several news organizations for privacy violations, Lee, now 69, is retired in Albuquerque with his wife. He published an applied-physics textbook that he began writing in prison and is now working on a second, according to his daughter, Alberta, who became a civil-rights lawyer as a result of her father's ordeal. She said Lee would like to teach but has not heard back from any institutions where he applied. As for the spy scandal, Alberta tells NEWSWEEK her parents "are over it. They've moved on."

URL:
http://www.newsweek.com/id/183712

Anonymous said...

2/8/09 1:24 PM ..."Lee, now 69, is retired in Albuquerque with his wife. He published an applied-physics textbook that he began writing in prison and is now working on a second, according to his daughter, Alberta, who became a civil-rights lawyer as a result of her father's ordeal."

I wonder if she returned the LANL computer that her Dad loaned her while she was at UCLA?

Anonymous said...

Just got a chance to look at the web site mentioned by 8:19 PM:

http://www.sandia.gov/about/faq/

It's a pretty cool page that gives a fast snapshot of the funding and other stuff at Sandia.

No, you'll never see anything like this from LANS, with their corporate "proprietary info" regulations and all.

It's best to keep the decline of LANL a dark secret and hope no one ever finds out.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder if she returned the LANL computer that her Dad loaned her while she was at UCLA?"

Don't know about that, but at least she apparently had enough sense not to become a chump scientist or engineer.

Anonymous said...

9:48 am: "she apparently had enough sense not to become a chump scientist or engineer."

Not all scientists and engineers are chumps. The ones that spy for the Chinese are.

Anonymous said...

" 9:48 am: "she apparently had enough sense not to become a chump scientist or engineer."

Not all scientists and engineers are chumps. The ones that spy for the Chinese are.

2/9/09 9:32 PM"

You do not know Wen Ho Lee was a spy. To be honest I do not think he was.

Anonymous said...

7:53 am: "You do not know Wen Ho Lee was a spy. To be honest I do not think he was."

You are quite naive. Do you think there aren't scientists and engineers all over this country spying for the Chinese?Technological espionage is a well-known threat and is one of the reasons we have export control laws.