Oct 30, 2009

How Soon We Forget


1st Session

S. RES. 151

Designates a national day of remembrance on October 30, 2009, for nuclear weapons program workers.


May 14, 2009

Mr. BUNNING (for himself, Mr. ALEXANDER, Ms. MURKOWSKI, Mr. BINGAMAN, Mr. UDALL of Colorado, Mr. KENNEDY, Mr. VOINOVICH, Mr. REID, Mr. CORKER, Mr. GRASSLEY, Mrs. MURRAY, Mr. MCCONNELL, Ms. CANTWELL, Mr. UDALL of New Mexico, Mr. NELSON of Florida, Mr. BROWN, and Mr. SCHUMER) submitted the following resolution ; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

May 20, 2009

Committee discharged; considered and agreed to

Designates a national day of remembrance on October 30, 2009, for nuclear weapons program workers.

Whereas hundreds of thousands of men and women have served this Nation in building its nuclear defense since World War II;

Whereas these dedicated American workers paid a high price for their service and have developed disabling or fatal illnesses as a result of exposure to beryllium, ionizing radiation, toxic substances, and other hazards that are unique to the production and testing of nuclear weapons;

Whereas these workers were put at individual risk without their knowledge and consent in order to develop a nuclear weapons program for the benefit of all American citizens; and

Whereas these patriotic men and women deserve to be recognized for their contribution, service, and sacrifice towards the defense of our great Nation: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate --
  1. designates October 30, 2009, as a national day of remembrance for American nuclear weapons program workers and uranium miners, millers, and haulers; and
  2. encourages the people of the United States to support and participate in appropriate ceremonies, programs, and other activities to commemorate October 30, 2009, as a national day of remembrance for past and present workers in America's nuclear weapons program.
The local celebration will be held tomorrow at Fuller Lodge. It is free and open to the public. Celebrations will also be held all across the country. I will be attending the one at SRS.

A personal note: I am thankful to every single nuclear weapons program worker for their accomplishments and, too often, for their sacrifices. The world would be a very different place without you.

UPDATE: The house just passed a similar resolution yesterday. Click here to view H. Res. 790.

Oct 29, 2009

Comment of the Week

Four comments share the honors this week. The theme: Shut 'R Down. It will never happen, of course, but that doesn't seem to keep folks from talking about it.

From the Study finds quake risk at Los Alamos post:


I've been following this blog for a while and, although I believe that the lab employees are a group of highly educated, well paid individuals, I rarely see what I would call thoughtful discussions, perhaps related to the laboratory goals. It brings to mind some of the reports by Shockley, famous for his discovery of the transistor and infamous for his writings on heredity and race.

There was a period between fame and infamy where he wrote about the degeneration of the civil service labs and how to revive those labs.

While LANL is not a civil service laboratory, his comments ere relevant. My understanding is that LANL scientists are not, in general, funded through open competition, leaving the place nearly identical to the civil service but with, I understand, much higher salaries.

From most of the comments on the blog, a student might describe the place as dormant or, at the worst, degenerated. Do any of the contributors have a suggestion that could at least point to the direction of regeneration?


Yes indeed, 2:05. I've given the subject a great deal of thought, based in part on my 22 years of employment in that non-competitive, overly compensated environment you describe. Based also in part from my experiences working outside of LANL in truly competitive environments.

I believe that LANL is so damaged by 65 years of ingrained, incestuous relationships with DOE and a few other government funding agencies that it cannot be repaired, or "regenerated". LANL management after Harold Agnew has been generally atrocious, and shows every sign of remaining that way.

The new for-profit LANL contract so neatly prepared for us by DOE and the NNSA has, to no one's great surprise, accelerated the rate of decline in management and staff quality at Los Alamos.

The only solution that I believe has any chance of producing a respected DOE science laboratory in place of the current LANL is to shut Los Alamos down. Completely. And then start new somewhere else, paying careful attention to avoid all of the mistakes that current and past managers have made and continue to make. I won't point out what those mistakes are -- you can read all about them here on this blog and its predecessor blogs.


To whoever wrote "The only solution that I believe has any chance of producing a respected DOE science laboratory in place of the current LANL is to shut Los Alamos down. Completely. And then start new somewhere else, paying careful attention to avoid all of the mistakes that current and past managers have made and continue to make."

You missed several minor points.

1) The land and buildings at LANL would cost many tens of billions to replace. Where would that money come from? No one would buy the existing LANL facilities in such a remote location (unlike Livermore).

2) Decommissioning LANL would cost many billions more.

3) How could it be possible for the same (mis)managers at NNSA who have made so many bad decisions (like hiring LANS) to create a new mistake-free organization, especially at a time when they would be building a new ~100 Billion dollar laboratory? That's nutty thinking.

4) Who would sign up to work for NNSA at your proposed new site knowing that NNSA just might make the same (bad) decision to close this new site and destroy the lives and careers of everyone who works there? Do you think top-notch scientists, engineers, technicians, and managers are that stupid?

Get a firm grip on on your head... now... pull it out. Now get a grip on the real world dude.

2:25 PM is right, the way to start fixing LANL is for NNSA to fire LANS (Bechtel).



You really don't see the picture. I'll try to help you out:

1. NNSA is part of the problem. The suggestion was to replace the current LANL with a new
DOE lab. NNSA would play no part.

2. LANL's current budget is about $2 billion per year. With that amount of funding, a pretty spiffy new
DOE lab could be built. Staffing for the new lab would in no way resemble LANL's current management top-heavy, overhead-heavy work force.

3. Bulldoze what's left of the old LANL. If they can shut down RFP, they can shut down LANL.

4. ORNL, PNNL, and NREL are proof that it is possible for DOE to sponsor healthy, respected (at least as compared to LANL) science laboratories.

Oct 27, 2009

Defense Safety Board Strongly Criticizes Seismic Safety at Los Alamos Plutonium Facility

For immediate release 10/27/09
Contact: Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group, 505-265-1200 www.lasg.org

In an unusually strong recommendation (pdf), the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) has strongly criticized the state of seismic safety at Los Alamos National Laboratory's (LANL's) main plutonium facility, Building PF-4 in Technical Area (TA)-55.

This is only the second official recommendation on any subject from the Board this year.

Due to “the severity of the problems” at PF-4, the Board requires quarterly responses over the next 12 months and suggests that if necessary Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu act under Atomic Energy Act to promptly implement short- as well as long-term remedies.

The Board finds that the mitigated (not: unmitigated) consequences off site of a seismic event and subsequent fire at PF-4 are more than 100 times the applicable DOE evaluation guideline for offsite whole-body radiation, which is 25 rem over a period of a few hours. These are NNSA modeling results.

Like most official Board communications, this one – at just 2½ pages – is a model of concision and clarity. I will not attempt to summarize its main points here but rather urge all interested parties to read it carefully.

An acute dose of the predicted magnitude (2,500 rem) would be fatal within a few days at most.

Predicted doses would be less at downwind population centers such as the village of White Rock, the town of Los Alamos, and elsewhere. Significant plutonium deposition, creating longer-term risks and incurring cleanup costs, may extend much farther downwind under some conditions.

The postulated accident would create higher doses than this to any exposed individuals on the LANL site who were exposed downwind. Prompt evacuation of these areas would be essential. Downwind LANL facilities would be contaminated and require extensive cleanup. This might not be economical, especially if there were also structural or other earthquake damage, which is likely. LANL, in other words, could be shut down for a long time and might not be worth rebuilding.

The inadequacy of the safety situation at PF-4 in general, and its seismic safety in particular, have long been a concern of this organization and we have brought up this issue in meetings with the Board in Washington, DC and in Los Alamos on multiple occasions in the past three years.

As the Board’s Recommendation notes, the present situation has been a long time in development.

The Board’s Recommendation does not mention that PF-4, along with other LANL nuclear facilities, has been operating under a so-called “Justification for Continued Operation” (JCO), which is a memorandum NNSA writes to itself explaining why it does not need for follow federal nuclear safety regulations – in LANL’s case seismic safety regulations. NNSA recently granted itself an extension to its JCO.

The resolution of seismic safety issues at PF-4 is almost completely unrelated to the planned Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Nuclear Facility. There is no known opposition to the continued safe operation of PF-4 as a plutonium facility under all stockpile management scenarios. A construction project called the “TA-55 Reinvestment Project” (NNSA Project 08-D-804) is a catch-all for the larger planned capital renewal projects at PF-4.

The Manager of the Los Alamos Site Office (LASO), Donald Winchell, who has with his staff been responsible for development and maintenance of the seismic safety response at PF-4, said in August that the Board “may have outlived its usefulness to the country.”
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board “may have outlived its usefulness to the country,” the National Nuclear Security Administration’s top official at Los Alamos National Laboratory told NW&M Monitor earlier this month. Though NNSA Los Alamos Site Office Manager Donald Winchell later added that he does believe the Board will continue to play an important role in regulating [sic – DNFSB advises, not regulates] the NNSA, his comments illustrate the growing sense at NNSA and the Department of Energy as a whole that the Board has pushed the agency toward expensive changes and a “risk averse” culture—a fact that has led Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to take a hard look at streamlining oversight and re-evaluating DOE’s relationship to the Board. “What’s their role? They have no responsibility in this game other than to sit back and tell us what we’re doing wrong,” he said. (Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, 8/31/09)
Study Group Director Mello: “None of the serious problems that have coalesced into yesterday’s strong recommendation are new. The Board has been, it seems to me, the soul of patience in regard to PF-4. In our judgment the Board has never, and is not in this case, pushing NNSA toward unnecessary expenses and an unnecessarily “risk-averse” culture. The Board would like LANL to meet the same standards that are required in the civilian nuclear power industry, standards which are usually met at other DOE sites.

“Operations at LANL’s plutonium facility do not now, and may have never, met federal standards. For many years this facility’s operations have been supported by a scrim of variances and allowances, not actual compliance with DOE’s regulations.

“The Board is rejecting what might be called the ‘heroic’ mode of operation which characterized the nuclear weapons complex during the Cold War. Make no mistake: that mode is still the normative condition assumed by many Cold War managers. Many nuclear hawks want it back.

“Congress created the Safety Board to make sure that doesn’t happen. Thousands of people were sickened fighting the Cold War at these facilities and many workers died, as did an unknown large number of down-winders. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on cleanup. A seismic-generated fire at TA-55 – by no means the only possible very bad unplanned event at LANL, as DOE well knows – could have permanent consequences for thousands of people, especially in Los Alamos County but also in Santa Fe County. The Board is acting with the highest professionalism to fulfill its legal mandate to prevent such a catastrophe.”

“Whether NNSA wants to or not, the agency needs to dip into current operating funds, which are more than ample, to fix up PF-4. As I believe most if not all parties now realize, there is no need for active stockpile pit production, so the time is certainly ripe.”

[Download DNFSB Recommendation 2009-2 here.]

Oct 23, 2009

When it rains, it pours

A blog reader points out another article about LANL in the NYT today:

We're in the NY Times again this evening, about cleaning up TA-21:

New York Times Article (click here).

Carefully Cleaning Up the Garbage at Los Alamos

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — No one knows for sure what is buried in the Manhattan Project-era dump here. At the very least, there is probably a truck down there that was contaminated in 1945 at the Trinity test site, where the world’s first nuclear explosion seared the sky and melted the desert sand 200 miles south of here during World War II.

Oct 22, 2009

LANL, the FBI, Espionage, and the New York Times

Fuchs, Wen Ho Lee, The "missing" CREM, hot Mustangs, hot gold, and now P. Leonardo Mascheroni.

Once again LANL finds itself featured in the New York Times. The one bit of good advice former Director G. Peter Nanos gave us was, "Don't do anything that will put you on the front page of the New York Times."



Update: See also Carol Clark's story about Mascheroni from the LA Monitor.

Oct 18, 2009

Two Suggestions

Two of our loyal blog readers have asked me to share these suggestions with other readers. The first is a survey being taken by POGO on the federal government's use of private contractors. The second is a request for comments on a proposal to establish a Safety Conscious Work Environment (SCWE) in the nuclear weapons complex.

Do Private Contractors Serve The Public Interest?

October 13, 2009

POGO Survey to Provide a More Complete Outsourcing Picture

Private contractors can help government achieve public purposes, but ensuring that the public interest is protected requires clear standards, adequate information and oversight. Today, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) launched a web-based survey designed to examine the federal government’s policies and practices in using private sector contractors to perform services. POGO will solicit responses from federal government and contractor employees to help determine the extent to which the government’s service contracts conform to regulatory standards and are achieving the goals for using private contractors instead of government employees.

The reasons most commonly invoked by the government for outsourcing services include acquiring hard-to-find skills, saving money, and augmenting the federal workforce on a temporary or emergency basis. However, information available from the government about service contracts and the contractor workforce make it difficult to determine whether those goals are being achieved.

According to Danielle Brian, POGO’s executive director, “contracting has its place, but good management demands that it be used only when it is cost effective and achieves public goals. Each year, the federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on service contracts. Unfortunately, it is unable to ensure that work performed by contractors is as good as work performed by government employees; is in fact cost effective; and protects against fraud, waste, abuse, and unethical conduct. Furthermore, it is unclear whether adequate controls are in place to ensure that contractors are not performing work that is ‘inherently governmental.’ POGO hopes this survey will provide a more comprehensive picture of the government’s outsourcing efforts.”

POGO’s survey is organized into several sections. Respondents will be prompted to answer only the section that pertains to their particular job skills and/or work experience. Persons with experience on federal service contracts are invited to respond to POGO’s survey, which is posted on the Web at www.pogo.org. We will publish the results of the survey next year.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

# # #

Comment on Rulemaking - Safety Conscious Work Environment/DOE

Tom Carpenter, HanfordChallenge.org

Submit Your Public Comment on Protecting Nuclear Whistleblowers at DOE

Deadline: Dec 15, 2009

Protecting freedom of speech for workers when it comes to raising safety, health and environmental concerns has long been a concern at the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities.

Employees are the first line of defense for safe and effective operation of the facility, including the efforts to remediate the long-lasting and deadly legacy of plutonium production.

The U.S. Department of Energy has requested comment on a proposed rule submitted by Hanford Challenge to establish a Safety Conscious Work Environment. This is a formal program adopted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to ensure that employees are free to raise concerns internally without fear of reprisal. Failure to maintain such an atmosphere on the part of an NRC licensee can result in fines and a suspension of the operating license. The NRC audits commercial nuclear facilities and takes action if it finds that a nuclear operator has a “chilled working environment” that discourages the raising of issues.

The nuclear weapons complex has a long and inglorious history of reprisals against workers who raised concerns. A recent example was the $7 million jury verdict against Hanford contractor Fluor Federal Services after 11 pipefitters filed complaints following their terminations for refusing to install a questionable valve in a radioactive waste piping system.

A Safety Conscious Work Environment (SCWE) is defined as an environment in which employees are encouraged to raise concerns, where concerns are promptly reviewed, given the proper priority based on their safety significance, and appropriately resolved with timely feedback to employees. Attributes of a SCWE include (1) a management attitude that promotes employee involvement and confidence in raising and resolving concerns; (2) a clearly communicated management policy where safety has utmost priority, overriding the demands of production and project schedules; (3) a strong, independent quality assurance organization and program; (4) a training program that encourages a positive attitude toward safety; and (5) a safety ethic at all levels characterized by an inherently questioning attitude, attention to detail, prevention of complacency, commitment to excellence, and accountability in safety matters.

“The public relies on employees to come forward with issues that might affect human health and safety, the environment, and efficient use of government resources. Such employees deserve strong and effective protections against reprisal, and the government should make sure that there is free-flow of information from workers so that problems are addressed at an early stage and effectively,” states Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge.

Public comment is now being taken by the DOE. We urge all who believe in protecting workplace free speech and protecting safety and health to comment on this Rule by DECEMBER 15, 2009.

For a copy of the Rulemaking Petition, check the Federal Register website: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-24929.htm

Oct 14, 2009

Sexual Harassment "Cliff's Notes"

Hi Pinky,
This email was making the rounds Friday. My guess is that Rich Marquez asked for this cheat sheet to be developed for his own use.

Sexual harassment prevention training is required for all LANS employees. Employees and managers who have not yet taken the initial online training need to do so by October 31. (Contractors do not need to take this training.)

Attached above are “cliff notes” [click to view] to assist you when you are taking the quiz at the end of the training. Please note this training is taking people approximately 2 hours and the quiz pass rate on the first attempt is extremely low. (Print the “cliff notes/cheat sheet” before taking the quiz they may help you pass on the first attempt.)
Could you forward the Cliff's Notes for ethics training too?
Frank (aka Pinky)

Oct 12, 2009

Comment of the Week, Monday Edition

A special edition of COW, with the theme of LANL: Then versus Now, as portrayed by these two recent comments.

Click to enlarge


The good ol' days. No questions asked back then. We got money by the tanker full, and we didn't have to account for none of it! White male butt-heads and cowboys in charge (as should be). No going-Rogue pussies tolerated in our midst (as should be). The cover of UC to give us an air of academic odeur. Placed on pedestals by everyone who knew better. Legends in our own minds of course. We were truly the best and brightest and damn well knew it! Boy oh boy, those WERE the good ol' days.


I don't know of a single person under 30 who thinks LANS is a great place to work. As a group, they don't have TCP1, and can carry their 401k anywhere they want to go in the future. They seem to take the collective attitude that if this place doesn't improve, they can just move on down the road without much trouble. Right now, many of them are doing just that along with many other LANS employees. Los Alamos has become a sort of National Laboratory puppy mill.

Oct 11, 2009

Comment of the Week

An anonymous commenter on the Referrals post was anxiously anticipating the release of the results from the LANS Morale Survey, hoping for a large negative showing. That prompted a response from another anonymous blogger, which will be our COW for this week.


Click to enlarge

I wouldn't bet on the feedback being overwhelmingly negative, 12:29. Think about it: only staff who have been around since before 2004 have any first-hand knowledge about how LANL used to be. Back in 2004, there were approximately 14, 000 employees at LANL. Now there are less than 8,000. In 2005 alone 3,000 staff left.

I suspect that most of today's staff at LANL are too young and ignorant to realize how fucked up LANL has become. Some of the newer staff probably even think Anastasio is doing a swell job.

A lot of institutional knowledge has been lost during the past five years, and this seems to be exactly what NNSA, DOE, and our fine New Mexico politicians wanted.

Oct 9, 2009

You know you're over the target when you start taking flak

A comment from the $47M Released for LANL Plutonium Lab post:
You guys are full of it. LANL is world class in Plutonium research and has some of world’s best management teams in place for nuclear facility management for facilities such as CMRR. There is no better place in the complex to build this facility. The LANS management team in place to manage this facility is second to none. Please do your research before you post such dribble on this blog.


It is interesting to observe how some people were referred to this blog, like the Office of the President earlier this morning.

Or this one.

Click to enlarge

Bomb Envy

There was an interesting hit on the blog this morning: Executive Office Of The President Usa.

Click to enlarge

Here's the referring link that brought them to us, a google keyword search on "don cook atomic weapons establishment":


The results returned by that search are fairly interesting, with many of the linked articles focused on reports that Britain's Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston might be designing a new bomb.

"The gates are closed at Aldermaston which seems to be gearing up to develop the next generation of nuclear weapons, despite the recent Blix WMD report that states explicitly we'd all be better off without them."

So, maybe this explains why Chu and Congress seem so willing to fund a new CMRR -- fear of falling behind the Brits in weapons design.


$47M Released for LANL Plutonium Lab

By Sue Major Holmes, The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 07, 2009

ALBUQUERQUE — The federal government has released $47 million toward a long-planned plutonium research lab at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a project Los Alamos officials say is vital but that nuclear watchdogs contend only positions the U.S. to build more nuclear weapons.

The building would replace an aging lab where scientists analyze samples of plutonium and other radioactive materials.

The current structure was built more than 50 years ago and upgraded earlier this decade at a cost of $90 million. About half of it has been shut down, largely because Los Alamos does not want to make further upgrades.

The Energy Department late last year approved a program limiting the most dangerous nuclear material to Los Alamos and four other sites, reflecting a significant decline in the number of warheads the United States maintains and an expectation of more reductions.

Greg Mello of the Albuquerque-based Los Alamos Study Group contends the National Nuclear Security Administration can maintain the safety of the nuclear arsenal even without the lab's Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement building, known as CMRR.

The real impetus for the new building, he believes, is that the current one “has aged to the point it cannot house NNSA's ambitions for the future.”

Mello said CMRR would position Los Alamos to make large numbers of new plutonium pit designs — the triggers of nuclear weapons.

“We view this building as a grotesque misallocation of taxpayer money and a poke in the eye to our disarmament obligations,” he said.

Los Alamos officials say they need the replacement to tell what makes up materials. Plutonium, for example, contains impurities, requiring samples to be tested and retested.

CMRR is not just about plutonium, project manager Rick Holmes said. “My scope for this project is not to expand capabilities but to replace existing capabilities,” he said.

A host of elements for purposes ranging from biomedicine to geology need to be studied, and if Los Alamos wasn't doing pit production, CMRR would be needed for other science, Holmes said.

“The size isn't driven by numbers (of weapons) in the stockpile. ... If we want to have a scientist who understands plutonium or americium in 50 years, we have to have a place to do science,” he said.

DOE and Los Alamos officials say it would cost too much to upgrade the current metallurgy structure compared to building a smaller, safer and more efficient one. “It's substantially harder to modify an existing house than to build a new one,” Holmes said. “You always end up compromising something.”

There's no exact cost figure for CMRR, but a U.S. Senate report last year estimated it at $2.6 billion — more than five times the initial estimate of about $500,000. “As time passes, things don't get cheaper,” Holmes said.

The price tag must await a final design, which cannot be done until completion of an ongoing national nuclear posture review. The Pentagon began work in April on the report on threats and deterrent capabilities. It's due next year.

Mello said the expense of CMRR “is a commitment to a particular vision for Los Alamos National Laboratory,” one that lays the groundwork for an expanding nuclear program and increases the relative importance of producing plutonium pits over other lab programs.

Holmes said Congress decides funding priorities, adding, “Somehow we found $700 billion for the TARP program,” the official name of the stimulus package.

The just-released $47 million is part of the project's second phase. The money will continue preliminary design work and will buy equipment for CMRR labs and the laboratory portion of the project's first phase, a related $199 million office building.

Last month marked the completion of much of that first building, which includes offices for up to 350 people and 19,500 square feet of laboratory space.

Equipment is being installed and Holmes said people will move into offices in the fall of 2011 and start radiological experiments in the laboratory section in 2013.

Mello said labs in the office building more than replace what the old structure had, but Holmes said they're not sufficient for all the work Los Alamos performs.

For example, labs in the office building are allowed to have only 8.4 grams of plutonium, about a thimble's worth, for experiments. Holmes said sample preparation and materials characterization work require larger amounts, making CMRR necessary.

Oct 8, 2009

LANL Viking Funeral

On one of the recent blog posts here someone dredged up the 2006 Albuquerque storage shed fire incident which destroyed much of Lockheed-Martin's LANL proposal material. At least one anonymous commenter was suggesting that some kind of a conspiracy was behind the event.

Click the image for a larger view

I contacted a colleague of mine who was familiar with the Lockheed LANL bid capture effort, and asked him about the storage shed fire. Here's what my colleague tells me:

Too bad it is not nearly as nefarious as everyone’s imagination is letting it become. After the award announcement, we had more than just our proposal to ship back east. In preparation for a successful transition we had procured over $1M in IT equipment to support the effort. This included something like 80 laptop computers, numerous desktops, printers, scanners, servers, routers etc. All purchased with the intent of getting it started right. Paul [Robinson] wanted to make sure that we were thoroughly prepared to execute a flawless transition. Anyway, once the decision was rendered (or the fix was in) we had to de-camp from the city. So we hired Paul Arpin Moving company to pack up our belongings into the van and ship them all back to Cherry Hill NJ. As best we can figure out, all of those new laptops and other computer equipment in boxes were too much of a temptation for the criminal element in Albuquerque. We were notified that there was a fire during the night and the van was a complete loss. When we came to inspect the damage there were no burned carcasses of laptops and a very few burnt desktops that were already out of the box, and of course the proposal that would have changed everything. We now refer to the incident as the LANL Viking Funeral.

Everyone should understand though that even with the hardcopy of the proposal burned, we had backup electronic files for everything. It was not as if someone could have set fire to our proposal and we would not have access to the records for any legal action, if we decided to go that way.

So, there you have it: Albuquerque crime, not conspiracy.


Oct 7, 2009

LANS Love Fest

Anonymous sent this in yesterday.

Click an image for a larger version, if you feel so compelled.

According the a LANL article posted today, thousands of people attended the LANS love fest. Do you hear, thousands!!! But on the pictures which LANS recently posted on the web, it looks more like a couple of dozen people were there at Overlook Park:

------------------------------ ---------------------------------------
Smiles dominate at Lab Family Fest 2009 (LANL Today, Oct 6, 2009)

Thousands of happy faces tell the story

Thousands of employees and their families attended this year's Lab celebration, the Family Fest. Visitors traded smiles with Director Michael Anastasio and Deputy Director Ike Richardson, enjoyed juicy hamburgers and hot dogs served by ARAMARK employees, competed in the Lab's first-ever kickball tournament, and danced to the rockin' rhythms of the Nomads.

(NOTE: 2 JPEGS attached; Possible captions: "Mike and his boys in da' hood", and "Come git your big, fat weenies!")

Oct 6, 2009

A no-brainer

That ubiquitous Anonymous blog reader just submitted what should be a shoo-in for the newly-announced President's Save Award.

Anonymous' suggestion:

easy. move LANL and LLNL out of the business of making nukes for profit, and back to status quo ante. We already know that it would save 1/2 billion dollars a year because we have the numbers. It would also reduce overhead (we have those numbers too). Finally, it would improve morale and as a consequence improve productivity and quality.

I estimate that direct and indirect savings would be $1B, which is ~25% of their current budget IIRC.

Kind of hard to argue against logic like that. The deadline for idea submissions is October 14. Vote early, and vote often.


October 5, 2009

Why we performed this review...

The Department of Energy's (Department) contractors incur and are reimbursed for significant legal expenses each year. Thus, we initiated this audit to determine whether the Department's process for managing contractor fines, penalties and other legal costs was effective.


The Department reimburses its facility contractors for millions of dollars in settlement costs and for fees paid to outside law firms for legal research, litigation and consulting activities. Because of contract reform initiatives, the Department increased contractor financial responsibility for certain legal costs. For example, fines and penalties for violations of laws and regulations, which totaled almost $12 million over the five-year period of our review, were found to be unallowable and were not reimbursed by the Department. The Department specifically considers certain other costs to be unallowable, such as those for punitive damages or in cases where contractor management officials are found to have engaged in willful misconduct or have failed to exercise prudent business judgment. Legal costs may also be disallowed if they are not properly coordinated with Department officials.

What we found...

Our audit testing revealed that the Department did not fully implement processes for managing the cost of legal services and settlements. We identified instances where payments were made for costs that, in certain cases, were potentially unallowable. Specifically, two of the four facility contractors we reviewed were permitted to claim almost $300,000 in legal costs directly associated with unallowable fines and penalties. We also identified other instances where facility contractors incurred questionable costs paid to outside legal firms. For example, some contractors paid law firms for expenses that had not been reviewed and approved as required, including first class airfare, travel expenses where no receipts were provided, and other costs normally treated as unallowable.

The Department also allowed payment to contractors for a number of unauthorized settlements and for settlements that were made without a review of the facts and circumstances surrounding alleged contractor "managerial personnel" misconduct. The term "managerial personnel" generally describes a very limited group of specifically identified senior level contractor managers. The Department of Energy Acquisition Regulation and the Department's Legal Management Requirements at 10 CFR 719, permit the Department to review these cases for cost allowability. Such action was not taken in these cases. Several responsible officials, in discussing this issue, argued that, as an alternative, the government has the option of questioning costs based on the results of subsequent audits or reviews. We concluded, however, that controls designed to prevent or detect payments that may not be allowable on a real time basis are a more effective means of reducing or eliminating such payments.

We concluded that these activities occurred because of weaknesses in controls at certain contractor locations. In particular, Federal officials at some sites had not always considered applicable regulations that prohibit payment of certain costs that are directly associated with otherwise unallowable costs. Additionally, Department officials had not: (1) required facility contractors to enforce the terms and conditions of legal Engagement Letters; (2) fully considered the circumstances of legal actions before agreeing to settlements; and, (3) conducted reviews to identify instances of "defined" senior contractor management personnel misconduct or analyze recurring lawsuits and ensure corrective actions were being taken to prevent future lawsuits for systemic problems.

Management did not agree with the need to implement all corrective actions we proposed, but did agree that some actions were necessary and proposed alternative actions in each case. Management also did not completely concur with a number of the conclusions presented in the report. We believe, however, that management's suggested alternative actions are generally responsive to our recommendations.

To view the full report, click on the following link:


For more information, contact judy.garland-smith@hq.doe.gov

Oct 1, 2009

I'm Sorry This Took So Long

No, that isn't a quote from some government official. But it should be. Rather, that is an apology from me for falling so far behind in blogging. If anyone is interested I'll offer my excuses in the comments. Thank you to Doug and the readers. You made this iteration of the LANL blog much bigger than me or my issue. Many, myself included, appreciate that very much.

The topic of this post is last month's DOE IG report titled Fire Suppression and Related Services at Los Alamos National Laboratory. It is a story that has been in the news for years. This latest report was covered in the Los Alamos Monitor, the Albuquerque Journal, and the Santa Fe New Mexican. As is the way with all LANL safety problems, you can expect to see this story again. And again. And again. Here is a comment from earlier today:
I understand the TA-55 Plutonium Facility was shut down today as a result of a fire code compliance issue involving the TA-55 fire suppression system. I hear at least a 5-day shutdown. Were people sent home since the fire suppression system compliance is potentially a worker safety issue? Can anyone provide details since workers were not informed of anything? Does this fire code compliance issue impact other category 2 or 3 facilities at the Lab such as Area G?

Comment of the Week

This week our COW will highlight some of the differences between LANL and ORNL. From the Saturday's UllrFest post:

Meanwhile, back at the non-profit managed ORNL, where the word "Bechtel-ization" is unknown and the motto "Shoes that GRIP!" has never been seen...

Lab Director Says ORNL on the Upswing

By Frank Munger - September 28, 2009 (Knoxville News)

OAK RIDGE - Fiscal 2009 was a good year for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, with almost a 30 percent increase in science funding, and ORNL Director Thom Mason said he expects more good things in the budget for fiscal 2010, which begins in October.

On top of that, the Oak Ridge lab is receiving even more stimulus money than expected, Mason said.

"We're now up to about $310 million in Recovery Act funding, and there's still more out there in terms of things that are being competed and I think that will continue to grow some," he said.

What a difference it makes to be a DOE lab run by a non-profit organization as compared, of course, to being an NNSA lab managed by a PBI-based profit-hungry corporation.