Aug 31, 2009

LTRS LANS EES (Employee Engagement Survey)

Since LANS will be conducting an "Employee Engagement Survey" next month, it might be appropriate to conduct the uncensored version of this same survey here. We'll kick it off with a comment from yesterday's COW post. Here, then is the first question from the LTRS LANS EES (Employment Engagement Survey):

Question #1 on the LANS employee satisfaction survey:

How good of a job is the Director doing in leading this lab?

A) Good

B) Excellent

C) Unbelievably, Amazing, Stupendous!

C) My goodness, this man is super-human! Give him a triple bonus and mail my survey reward to the home address!

And here are a few more:

Aug 30, 2009

Comment of the Week, Sunday Morning Edition

A brilliant image of The Future at LANL, as shared with us by a commenter on this week's normal edition of Comment of the Week:

I heard from a friend in the public affairs office that several PR folks from North Korea have been contracted to spearhead a new PR campaign for the Lab. That's why there was a North Korean contingent visiting Governor Bill Richardson recently. He's the one that came up with the idea. The idea is basically to portray Mikey as the "Supreme Director" of a new and improved "Laboratory of the new Millennium." Apparently that's going to be the new lab motto.

So beginning next year Mikey's photo will be displayed strategically across the Lab. As you cross the Los Alamos Bridge the first and last image you'll see will be Mikey's. Right now, as you read this blog, his leadership team (headed by Sir Knight Richard of the Sexual Harassment Order) is in the process of recruiting hundreds of volunteers (loyal Lab employees and spouses of course) to become part of a synchronized dance
troop they want trained to perform every June 1st (anniversary of the LANS takeover). They will receive hands on instruction from experienced Olympic event dance choreographers. Dignitaries will be sitting on stands placed on in front of the National Security Building facing the open area between the Resource Library and the Otowi. That area will formally be christened next spring The Sheeple's Mall (pictured at the left).

The children of loyal Lab employees will be carrying long poles with long colored streamers tied to them, waving them back and forth in the wind as their parents dance for the Supreme Director. There will be many political dignitaries on hand to pay homage of course. Displays of mockups of every warhead design ever developed at the Laboratory (whether they worked or not) will line the mall. St. Pete will provide the keynote address of course. Imagine the cheering roar of the masses!

Well if you can’t imagine that, that’s the way my PR friend is imagining it. Sounds a little far fetched but hey, he’s a PR guy. And you know they never lie.

Aug 28, 2009

Comment of the Week

I noticed this also, but didn't quite know how to put it into words. A commenter from the Crasher Squirrel post did so succinctly with this contribution:

LANS and NNSA seem to have launched an intense PR campaign to convince the weapon complex employees, media and Congress that they're not the total fuck-ups that they appear to be.



DNFSB reports are only one page per week and are delayed for weeks. A reader sent this one to me, which describes some of the events at TA-35 last month.
July 24, 2009
MEMORANDUM FOR: T. J. Dwyer, Technical Director
FROM: B. Broderick and R.T. Davis
SUBJECT: Los Alamos Report for Week Ending July 24, 2009

Emergency Management: On Thursday, LANL conducted its annual full scale emergency exercise. The exercise simulated an explosion in the Beryllium Technology Facility foundry resulting in several worker casualties and a release of Beryllium from the facility. At one point, the exercise had to be paused for several hours when key participants including Los Alamos County Fire Department, LANL Emergency Response and LANL Emergency Management personnel were called away to deal with an actual hazardous material event, discussed below. Work has begun on an exercise after-action report that will analyze performance and identify opportunities for improvement.

Target Fabrication Facility: The event that led to the pause in the full scale exercise occurred at the Target Fabrication Facility, a radiological facility in Technical Area 35. A worker was transferring a nitric acid solution into a shipping container to prepare it for disposition when an unexpected chemical reaction occurred causing reddish fumes to begin evolving from the container. The worker became concerned that an exothermic reaction occurring inside the shipping container could cause it to fail, so he attempted to transfer the reacting solution into a more robust container. During this attempted transfer liquid began to bubble out of the container. At this point the worker left the room and prompted a facility evacuation. The facility evacuation was complicated by the evacuation alarm being out of service. Also, one individual had not been issued a facility emergency notification pager and remained unaware of the situation and inside the facility for a significant period of time.

Incident command decided to order adjacent facilities in TA-50 to shelter-in-place to protect personnel from exposure to any chemical vapors being exhausted from the Target Fabrication Facility through an unfiltered stack. Notification to shelter-in-place does not appear to have been effectively communicated to all impacted TA-50 facilities, including the WCRR repackaging facility.

Ultimately a hazardous materials team made entry into the facility and stabilized the scene. Fourteen workers, including the individual directly involved in the event were transported to Occupational Medicine where they were examined and released without restriction. The direct cause of the chemical reaction that initiated the event is still under investigation. In part due to similarities with the July 8th exothermic chemical reaction event at another TA-35 facility, the Material Science and Technology division has paused operations involving chemicals, pending reviews of work control documents and walkdowns of laboratory spaces where work with chemicals is performed (site rep weekly 7/10/09).

Pentagon Vetting Could Delay Warhead Modernization Plan

By Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Defense Department leaders plan to submit to outside technical review their forthcoming recommendation on how to proceed with nuclear warhead modernization, a process that might delay a decision on the contentious plan until next year, according to a senior official (see GSN, Aug. 18).

Pentagon officials say they are weighing an array of modernization options as part of the congressionally mandated Nuclear Posture Review, a broad assessment of the nation's strategy, forces and readiness due in December.

One alternative could be to continue maintaining the existing stockpile through reuse and refurbishment, officials say. Another might be to replace aging warheads with a newly crafted design aimed at boosting the safety, security and reliability of the stockpile.

Once recommended modernization options have been narrowed down, Pentagon leaders expect to submit them for assessment by outside scientists -- a process that might well extend beyond the due date for the posture review, the defense official said in an interview yesterday. How many months of delay might be involved remains uncertain.

"It's better to understand those considerations in advance, [and] decide if you agree with them or not, rather than to have them come up after the fact," said the senior official, who declined to be identified because of political sensitivities surrounding the posture review.

"It would be preferable if it happens within the NPR" time frame, the senior official told Global Security Newswire.

However, "if the technical details aren't sorted by then," the official said, the posture review might indicate instead: "OK, here's what the basic principles are that should guide where we go in the future, and here are the next decisions that need to be taken, and the next research actions or technical analysis actions that need to be considered."

President Barack Obama's national security team remains deeply divided over how best to maintain the viability of an aging arsenal in the absence of explosive testing. The United States has implemented a moratorium on underground tests since the early 1990s.

While serving as President George W. Bush's defense secretary, Robert Gates advocated building a Reliable Replacement Warhead, but Congress twice rejected funding for the effort. Lawmakers argued that an untested RRW design could actually raise doubts about nuclear-weapon reliability -- potentially harming deterrence -- and undermine Washington's efforts at thwarting nuclear proliferation around the globe.

Now serving a new president, Gates has pushed behind the scenes to revive a "replacement" approach to nuclear arms modernization. Despite growing support for warhead replacement among other Cabinet leaders, Vice President Joseph Biden in June rebuffed the idea, saying it could derail Obama's vision for reducing the role nuclear weapons play worldwide, GSN reported last week.

During the presidential campaign, Obama said he opposed "rushing to produce a new generation of warheads." Once in the Oval Office, the president committed to pursuing the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. For the foreseeable future, though, the United States will "maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal," Obama said during a major address in Prague.

How the president opts to proceed with nuclear warhead modernization is "an issue of great interest -- not just in DOD and DOE -- but across the government," said the senior Pentagon official, referring to the Defense and Energy departments.

Beyond that, "potential adversaries are likely watching closely to see how the new administration balances its security needs and its alliance commitments with the president's goal of global nuclear elimination," Thomas Scheber, a senior Pentagon official during the Bush administration, said yesterday.

"It is somewhat of a schizophrenic Nuclear Posture Review," Hans Kristensen, who directs the Federation of American Scientists' Nuclear Information Project, said at a press briefing yesterday. "The planners are being asked to do, in a way, two very different things. How do you do that?"

Few observers expect Biden's protest to be the last word on the matter.

In fact, the senior official indicated the Nuclear Posture Review would likely regard "replacement" as at least one facet of any effort aimed at extending the lives of today's nuclear warheads.

"The starting point for analysis is that life extension [is] generally understood to include everything -- all the three R's," said the official, referring to warhead reuse, refurbishment and replacement.

A critical distinction is that any replacement parts or warheads would stop short of improving a weapon's military capabilities against a target, and instead would simply enhance its safety, security or reliability, according to the defense official.

"I think warhead replacement ought to be an option available to policy-makers as a last resort in the event of a significant failure in one or more life-extension programs," said Jeffrey Lewis, who directs the New America Foundation's Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative. "That means drawing a bright line" between research aimed at maintaining a replacement option, and "engineering development work to actually exercise it," he said.

The senior defense official noted that the devil is very much in the details of any approach to nuclear modernization.

"I hope we're going to be successful in defining a framework for thinking about the problem," said the official, describing a process of sorting out exactly which initiatives are -- and are not -- technically and politically feasible.

Some "elements" of the modernization framework are in place as the review coalesces, the senior defense official said, but the Pentagon-led assessment has not yet completed its proposal for maintaining the stockpile.

One idea on the table is to introduce "common design elements" across multiple warheads in the arsenal, according to the defense official.

"In the future, we may not always have different warheads for our ICBMs and our SLBMs, in particular," the official told GSN. However, he did not elaborate on the cost or technical reasons for introducing more warhead commonality into the arsenal, or the modernization benefits to be achieved.

The official did say that such an approach "would involve mixing and matching primaries and secondaries" -- the two explosive stages of a thermonuclear weapon -- that were proven functional in past experiments, prior to the moratorium.

"I think everybody agrees that even if you add some safety features and if you improve reliability and take other steps, [and] if you're using existing primaries and secondaries, that would be not a replacement but a reuse," said the official, suggesting this might be a politically palatable approach.

Not everyone would agree.

If one or more components common to warheads across the arsenal were at some point found to be defective, the reliability of a sizable portion of the stockpile might be thrown into question overnight, Kristensen noted. For that reason, the Bush administration emphasized the importance of maintaining "warhead diversity" across the sea, land and air legs of the nuclear triad.

"An untested, modernized warhead would seem to compound the risks of [a common-warhead] strategy," Kristensen told GSN yesterday in an e-mailed response to questions.

The senior defense official conceded "it's possible" that some scientists would raise a red flag on the idea of increasing warhead commonality. However, he said some other initiatives might be undertaken to mitigate the risks of warhead failure in the absence of explosive testing.

One approach might be to mix and match only those parts that have been extensively tested in the past, the official said. Another could be to increase the design margins in modernized warheads, making them less sensitive to small defects and less likely to fail.

The idea of vetting the Nuclear Posture Review's near-final modernization options with the scientific community reflects a lesson learned from the Pentagon's experience in pursuing the Reliable Replacement Warhead, the official said.

"People involved in this [review] have seen what happened with RRW and the fact that, at one moment, there appeared to be a technical consensus that this was the right approach," the official said. "And the next thing you know, you have it picked apart by JASONs and others. And the consensus behind it came apart and it came to be seen as an unnecessary and potentially 'new' weapon."

The JASON group -- an independent panel that frequently advises the U.S. government on scientific and technical matters -- in 2007 raised questions about whether the replacement warhead might run a higher risk of failure than existing designs in today's stockpile. Panel members voiced concerns that the RRW design combined warhead parts that had never been explosively tested in this new configuration (see GSN, Oct. 1, 2007).

The scientific community's worries -- though not universally shared -- led lawmakers to demand further study before they would appropriate funds to develop the new warhead.

"That history is not lost on us," the senior defense official said. "So as we go through and develop an approach and plan -- before we go public with it -- we want to be sure that it will sustain rigorous technical analysis. ... That means getting a second and a third opinion."

"It reaffirms how badly the previous administration got burned on the RRW that [Obama administration officials] are still uncertain about how to approach the modernization question," Kristensen said.

The senior defense official also said it might be impossible to identify a single, proposed modernization solution for each type of warhead in the arsenal before year's end. In such a case, further studies -- apart from the external technical vetting -- might be warranted.

It is "possible" the "NPR will recommend moving forward with a study of different options" for modernization affecting one or more warheads in today's stockpile, the senior defense official said.

Further study "could be as narrow as [considering] how to deal with issues associated with a specific warhead or couple of warheads, or it could be more fundamental," the official added. "If we don't have it all tied up in a bow -- which is very possible -- I think it's more likely to be a somewhat narrow set of questions."

The objective, the official said, would be to winnow down the potential recommendations undergoing further study "as much as possible," while offering "a very firm technical basis for what the NPR is recommending" when it debuts in December, the official said.

Scheber, now vice president of the National Institute for Public Policy, counseled against any significant delays on modernization.

"The can has already been kicked down a long road," he told GSN.

However, one advantage to further putting off a decision on potential replacement options could be "that in a few years, we will have a much better sense of how well the ongoing life-extension programs are going," Lewis said.

The Energy Department, its semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration and the national laboratories are providing scientific and technical support for the posture review. These organizations have supported an RRW-type approach in the past, though Kristensen asserted they have used their responsibility to maintain the nuclear stockpile "as an excuse for modernization."

The senior official would not say whether the JASON panel or others would be tapped to perform the external scientific study.

"Given the extremely technical nature of some of the issues that come up, there is not a very large community to which we're going to reach out," said the official.

Kristensen welcomed the concept of an external study, provided that reviewers are given adequate access to nuclear weapon information and data.

However, he argued that the postponement might help advance a replacement-warhead approach by allowing Pentagon officials to unveil the plan after national attention on the Nuclear Posture Review results diminishes, thereby minimizing the potential for renewed controversy.

"The risk is that this is really RRW through the back door," Kristensen said. The Pentagon might build "gradual support for incremental enhancements to individual systems without confronting the Obama pledge [not to build new weapons] head-on," he said.

Aug 27, 2009

H1N1 in Los Alamos

According to the author of this comment, the recent outbreak of flu in Los Alamos is H1N1. From the Sick Students post:

After a quick visit to the peds, we got the word that the typing came back as h1n1 and the duration estimate is changed to 5-7 days rather than 3-5.

Good news is that the actual h1n1 flu that we've experienced in our household isn't too severe: fluctuating fevers, body aches, snotty nose and coughing for 3 people in the house so far and all the symptoms seem to be managed well with OTC remedies.


Aug 25, 2009

Crasher Squirrel

The now famous "crasher squirrel" photo has been showing up almost everywhere on the web.

Not to be left out, a recent examination of the latest blog photo of Anastasio indicates he has a little furry friend. The resemblance between the two is uncanny!

Yes, the resemblance is uncanny. They remind me of a furry version of Dr. Evil and Mini Me.

Another thing they have in common is they both never seem to have enough nuts.

Study on Labs' Control Nixed

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

The Obama administration has abandoned a controversial study that could have led to Pentagon control over U.S. nuclear weapons design and manufacturing.

In February, the administration's Office of Management and Budget called for a study of the possibility of moving nuclear weapons work run by the National Nuclear Security Administration, including Los Alamos and Sandia labs, out of the civilian Department of Energy and into the Department of Defense.

But after missing a key study milestone, an Office of Management and Budget spokesman acknowledged Monday that the study will not be done.

The decision to abandon the study, first reported Monday by Global Security Newswire, does not mean the idea of Pentagon control is dead, according to the statement from OMB communications director Ken Baer. But rather than a fast track study, the issue will instead be considered as part of broader discussions of the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

"The administration is looking at the most effective positioning for the NNSA," Baer's statement said, "and it very well may be that the best place for the NNSA is exactly where it is now."

In response, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., issued a statement reiterating his belief that putting the labs under military control is a bad idea.

"I do not believe the proposal to move the NNSA to the Department of Defense ever made sense. But I do believe that it's important to examine what steps we can take to ensure NNSA is strengthened and improved," Bingaman said.

The study, called for in an internal Office of Management and Budget memorandum, would have looked at the costs and benefits of taking control of the National Nuclear Security Administration away from the Department of Energy, where it now resides.

In New Mexico, it could have led to the end of six decades of civilian management of Sandia and Los Alamos national labs, which design and maintain nuclear weapons.

Administration officials never commented publicly on their reasons for launching the study, citing the internal nature of the deliberations. But others, including former Sandia National Laboratories Director C. Paul Robinson, said a change would solve management problems with the current system. The agency has faced major projects running over budget and behind schedule, along with a string of embarrassing security incidents.

The first phase of the study was to have been done in early August, with the hope that necessary decisions could be made in time to begin any resulting management changes by 2011. News of the study, first reported by the Journal in February based on an internal Obama administration document, drew intense criticism.

In March, Bingaman and a bipartisan group of senators representing key committees with jurisdiction over the labs, wrote to the administration to express "our firm opposition to the transfer of the NNSA to the Department of Defense."

It was signed by Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as Bingaman's Republican counterpart on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the leaders of two other key Senate committees with jurisdiction over the nuclear weapons program.

Potential Action on Nuclear Agency Reform Deferred to Year's End

Monday, Aug. 24, 2009
By Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- The White House budget office has reversed course on its plan to formally review whether responsibility for the safety, security and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons should be transferred from the Energy Department to the Defense Department (see GSN, March 19).

Instead, the matter is being considered in interagency discussions and as part of a broader, ongoing Pentagon assessment of nuclear weapon strategy, forces and readiness, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget told Global Security Newswire.

"A formal study hasn't been initiated," Ken Baer, the OMB communications director, said in a written response to questions.

Congressional sources said the initiative to move the nuclear agency appears, at least for now, to have lost momentum.

"The administration's actions speak louder than any words," said one House aide, who was not authorized to address the issue publicly and requested anonymity.

Budget office leaders in early February proposed that the Energy and Defense departments jointly undertake a study on whether to reposition the National Nuclear Security Administration, which has frequently been criticized for ineffective oversight of the nuclear weapons complex (see GSN, Feb. 5).

A so-called OMB "passback memo" asked the two agencies to lead the assessment and brief the budget agency on their preliminary recommendations by Aug. 7, with a final report due Sept. 30.

Since its formation in 2000, the National Nuclear Security Administration has been a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department. Budgeted at nearly $10 billion for fiscal 2010 and employing thousands of government workers and contracted personnel, its primary responsibility is the management and security of U.S. nuclear weapons and nuclear nonproliferation activities.

However, a number of internal and external reviews over the years have said the agency has not performed as expected.

"The governance structure of the NNSA is not delivering the needed results" and "should be changed," according to the most recent assessment, from the congressionally mandated Strategic Posture Commission.

The bipartisan panel -- led by former Defense Secretaries William Perry and James Schlesinger -- found in May that excessive regulation and micromanagement hampered the national laboratories and other weapons facilities, and contributed to skyrocketing costs.

"It is a testament to our weapon designs in the 1970s and '80s that the weapons are NNSA-proof," said Jeffrey Lewis, who directs the New America Foundation's Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative. "Given the failures that run from the management [of] NNSA down to the labs, it's remarkable that our bombs work at all."

The agency touts its record of achievement, noting on its Web site that the U.S. nuclear stockpile has been annually certified as viable in the absence of underground testing, based on a "wide range of breakthrough science experiments, engineering audits and high-tech computer simulations, including extensive laboratory and flight tests of warhead components and subsystems."

To help thwart nuclear proliferation, NNSA officials have worked "with a wide range of international partners, key U.S. federal agencies, the U.S. national laboratories, and the private sector to detect, secure, and dispose of dangerous nuclear and radiological material, and related WMD technology and expertise" around the world, the organization states (see GSN, June 30).

However, others have criticized the organization for failing to make sufficient progress toward nonproliferation goals.

"There is currently a 15-year backlog of some 4,200 retired [U.S.] nuclear warheads awaiting dismantlement," according to Robert Alvarez of the Institute for Policy Studies, who supports moving the agency to the Defense Department. "Elimination of nuclear weapons continues to have a low priority in the DOE budget."

Despite the concerns about its performance, opposition has arisen to moving the agency to the Defense Department.

After the budget office issued its passback memo, several influential lawmakers demanded that the study be scrapped.

A bipartisan group of five key senators -- including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) -- on March 18 wrote to OMB Director Peter Orszag saying they seek improvements to a "dysfunctional" relationship between the Energy Department and its nuclear agency.

Still, they argued, shifting responsibility to the Defense Department is not the answer. The senators insisted that control over nuclear weapons remain in nonmilitary hands, calling civilian authority a "cornerstone" of the U.S. approach to atomic arms that has earned the "trust of other nuclear nations."

"For the past 63 years, nonmilitary control over the development of nuclear weapons technology has ensured independence of technical judgment over issues associated with our nuclear arsenal, has attracted the best scientific and technical talent to these important programs, and has served to underline the crucial differences between nuclear weapons and conventional military munitions," according to a discussion paper the senators released with their letter.

The lawmakers said a decision on how to proceed should await the conclusions of the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review, which is to be completed in December.

It appears the senators got their way.

Rather than launch a study specifically focused on shifting the nuclear agency to the Defense Department, Obama administration officials are less formally mulling an array of alternatives for how to accomplish NNSA missions and functions more effectively, sources said.

"The Nuclear Posture Review is examining many of the issues involved," Baer said. "Other questions will be addressed through ongoing agency discussions."

Budget office officials declined to specify what additional questions remain under consideration. However, no decisions on the matter are expected prior to completion of the Nuclear Posture Review.

In the process, Baer said, "the administration is looking at the most effective positioning for the NNSA, and it very well may be that the best place for the NNSA is exactly where it is now."

A White House decision not to include any funds for shifting the nuclear agency in its fiscal 2010 budget request -- delivered to Capitol Hill in May -- suggests that the idea "is either on the back burner or dead," the House aide said.

An NNSA spokesman had no comment, referring all questions to the White House budget office.

However, NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino in March voiced resistance to the proposal, saying a transfer would "put our national security goals on idle for two years while everyone is trying to figure out who reports to whom and how the funding comes in."

Bingaman -- whose state is home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is responsible for designing most of today's nuclear stockpile -- remains "confident" that the nuclear agency will not end up at the Defense Department, spokeswoman Jude McCartin told GSN last week.

Some critics of the Energy Department's stewardship of the nuclear weapons complex allege that parochial interests prompted the administration to alter its study plans.

"The New Mexico congressional delegation has hotly opposed the idea" of a transfer, Alvarez wrote in June. "At stake is the state's status and the huge amount of funding that supports the weapons labs that dominate its economy.

"In response to the outcry," he continued, Energy "Secretary [Steven] Chu has offered public reassurances that this won't happen."

Alvarez said an NNSA shift to the Pentagon could help focus the Energy Department on developing alternative energy sources. As it stands, energy activities constitute just 18.5 percent of the department's spending, he wrote. Nearly twice that portion of the Energy Department budget goes toward supporting the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, federal officials have said.

"DOE's actual energy functions continue to take a backseat to propping up the nation's large and antiquated nuclear infrastructure," wrote Alvarez, who could not be reached for comment last week. "Despite the president's rhetoric about reshaping America's energy future, the DOE budget for [fiscal] 2010, minus stimulus spending, looks a lot like that of George W. Bush and several presidents before him."

For its part, the Perry-Schlesinger panel stopped short of recommending an NNSA transfer to the Defense Department, though it noted that some unidentified members saw merit in at least a partial shift.

Pentagon interest in the nuclear weapons complex "is, at best, episodic" and if moved to the Defense Department, its funding could become "a bill payer" for that department's other, higher priorities, the commission warned in its report. The group also questioned the Pentagon's ability to effectively operate the weapons laboratories and allow "independent voices" to be heard in assessing the continued viability of the nuclear stockpile.

Lewis agreed that moving the agency and its laboratories to the Pentagon would be tantamount to "suicide for a terminal cancer patient."

The posture commission said the most "appealing" alternative would be to "establish the NNSA as an independent agency reporting to the president with a "board of directors" comprising key Cabinet members. This approach was recently laid out by a Henry L. Stimson Center study.

"NNSA has the potential to support a lot of different activities other than those it has typically been associated with," said Paul Hughes, the posture commission's executive director. Oversight by multiple federal agencies could help make fuller use of the national laboratories in advancing alternative energy, nonproliferation, homeland security and intelligence initiatives, he told GSN this morning.

However, the Perry-Schlesinger panel said such an approach "does not appear to be politically practical at this time." The group did not elaborate.

Instead, it advocated establishing the National Nuclear Security Administration as an "independent agency" that reports to the president via the energy secretary. Hughes said this was the commission's consensus position.

"To make this approach work, the NNSA, as an independent agency, should have a budget separate from any other entity," the group advised.

Lewis said he does not expect the Nuclear Posture Review to significantly improve on what he sees as the commission's "anodyne" recommendation. Rather, he anticipates the nuclear agency and national laboratories would likely remain in "a death spiral of sorts," hampered by "incompetent" management and "shrinking budgets."

Aug 24, 2009

Sick Students

This off-topic comment came in on the Louis Rosen post. I'm putting it here, in case there is LANL-related interest.

Anyone know anything about this?

Flu-Like Illness Hits Two Los Alamos Schools

Associated Press

More than 100 students called in sick Monday at Los Alamos public schools, and the state Department of Health is looking into whether some of those illnesses might be swine flu.
The agency also is checking into the possibility swine flu is responsible for absences among kindergarten students at the early childhood center in Kirtland near Farmington.

The Health Department expected an increase in influenza-like illnesses as classes began this month because swine flu is continuing to spread in New Mexico.

Department spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer says the agency has asked doctors and school nurses in Los Alamos and Kirtland to take samples from ill students for testing for swine flu, known as the H1N1 virus.

Aug 23, 2009

Beloved Los Alamos Scientist Louis Rosen Dies

From Carol Clark's NewsExtras blog: Beloved Los Alamos Scientist Louis Rosen Dies

Also: Louis Rosen Will Be Greatly Missed By His Family, Friends and By People All Over The World

Renowned Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Louis Rosen died in his sleep at 6:30 p.m. Thursday from complications of a subdural hematoma.

Rosen, 91, was as brilliant and vital as ever and went to work at the laboratory as usual on Thursday Aug. 13, his family said.

It is presumed he continued his normal routine spending time at Mesa Public Library the following day.

Rosen apparently fell in the early hours of Saturday Aug. 15 at his Los Alamos home.

He was airlifted to UNM Medical Center in Albuquerque where he remained until late Thursday afternoon.


Aug 22, 2009

Construction Companies, the NNSA, and DOE National Laboratories

At what point is somebody important going to admit that it was a huge mistake to have sold off LANL to Bechtel, a large construction company? How much more evidence will it take before somebody owns up to the fact that that the additional $200 million it costs each year to have Bechtel, hiding under the umbrella of the LANS Limited Liability Corporation running LANL will never be reclaimed through "increased efficiency of operations", as was claimed back in 2005 when NNSA put LANL up on the bidding block?

When the University of California operated the LANL contract, they did so for a fee of $8 million per year. Granted, they did a terrible job during the last twenty or thirty years of LANL's history. Remember Pete Nanos, UC's grand plan for putting LANL back on the straight and narrow? Look where that got us. However, three years later LANS and Bechtel, in retrospect, make UC look like a paragon of efficiency. And that's saying something. If you worked at LANL under UC, you know what I mean.

Before anybody rushes to explain to *why* no one has owned up to the horrible mistake that NNSA made back in 2005 when they put the LANL contract up for bid, I already think I know the answer. Let's see if you agree.

But before we get too much farther on in this ramble, let's just take a second to thank former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici one more time for his brilliant decision to create the NNSA. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks, Pete.

Ok, back to *why* nobody will admit that the NNSA, and their decision to sell off LANL (and LLNL) to a large, for-profit military industrial construction contractor was a huge mistake. I actually think there are three, perhaps four possible explanations for this massively flawed decision, and why nobody will now own up to it:

Explanation Number 1.
Congress and Bill Richardson, ex-DOE Secretary of Energy actually believed Linton Brooks, then head of the NNSA, and Tom D'Agostino when they made their claim that the new LLC would recoup their approximately $200 / year costs through improved efficiencies of operation. Nobody will admit to having believed that now, since it is so patently absurd to have ever believed the fairy tail, in retrospect. Domenici is no longer around, so he's certainly not going to 'fess up to falling for such a whopper. Bingaman? Udall? Don't make me laugh.

Explanation Number 2. Nobody believed Brooks and D'Agostino, because they were all in agreement with the (then) secret plan to strip all non-plutonium pit science from LANL, and turn the rest of the place into the next Rocky Flats Plant. Costs? Efficiency of operation? Who gives a shit? Now, however, since the plans to build a new "Taj Mahal" of a plutonium science complex at LANL seem to be falling apart, nobody is going to admit having been a backer of that plan.

Explanation Number 3. Everybody believed Brooks and D'Agostino on their claims that the new LLC would be more cost-efficient than UC had been. I guess it is possible for that many people high up in the decision chain to be that stupid, but who would ever admit to it after the fact?

Explanation Number 4. Bechtel wanted the LANL contract, so Bechtel bought the contract through the usual corporate/political process; i.e. they bought the miscellaneous government officials responsible for approving the sale, thus guaranteeing the sale.

Take a look at LANL and LLNL today. They are buried under unbelievable mountains of useless bureaucracy. They make the old days of working under the University of California look like a finely tuned Swiss clock. Look at the latest gems that Bechtel has bequeathed upon the two sister labs: Ladder Training for both sites, and mandatory Bicycle Helmet Training for anybody at LLNL who wants to ride one of the old clunker bikes they have laying around the place for staff to use to get from one building to another. Have you ever been to Livermore, and have you ever seen one of those bikes? First, it's flat as a pancake at LLNL, and second, you could not get one of those old clunkers going fast enough to hurt anybody, and finally, it has worked fine the just way it is now for umpteen years.

These are just two of the latest dictoms of idiocy that our fine new for-profit contractor has brought to the table. Why is nobody paying attention? Where is DOE Secretary Chu while all of this is happening? Good questions; I have no idea.


Aug 20, 2009

Comment of the Week, Thursday Afternoon Edition

Who is going to win the NBCCRB (NNSA - Bechtel Corporate Cup Race to the Bottom): LANL, or LLNL?

The comment below from the Dylan - Listen and Chill post is the COW that prompts the question. Until just recently I had LANL comfortably ahead, with a fine collection of accomplishments placing them well in the lead against our sister NNSA lab. I mean, the highly imaginative use of JB Weld at LANL -- this alone placed our proud organization in the top two of the competition.

When you throw in all of the other MOIs (Measures of Incompetence) implemented by the Bechtel holding company running the place, it was looking like LANL was a lock to win the prestigious NBCCRB cup. I refer of course to the highly-regarded LCP (Laptop Crippling Program), the very successful LLAOOEOTH (Let's Lose All Of Our Email Over The Holidays) project, the BWSOSITF (Bottled Water Shoot Ourselves In The Foot) initiative, and of course the novel RGGRQ (Radioactive Gold Get Rich Quick) program, it was looking like LANL was a shoe-in. After all: LANL staff proudly wear shoes that GRIP!

But, we can't rule out those Livermorons! They have traditionally been fierce competitors of ours. True to form, just when it was beginning to appear that LANL had an unbeatable lead, they come up with this:

-You LANL losers can eat it.

We Livermorons have numerous opportunities to keep our skills sharp by taking advantage of LLNL provided training.

On this afternoons agenda...Ladder and Stair Training - HS 5250.

Its why we lead in SCIENCE!

All I can say is: Team, don't let your guard down! The race isn't over until it's over! You might think you have a comfortable lead in this competition, but I'm warning you: those sneaks at LLNL are reading from the same playbook as you are, and they may have a few surprises still up their sleeves.


Update, 6:10pm. It occurs to me that there is a perfect Dylan piece to accompany this post: Everything's Broken.

Aug 19, 2009

Attorney Recommendations?

Can you make the following an anonymous top-level post please?

Can any of the readership make attorney recommendations for employees who might need representation to help protect their jobs? Without getting into specifics, this could be useful information for any employees who have the difficult decision about what and when and whether and how to disclose information.


I think yours is the most frequent question I get from readers who contact me privately. I don't have a specific firm I recommend, but the good news is that many employees have needed such help before. Whether your issue is polygraphs, drug testing, contamination, discrimination, retaliation... whatever it is you probably aren't the first and aren't alone. Google for news about employees who were in a situation similar to yours and find out who represented them.

One further hopeful note: the legal team you will be opposing isn't exactly world class. In fact the one I'm thinking of now has no class. Hey Pablo, wouldn't it be fun if I had a conversation with your dentist?

Dylan - Listen and Chill

All the signs indicate some "chill" is in order.

Aug 16, 2009

Third Comment of the Week

Good stuff is pouring in this weekend. Greg's comments have proven to be a lightning rod. This one is a Nut Rocker.


Greg, this transition may be perfectly rational and beneficial to employees. The reactions here are symptomatic of the complete erosion of trust that's been accomplished by LANL management over the last several years. Remember Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Our management can't even seem to get the basics of modern human existince right anymore - e.g. safe drinking water and a non-porous roof over our heads. Our access to the basic tools to do our jobs is being eroded daily, and we are increasingly treated as babies in the safety and security arenas.

Mike berated a room full of managers last week (at the Leadership Summit on Alignment, of all places) for holding different views and experiences of the Lab than his own. Why can't Alignment go bottom-up as well as top-down? It was supremely ironic that Alan Bishop presented a video about the Shackleton Endurance expedition and pointed out that Shackleton built alignment by rolling his sleeves up and doing all the same jobs his team was doing (e.g. scrubbing the floors). Can anyone here imagine Mike writing an IWD and hand carrying it to all the FOD signoffs? Entering his own receipts into Concur? Working in an office with a leaky roof and shit-filled drinking water? Waiting an hour for a KSL taxi to take him to White Rock for Rad II testout?

I don't think so.

Aug 15, 2009

Second Comment of the Week

Since Frank is presently totally occupied with getting his house built, I've culled another comment from this week's contributions for discussion. This one is topical and addresses LANS' decision to drop LANL staff and retirees from health plan coverage if they don't take action during this year's open enrollment.

Click the image to enlarge.

1. People have already chosen their health plan options: HMO, PPO, or whatever. They have already agreed that money will be subtracted out of their paychecks every month. If the benefits folks choose to mess around with what looks like a pretty good set of health plans, the least they could do is make the process as painless as possible for the laboratory workers. Dropping people is the absolute worst default.

2. While we are on the topic --- what exactly was wrong with the current plans? My guess is, not much. The benefits folks just had to continue changing things, to give an appearance of constant activity.

For the very same reason, the Lab (and the folks at LASO) are constantly generates a litany of new rules, memos, training plans, you name it. A stream of "computer security innovations", new travel and visitor rules, procurement changes, etc is continuously being dumped on people, severely disrupting productivity and depressing moral. The eventual loser in all of this by the way is the American Taxpayer, who pours over $2B/year into this Lab and gets less and less in return.

The truth is, if this activity-for-the-sake-of-
showing-activity were to simply stop, things would improve. It would also become instantly clear that a whole bunch of folks are really not needed here. Indeed, we are paying them out of our humongous overhead to impede our work.

They themselves see that, which is precisely why they can't stop their activity-for-the-sake-of-
showing-activity, even for a second.


Comment of the Week

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The topic of this week's COW is "Drunken Posts". Here's an example:

Where´re my two! rejected posts at 8/14/09 ≈5:10 PM, and at 8/15/09 ≈10:35 AM ???

PS: Doug, you have censored six posts in total by me, e.g. you are a censor, coward, and a hypocrite.

This, after two badly-spelled, off-topic political rants were rejected. All I can say is, please, PLEASE say this to me directly to my face some time. Please!

Have a great weekend everybody. And of course: don't drink and post.


Aug 7, 2009

Comment of the Week

This week's COW wasn't actually written by anybody at LANL, it is an article by Paul Guinnessy who writes for Physics Today. An anonymous reader submitted it to last week's Comment of the Week post. Paul is no stranger to LANL; he's written about the place on several occasions. The article is related to last week's COW post, though, via the common topic of "research at DOE nuke weapons labs".

From today's Physics Today Blog, in the politics section, is this article:

In the first public meeting of the President’s Council of Advisers in Science and Technology (PCAST), US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the loss of basic science and technology funding at the nuclear-weapons labs Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore have had an inverse effect in the labs ability to attract "the best and the brightest."

During the 1990s the labs basic research funding was on an “10-year-glide-path” to be cut in half he said, which was only stopped in 1998. "To be blunt," said Chu, "the best and the brightest didn’t want to be weapons designers...they wanted to do good science."

Chu pointed out that this model—of using basic science as the carrot which would eventually lead to an interest in more applied work—has been common at all the major innovation incubators such as the Bell Laboratories or in the weapons labs early history.

How to attract high caliber staff to the weapons labs in the current climate “is an unsolved problem” said Chu, who asked for PCAST to assess ways to attract the best staff to DOE. In the meeting Chu implied that there is currently a review underway of the nuclear weapons management structure.

Chu also expanded on the principles behind his request to Congress to fund centers of excellence in energy research in which DOE would act more like a venture capitalist fund and invest in people, not in individual projects. "In World War II you just picked out outstanding people and gave them a problem and told them to solve it," he said. "They treated problems as triage. You would tackle the hard problem first and move onto the next if it didn't work." A similar attitude needs to exist in energy research he said.

"The key would be the management team and whether they are willing to take on this task," he said. "There are a couple of experiments I want to do in this regard."

Paul Guinnessy

I wonder what kind of "experiments" Dr. Chu has in mind. Do you suppose they might involve tasking a construction company's management team with oversight of a DOE research center of excellence? Somehow, I have trouble envisioning that.


Aug 6, 2009

Bad Water

Hi Frank,
Big news. I am attaching a preliminary report on what will bring back some memories for you. It came from a colleague who was told by management to stay quiet.

Anyhow, remember how the lab officials all said the water was good to drink? Trust us! Well, CMR's water is really crapped up and people have been forced to drink it for months now. All this to save money so that Mikey and friends could get bigger bonuses. Was it worth it in the end? How many people are pregnant and drinking this water, could get cancer, etc. Are they going to provide full disclosure testing for all the inhabitants and visitors of the CMR? In how many other buildings is this going to find duplication? Anyhow, shit is going to hit the fan.


Yes, it does bring back some memories. Extrapolating from my experience, people who drank the water will not be told for years, if ever, what contaminants were in it. If, as it appears, someone made the decision to pull bottled water from CMR without checking first if the building water was safe, that person will never be held accountable. And finally FOIA requests or complaints to the Ombuds office or DOE IG will be a waste of time. LANS will never pay more than lip service to safety because nobody who could make them will. I'd love to be proven wrong someday. LANS could start by answering my question.

[View the preliminary report here.]

Update, 8-7-2009: Somebody in the Senate has taken an interest in You-Know-Who this morning.

Click to enlarge.

Aug 2, 2009

Comment of the Week

Short & sweet. From the Direct Line to Washington post, where the conversation had once again drifted back to the topic of how LANL/NNSA/LANS (in roughly that order) have chosen to narrow LANL's mission to focus primarily NW plutonium work.

Yes, I know there are other WFO programs at LANL. But I am also aware that NNSA has clearly stated that the new, improved LANL was to have a core mission centered around plutonium weapons work. I'm just glad that I'm not still at LANL trying to continue to bring in WFO within current management environment.

I admit that the term LDRD Welfare Queen kind of tickled me. I had not heard it before, but in retrospect it is oddly fitting, based on my past LDRD experiences.

Our comment of the Week:

To a certain extent I agree with you. When the cold war ended, the lab made a conscious decision to retreat back into its core mission (NW) rather than to try to keep and expand a diversified portfolio. The only science facility that they really worked to protect was LANSCE. While this was politically expedient and worked reasonably well for over a decade, LANL is now paying for that decision. You can blame that decision on Sig Hecker.

If LANL truly wanted to maintain its science and its staff, what they should consider doing is to give any staff member who brings in a new contract a certain percentage of it as a bonus. That would probably solve any funding shortfalls in short order. Of course, that isn’t going to happen because the primary goal of LANS/NNSA/DOE is control, not performance or doing good science. It took the DOE ~60 years to finally get LANL to knuckle under and accept “guidance” from Washington. If either the LANL managers or the NNSA managers don’t control LANL’s budget, then they don’t have any leverage. They don’t like staff members ignoring them.

The reason I made my earlier comments about bringing money into the lab is that when I worked at LANL it used to really frost my butt to go out and bring in outside funding only to have it taxed and given to some LDRD welfare queen who was spending their entire career living off of the largess of the laboratory. If these people are really as good as they think they are, then they are the ones who should be developing new programs for the lab. LDRD should be seed money for programs, but it has largely deteriorated into a mechanism to maintain the lab’s technical base.