Nov 25, 2009

Comment of the Week, Day Before Thanksgiving Edition

Left earlier today on the Coverups Are Bad, Transparency is Good post:

Richardson may be unhappy about the survey results, but only because they exist and will have to be made public. History shows that he has no problem with low morale at LANL, which he single-handedly created as Energy Secretary when he raked John Browne over the coals in the wake of the Wen Ho Lee revelations.

Bill Richardson is a consummate politician, and as such will seize every opportunity to do what is best for Bill Richardson. No surprises here. Maybe he will see the poor performance of LANS as an opportunity to grab a few sound bites, publicly chastise Anastasio and LANS, and maybe even the NNSA over the morale issues they have created, and by so doing generate a few favorable vibes for himself.

Or, more likely, he will just continue to toe the party line that "NNSA is doing a terrific job, and LANS is doing a terrific job; costs are down, productivity is up, and everybody is just thrilled to be working at LANL now that the troublesome UC has been kicked out."


Happy Thanksgiving, Don't Drink the Water

From our friends over at the Santa Fe Reeper (

The details change, but the story never does.

The latest Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) brouhaha unfolded yesterday, when the New Mexico Environment Department slammed the lab with a hefty $960,000 penalty for failing to properly monitor radioactive pollutants in nearby watersheds. This time, it’s particularly scary: the groundwater in question provides drinking water for Los Alamos County, White Rock and the lab itself—“and it may well be the same aquifer that’s connected to the Buckman well field,” the environment department’s hazardous waste bureau chief, James Bearzi, says. Without proper monitoring, Bearzi worries the lab’s cleanup of Material Disposal Area G, its only active (and unlined!) waste disposal site, due to be finished by 2015, may do little to deal with the radioactive contaminants leaching into New Mexico’s precious water resources.

LANL, of course, sees things differently. [...]

See the full story here.

BTW: Has anybody seen the actual LANL morale survey results yet? We're ready to do the rollout, just waiting on our copy...

Nov 17, 2009

Coverups Are Bad, Transparency is Good

I've been pretty busy in my LAL (Life After LANL), and wasn't going to do any posts this week, but a comment on the Lab executive team starts Employee Survey results rollout post made me change my mind.

Here's the comment, posted at 5:22pm today:

11/17/09 2:54 PM wrote ..."5 month staged rollout my ass. LANS is going to bury the survey results."


Someone needs to spill the results to the real blog (this one) that actually shares information instead of hiding it.

I tend to agree with our COW contributor: attempting to bury the survey results is lame, and I suspect you all know my orientation regarding lame management decisions.

That's right: override them.

So, I second 5:22's request -- if someone has access to the actual, non-LANS-doctored employee survey results, please send them to either Frank or me. We won't wait 5 months before doing a rollout.


Lab executive team starts Employee Survey results rollout

Cascading results helps ensure action

The results of the Lab's 2009 Employee Engagement Survey are in, and the sharing begins today. Nearly half of the 9,378 employees who were invited to complete the survey took part and provided Lab leadership with valuable feedback on a range of items, from security, communication, and safety to management, leadership, diversity, ethics, and job satisfaction.

First up to hear about the institutional results is the Laboratory's executive team (director, principal associate directors, and associate directors), who will be briefed today and begin action-planning discussions focused on addressing concerns identified in the survey.

Later, as part of the survey results rollout, most employees will hear about the results and subsequent action planning in discussions with their organizational managers.

Here's how the rollout will work. The executive team is briefed first and begins action-planning discussions. Next are division-level leaders, who will receive their briefings in early December and follow an action-planning process similar to that used by the executive team. The cascade will continue through January and February as division-level leaders go through the process with their respective management teams and employees, focusing on organization-specific survey results.

In March, after the cascading is complete, all Lab leaders will convene to discuss what has been done so far and continue working together on issues raised in the survey.

Why not share the results with everyone at the same time? To ensure that the results of the survey are understood and owned by all levels of leadership at the Lab and that subsequent action is taken on these results, senior management opted to cascade the information level by level by means of a process that includes discussion and action planning. This decision was influenced by the survey's lowest-ranked item: "I believe that action will be taken on the results of this survey." Only 17 percent of the 4,313 employees responding to this item indicated that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.

Although this statement was the lowest-rated item in the survey, employees did feel more positively about other issues, such as job satisfaction, safety and security, and compensation. For example, the following statements were rated among the top survey items:
  • "I am committed to the success of the laboratory" (91 percent of respondents marked "agreed/strongly agreed"),
  • "I know the proper channels for reporting concerns about security (94 percent of respondents marked "agreed/strongly agreed")
  • "I am satisfied with my overall compensation, including benefits" (62 percent of respondents marked "agreed/strongly agree")
Watch for more information on the Employee Engagement Survey results and subsequent action planning as the rollout continues.

Is this ordinary spin or a graveyard spiral? Brief your executive team today. You know - the ones who don't read this blog (wink).

Nov 16, 2009

Comment of the Weak Minded

With apologies to Doug for stealing some of his thunder, here is my version of COW. It comes from last Monday's Quote of the Day post.
Anonymous said...

Nice to see some informed discussion here on this topic, thanks to prior posters.

On a related note, has anyone else see the quarterly "newsletters" that Roger Logan sends out (and from which the opening quote in this article was taken). Logan's notes are very-nearly incoherent. His rants make even the loopy posts here seem downright profound.
11/11/09 8:25 PM
Roger sent me the newsletter from which the quote was taken. I didn't have any trouble comprehending it. I think he is not only correct but also quite funny. So how about it 8:25 PM, can you explain to our readers where Roger is wrong? If you can I will thank you.

Anyone who hasn't seen this newsletter can view it here.

Nov 15, 2009

Little to Show for $433 MM Infosec Investment

GAO: Security Weaknesses at Los Alamos Lab's Classified Network

November 13, 2009 - Eric Chabrow, Managing Editor -

Los Alamos National Laboratory has spent $433 million to secure its classified computer network between fiscal years 2001 and 2008, according to a report issued Friday by the Government Accountability Office, yet significant weaknesses remain in safeguarding the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information stored on and transmitted over its classified computer network.

The audit, requested by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, cites Los Alamos' management as saying funding for its core classified cybersecurity program has been inadequate for implementing an effective program during fiscal years 2007 and 2008.

"LANL's security plans and test plans were neither comprehensive nor detailed enough to identify certain critical weaknesses on the classified network," the GAO said in its 39-page report.

The Energy Department-run laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., also known as LANL, is among the world's largest science and technology institutions that conduct multidisciplinary research for fields such as national security, outer space, renewable energy, medicine, nanotechnology and supercomputing. Along with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, LANL is one of two labs in the United States where classified work designing nuclear weapons takes place.

GAO identified several critical areas where vulnerabilities surfaced, including uniquely identifying and authenticating the identity of users, authorizing user access, encrypting classified information, monitoring and auditing compliance with security policies and maintaining software configuration assurance.

A key reason for the information security weaknesses was that the laboratory had not fully implemented an information security program to ensure that controls were effectively established and maintained, the congressional auditors said.

Among the program's shortfalls identified by the GAO:
  • Lack of comprehensive risk assessments to ensure that appropriate controls are in place to protect against unauthorized use,
  • Not developing detailed implementation guidance for key control areas such as marking the classification level of information stored on the classified network,
  • Inadequate specialized training for users with significant security responsibilities and
  • Insufficiently developing and testing disaster recovery and contingency plans to mitigate the laboratory's chances of being unsuccessful at resuming normal operational standards after a service disruption.
"The laboratory's decentralized approach to information security program management has led to inconsistent implementation of policy, and although the laboratory has taken steps to address management weaknesses, its efforts may be limited because LANL has not demonstrated a consistent capacity to sustain security improvements over the long term," the GAO said.

Among GAO's recommendations: The laboratory fully implement its information security program, centralize management of the classified network and develop a sustainability plan that details how it plans to strengthen recent cybersecurity improvements over the long term.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, the Energy Department unit responsible for the safety of government nuclear sites, generally concurred with the GAO recommendations.

Nov 10, 2009

Comment of the Week, Tuesday Edition

From our Comment of the Week, Monday Edition post, we have a new perspective on WFO at LANL:

POGO - Nov 09, 2009:

"Lifestyles of the Rich and Nuclear"

...Last week, John Fleck reported in the Albuquerque Journal that Sandia National Laboratories Director Tom Hunter makes a whopping $1.7 million per year, and that Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Director Michael Anastasio makes $800,348 per year. As Dan Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center pointed out, this means that Hunter makes four times as much as the President of the United States, and that Anastasio makes twice as much.

...UPDATE: NNSA contacted POGO to say that it reimbursed the lab directors at far less than the $684,181 cap, and provided these figures for the amounts that the Department of Energy contributes to certain lab directors salaries (with the rest coming from the private companies that share in the management of the labs): LANL's Michael Anastasio, $397,341; Lawrence Livermore National Lab's George Miller, $348,400; and Sandia's Tom Hunter, $366,119.


The LANS partners takes around a 2.5% cut of all outside WFO funding that comes into the lab. Since: (a) this is part of the "profit-fee" of the LLC, and (b) this "profit-fee" helps pay for Mike's salary (see "UPDATE" above), then...

...if you work at bringing in WFO funding to LANL, you are putting money directly into Mike's wallet!

Amazing, no? It would seem that this mixing of cash from WFOs over to the LLC "for-profit" pot and then directly into Mike's private bank account would generate lots of serious legal concerns about LANL's GOCO advantage when going after work from outside agencies.

Have any government lawyers looked closely into this matter? Do the outside government agencies fully realize that a small portion of their funds are being, in some manner, distributed directly to executives in the NNSA labs for their own private gain?

Quote of the Day

They just can't stop, whether it's the right thing or not.

--Roger Logan, former head of Directed Stockpile Work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, describing a U.S. nuclear complex interested in “pushing new, untested toys” such as the Reliable Replacement Warhead.

JASON Panel Offers Secret Nuclear Warhead Upkeep Recommendations

Monday, Nov. 9, 2009
By Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- A prominent scientific panel last month delivered to the U.S. Energy Department a set of secret recommendations on the future maintenance and modernization of the nuclear arsenal, a document some experts say could significantly influence policy debates on the matter (see GSN, Sept. 24).

The JASON report comes as the Obama administration is readying its Nuclear Posture Review for release next month. The Defense Department-led assessment of U.S. nuclear strategy, forces and operations is expected to include at least a preliminary determination on how the nation should keep nuclear weapons viable for years to come (see GSN, Aug. 27).

The Energy Department's semiautonomous nuclear arm would not describe the JASON panel's classified findings. The National Nuclear Security Administration oversees the U.S. national laboratories and other facilities charged with maintaining the nuclear stockpile.

However, some of those familiar with the findings described the report as supporting ongoing efforts to extend the service lives of existing warheads, rather than replacing them with reworked designs.

The JASON group found that periodic "life-extension programs," or LEPs, remain a viable means of keeping the U.S. arsenal safe, secure and reliable, sources told Global Security Newswire.

Established in 1960, JASON is an independent advisory organization that conducts defense-related science and technology assessments for the U.S. government, mostly during annual "summer studies." The task force that conducted the study on warhead life-extension was reportedly led by nuclear engineer Marvin Adams of Texas A&M University.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and some of his top generals have argued that the existing LEP approach would not ensure that nuclear weapons would function reliably into the future. Rather, it would likely be necessary to incorporate modern features into fresh designs that would replace at least one or two warheads in today's arsenal, Gates recently said (see GSN, Aug. 18).

A draft briefing that U.S. Strategic Command circulated on Capitol Hill this summer underscored the point, asserting that "confidence in [the] reliability of [the] aging stockpile is decreasing."

"Today's requirements can't be fully implemented in current weapons," states the document, drafted by the military organization with combat responsibility for nuclear arms. "Most lack [the] physical space needed to add required reliability, safety and security features."

In 2008, Congress refused to fund the Bush administration's Reliable Replacement Warhead effort for the second year in a row, citing concerns about how it fit into the overall U.S. nuclear weapon strategy. President Barack Obama did not include funding for the program in his fiscal 2010 budget.

Nonproliferation advocates have warned that building a new U.S. warhead could undermine Washington's efforts to foster international support for curbing known or suspected nuclear-weapon programs in nations such as North Korea and Iran.

The JASON report should give nonproliferation proponents a political shot in the arm, according to some observers. The group was said to find that replacing existing warheads in the U.S. stockpile with new designs to be unnecessary at this time.

Instead, a combination of weapon-component refurbishment and the reuse of tested designs should suffice in the absence of nuclear explosive testing, according to those familiar with the panel's conclusions. The United States has observed a moratorium on underground tests since the early 1990s.

"We believe that the report finds that current [life-extension] programs are working extremely well," said one nuclear weapons analyst who asked not to be named, citing the sensitivity of discussing a secret report. "There's no need for any dramatic changes in the programs or indeed a need to produce a new-design warhead."

"It seems that the JASON report has knocked the legs out from under the argument that building new warheads is technically preferable to refurbishing the old ones," said another expert, Jeffrey Lewis, who heads the New America Foundation's Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative. "I would be surprised if the administration didn't put aside the issue of new warheads for the time being."

The top Democrat and Republican on a key House subcommittee first requested the JASON study in February 2008.

"A fuller understanding of the risks, uncertainties and challenges associated with the LEPs will enable a more robust comparison between the current program and any proposed alternatives, including the RRW proposal," then-Representatives Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) and Terry Everett (R-Ala.) wrote in a letter to NNSA chief Thomas D'Agostino.

The former lawmakers said the new external review should be "analogous" to the JASONs' 2007 assessment of the RRW program, which cast doubt on the ability to certify proposed replacement warheads in the absence of explosive testing (see GSN, Oct. 5, 2007).

D'Agostino agreed in March 2008 to launch the JASON review of the life-extension approach. The House Armed Services Committee two months later elaborated on the Tauscher-Everett request in its report on the fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill.

"The JASON review should encompass a broad range of options, including some not included in previous LEPs," the committee report stated.

The panel also encouraged D'Agostino to undertake an NNSA "assessment of the expected technical and financial costs and benefits of expanding the scope of life extension programs, to include reuse of legacy primary and secondary [nuclear-weapon] components."

Current LEP efforts are focused on extending the service lives of the Air Force's B-61 bomb warhead and the W-76 warhead used on the Navy Trident D-5 missile. Thus far, such life-extension initiatives have mainly overhauled or replaced corroded metal parts and other aging weapons components.

An NNSA spokeswoman, Jennifer Wagner, said last Thursday that agency officials were reviewing the final JASON report, which was expected to "provide an analysis of certification challenges for various future nuclear weapons life-extension options."

"When that review is complete, a copy will be provided to the new chairman and ranking member of the House [Armed Services] Subcommittee on Strategic Forces," she told GSN. "We expect the final report to be ready to be delivered shortly."

Representative Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) chairs the strategic forces panel, and Representative Michael Turner (Ohio) is its top Republican.

Wagner declined to describe her agency's reaction to the JASON findings, saying the issue remained under review. She also left unclear whether an unclassified version of the JASON report would be released, as was the case with the panel's 2007 report on replacement-warhead issues.

Observers said the scientific panel has called into question past NNSA and national laboratory statements that, over time, confidence in the existing stockpile would erode as life-extension programs slightly alter the designs of warheads that were tested prior to the onset of the moratorium.

"The concern that NNSA and the labs have expressed about drifting away from tested designs through repeated [life-extension programs] is overblown because LEPs only happen every 20 to 30 years," said the weapons analyst who asked not to be identified.

"Today's NNSA and [the Los Alamos and Livermore national laboratories] have shown us that they can't resist ... pushing new, untested toys" such as replacement warheads, said Roger Logan, who formerly led Directed Stockpile Work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

"They just can't stop, whether it's the right thing or not," Logan wrote in a recent essay on warhead-certification issues.

If the new JASON report insists that the LEP approach is sufficient for maintaining a safe, secure and reliable stockpile, it could prove more difficult for Gates and others to prevail in arguing that a warhead-replacement effort is the more prudent approach, according to one nuclear-weapons expert.

"The JASONs are the country's pre-eminent, independent scientific advisory body," said Stephen Young, a senior analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Their findings and recommendations should be weighed heavily as the Obama administration conducts its Nuclear Posture Review and makes plans to sustain the U.S. arsenal."

One Capitol Hill staffer said, though, that the JASON report would not necessarily be the final word on the matter.

"It will be a data point" in the debate, said the senior Senate aide, but other experts might draw different conclusions from the same set of facts about how the arsenal is faring in the absence of underground tests.

What might be most likely to evolve out of the JASON findings is a warhead life-extension approach that incorporates at least a few modern components to replace aging parts or materials that prove particularly challenging to refurbish or remanufacture, several observers said.

One example might be an effort to find an acceptable substitute for "Fogbank," -- a highly toxic, Cold War-era material, used between the warhead's two explosive stages, that has been difficult to remanufacture -- in extending the life of the Navy's W-76 warhead, said Hans Kristensen, who directs the Federation of American Scientists' Nuclear Information Project (see GSN, May 29).

In his widely read blog,, Lewis has dubbed the anticipated conglomeration of selected RRW features with more traditional life-extension approaches the "FrankenLEP" (see GSN, Sept. 12, 2008).

Nov 9, 2009

Comment of the Week, Monday Edition

From one, or the other of our current top posts:

LANS has the plan for making LANL grand!

Mike is "The Man" who carries out the plan!

Staff are his fans who give "The Man" a hand!

Strike up the band as LANL says... "I CAN!"

We're #1, the best lab in the land!

Nov 8, 2009

COW, Honorable Mention

This one came in right after I had posted this week's COW. Also from the For the Love of Sex and Money post:

How come I don't see any of this embarrassing salary info posted on the new LANS blog?

Comment of the Week

A while ago when Frank asked me if I would help him run his current instantiation of the LTRS blog, I initially said "Hell No!" When he asked again later I basically repeated the previous answer. But then I began to think about it, and I realized that I was still interested in the changes that were going on at LANL, even though I no longer work there. After all, I grew up in Los Alamos and worked at the lab for 20 years.

So I finally agreed to do this Comment of the Week feature. I saw reviewing the hundreds of comments posted here each week as an opportunity to track the impact of all the changes being imposed at LANL. It's a bit of a masochistic process, given the frequent illiterate, virulent, and sometimes just plain mean-spirited "contributions", but reading them all does provide a general insight into what the environment is like at LANL these days.

This week's COW highlights one of the more significant changes at LANL that I've observed since NNSA and LANS took over: a much diminished level of respect that is constantly being demonstrated by DOE, the NNSA, and LANL management towards lab employees. Our COW below is the last in a series of comments on the For the Love of Sex and Money post, in which drug testing at LANL is being discussed. I believe the point is well made that NNSA and LANS appear to have gone out of their way to implement a drug testing program that was designed to humiliate, as well as screen for drugs.

"Are you saying scientists don't use drugs? Does having a PhD make you immune from making a bad decision? Please enlighten me. "

Are you saying scientists don't use drugs?
There is nothing in 11/7/09 3:01 PM that would state this, either explicitly or implicitly. Please reread it again.

If you'd like to ask a relevant question, it perhaps should be: Which of the recent highly publicized safety or security incidents were caused by scientists using drugs? Answer: None.

Next reasonable question would've been: If a scientist or engineer is using and it interferes with his or her job performance, what do we do? Answer: Test whenever you have probable cause.

Finally, another good question to ask is this: What's the downside of instituting random, blanket pee tests for everybody? The answer: It makes already unhappy people feel abused and humiliated and gives all the more reasons for the best of them to leave.

Calling people in the middle of their workday and demanding that they drop everything and rush to the peemobil to urinate in a cup on queue (remember,
without any probable cause whatsoever) is degrading and demeaning. It makes you feel like a piece of meat, a sheep, and certainly not an respected individual in a respectable organization. I personally know two people for whom the pee tests were the last straw before leaving the lab.

No other scientific institution in the country treats its scientists worse than LANL at this moment. If most of the A and B people leave the lab, the long-term damage to the national security will far outweigh whatever you may hope to achieve with your pee tests.

Does having a PhD make you immune from making a bad decision?
No, it does not. Proof by explicit counterexample: Mike Anastasio and Terry Wallace both have PhDs. Yet, both are responsible for countless bad decisions.

Please enlighten me.
This appears to be a tall order.

Nov 5, 2009

For the Love of Sex and Money

Ok, I just threw the "Sex" part in to be gratuitous. Here's a story of local interest from our friends over at the Santa Fe Reeper (


Corporate greed, or top-secret-special meritocracy? Nuclear Watch of New Mexico has uncovered a somewhat astounding little figure: Michael Anastasio, the director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), earns $800,348 a year—almost twice as much as US President Barack Obama (who makes $400,000, with a $50K cushion for “expenses”). The proof is here, on one of the federal government’s “transparency pages” aimed at helping hungry reporters track down how stimulus money (of which LANL has received over $200 million in government contracts) is spent.

See the rest of the story here.

Nov 4, 2009

Monkey see...

Our COW this week addresses the sincerest form of flattery. From the "If it wasn't for bad luck, wouldn't have no luck at all." post:

It's informative to know that the LLNS management out in California has started a LLNL Sponsored Employee Blog at the exact same time that LANS decided to form one. No coincidence. A couple to things to note. It's pretty obvious that this Blog and the Livermore Blog are a real craw in LLNS, LANS, and NNSA managements shorts. Also, lets give LANS, LLNS, and NNSA management a lot of credit for making their first and really tough decision: Let's make our own Blog. It had to have been a PBI.