Dec 28, 2009

Lab Performance Reports Withheld

From John Fleck's Albuquerque Journal Science blog last week:

Lab Performance Reports Withheld

By John Fleck
Monday, 21 December 2009 12:24

Nearly three years ago, the Journal and the National Nuclear Security Administration tangled over whether the annual "Performance Evaluation Report" for Sandia Labs, which the government reviews Sandia's stewardship of taxpayer dollars and U.S. nuclear weapons, should be a matter of public record. Since then, things improved, and NNSA did a better job of clearing the document for public review in a timely fashion. The copies I got had some key information redacted, but they were at least public in large measure.

No more. The NNSA told us last week that, as a matter of policy, the reviews of Sandia, Los Alamos and the other contracts that manage our nuclear stockpile, are now considered sensitive procurement-related. So we know that NNSA thinks the Bechtel-led team in charge at Los Alamos is doing a better job, but the details of how that decision was arrived at are secret.

As of this morning, my Freedom of Information Act requests are in the mail. I'll let you know what NNSA says in response.

Let us know if you gain any insight from your FOIA requests, John. We're curious why NNSA thinks LANS is doing such a great job up here.


Dec 26, 2009

Dec 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

© 2009 Eric Fairfield

Dec 24, 2009

Nuclear Bomb Researchers Accidentally Blow Up Building

So, who are we to believe? According to a number of news sources, LANL staffers accidentally blew up part of a building with a "gun which acts like a Civil War Cannon" last week. Here's one report:

Here's another, from Frank Munger's Atomic City Underground blog:

But then we learn that LANL/NNSA has already "Roarked" the story. Wired reports that they've received an email from National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Damien LaVera which implies that what we've first heard might not be the exact story:

Here are the facts: On December 16, Los Alamos conducted a standard proof test on a new design for a catch tank in the target chamber for one of our large bore powder guns (LBPG). These types of experiments are routine and responsible. The LBPG is used to conduct measurements of material properties at pressures needed for understanding nuclear weapons performance. During this particular test, unexpected explosive damage occurred and, because that damage could result in $1 million in damages, an investigation was automatically triggered. That investigation will seek to identify the cause of the incident and any changes in procedures that might be required. NNSA, Los Alamos, and all of our facilities take their commitment to safety very seriously. It is important to note that no personnel were injured from this event, no hazardous or radioactive materials were involved, and that lab's incident response mechanisms appear to have performed as intended.

Which version is the Real Story? We'll ponder this over the holidays.


Dec 17, 2009

From the Nut Files

Submitted for your approval (imagine Rod Serling's voiceover here).

On this blog we receive with frightening frequency untold numbers of contributions from left wing-nuts, right wing-nuts, and a few from those wing-nuts that are somewhere in between. What all of these fringe contributors seem to have in common is that they fly into semi-spectacular tizzies after it eventually dawns on them that their submission has been rejected. The usual reason for rejection is that the comment had nothing to do with LANL.

As is the case with our latest contribution in this genre. However, something about the earnestness of this one kind of tickled me, so I figured I'd go ahead & share it. It has all of the elements of dozens of previously-rejected comment submissions in this class: right-wing mouth-foaminess, a pervasive theme of "Obama is bad", all mixed in with the delicate stench of good ol' Amerikan Red Neck-iness.

Here it is. Enjoy, while imagining (as I do) wide staring eyes in which you can practically see the slowly counter-rotating spirals, and that endearing little fleck of foaming spittle that collects in the corner of his mouth as the rant progresses.

Oh, I almost forgot: !!!

Four major non-posted stories on this blog:

1. The Global Warming Hoax has arrieved at their respective doorsteps at DOE, and LLNL, Mr. Gregory Friedman (DOE), Mr. Paul Ehlenbach (LLNL), and Mr. Benjamin Santer (LLNL), due to the Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla) Climategate investigation, and notifying them to retain documents related to the release of emails from CRU/UEA in UK, November 24, 2009.

1.1 DOE has paid the Junk Scientist Mr. Phil Jones at CRU/UEA for 25 years, WHY?

1.2 Doesn´t Mr. Phil Jones, DOE, and Mr. Benjamin Santer at LLNL understand the Scientific Method???

1.3 Defend the Scientific Method!!!

2. Obama Threatening To Close Offutt AFB If Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson Doesn´t Fall In Line On Health Care, as is reported by the Weekly Standard, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity at FNC, Rush Limbaugh, The Obama File, The Washington Examiner, Hot Air Blog, ATLAS SHRUGS, Theodore´s World, BNI, ACE OF SPADES HQ, and WND. (Offutt AFB in Nebraska is the headquarters for US STRATEGIC Command.)

2.1 Defend Our Defenders!!!

3. "Harvard Simulation: U.S. Will Fail to Stop Iran Nukes,", December 6, 2009, "Iran successfully simulates nuclear wahead detonation - report," DEBKAfile Special Report, December 4, 2009, and "Iran´s Missile Rattling Signals Command Defiance and Rising Military Threat," December 16, 2009, at

3.1 Defend US Against a Nuclear Armed Iran!!!

4. "41 Senators to Obama: No START Without Nuclear Modernization," December 17, 2009, at, and "Don´t Circumvent the Senate´s Important Role in Negotiating Strategic Arms Reductions Treaties," December 9, 2009, by Baker Spring, WebMemo #2725, at the Heritage Foundation.

4.1 Defend Our Defenders!!!

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin

For me, the handwriting has been on the wall since December, 2005 when D'Agostino announced that LANS had been awarded the LANL contract. The recent LANL Performance Review demonstrating that NNSA is extremely happy with LANS' performance is just one more bit of validation that LANL is on a carefully charted course, no variations wanted nor expected.

Enjoy the trip!


PS: Sorry to have interrupted your deep, meaningful conversations about snow removal, please continue...

2009 performance review gives LANS, LLC 90% of available award fee and another year to contract term
By comparison, the award fee for FY08 was 88% and 81% for FY07.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has evaluated the Laboratory’s performance for fiscal year 2009 and awarded LANS, LLC 90% of the available award fee and added another year to the term of the LANS contract to manage and operate Los Alamos National Laboratory. That extension stretches the contract term through September 30, 2015. By comparison, the award fee for FY08 was 88% and 81% for FY07.

NNSA cited its “very high expectations” and noted significant progress in the Lab’s performance overall, especially in achieving its mission and delivering on program assignments.

“Thank you for your continued hard work and dedication to continuous improvement,” said Lab Director Michael Anastasio.

Anastasio noted that many accomplishments throughout the Laboratory contributed to this encouraging customer assessment, including substantially completing construction of the RLUOB facility as part of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project, the use of the Roadrunner supercomputer, and the accelerated shipment offsite of transuranic waste.

“We’re proud that this year's assessment continues our upward trend,” said Ike Richardson, deputy director. “NNSA’s view of our work is a tribute to the LANL team's continued efforts to enhance discovery science as well as productivity.”

Los Alamos National Security, LLC
Manager and operator of Los Alamos National Laboratory

Total available fee: $80.2 million
Earned “fee at risk,” or incentive fee: 84%, or $43.3 million
Portion earned of overall fee: 90%, or $72.1 million
(includes fee at risk, fixed fee, work for others):

Dec 12, 2009

Customer Service

By request, we are making a top level post around this rather bizarre letter that was sent to all staff last week by Larry Freestone, Group Leader, Personal Security.

Here's the letter, which was posted to the Don't plan on going anywhere, anytime soon post:

Serving close to 2,500 employees per week, the Laboratory's Personnel Security Group is a hub -- helping Lab staff address clearance issues, resolve badge-related problems, process classified visit requests, respond to drug tests, and so on.

Few Lab employees engage Personnel Security by choice, and our staff periodically sees some unprofessional behavior that should not be present in any workplace. Fortunately, these people represent a small percentage of personnel security customers, but the numbers seem to be increasing.

"Customer service is not easy. Few people have the temperament to be successful in this type of job. However, every single person working at Los Alamos National Laboratory provides some level of customer service."People seem to be less tolerant and more vocal in ever-increasing numbers both here and across the country. Common courtesies are giving way to rude, sarcastic, cutting, or belittling comments. What perceptions does this behavior create in other Laboratory workers and in our visitors?

Although we are unsure why some choose to behave badly, we hope that it's not the result of perceived inefficiencies by Personnel Security. We strive to make every customer's visit as pleasant as possible given the conditions and procedures over which we have control. When any customer service agent, not just those in Personnel Security, fails to meet expectations, please patiently seek to understand why.

Customer service is not easy. Few people have the temperament to be successful in this type of job. However, every single person working at Los Alamos National Laboratory provides some level of customer service. It may be behind a counter dealing with walk-ins, observing a procedure to ensure it is being done safely, troubleshooting an equation, or courting visitors who have programmatic funds to spend.

I am proud of Personnel Security Group employees for their pleasant and professional behavior day in and day out. There is no place for rudeness; patience and understanding should be the norm. In other words, please treat others as you would want to be treated.

Larry Freestone, Group Leader, Personnel Security

This is one of the comments that discusses the letter.

The trouble with Freestone's letter is that it was driven by a single incident in the personnel security department. Also, while in general personnel security have provided good customer service, unfortunately, there have been a few incidents where they have provided very poor service, particularly in the past. There have been incidents where they have treated my military (Air Force and Navy) customers without any care or patience. In fact, one my key customers from the Air Force Weapons Laboratory (AFWL) indicated he had never been treated so disrespectfully. The other problem I have with this letter, is that I'm sure Anastasio gave the approval to send this to All Employees. Will this be a pattern of hammering all employees every time Mike get's an opportunity? It was "poor customer service" in itself to send this letter to us. LANS wonders why they have not yet "commanded" any respect from us when they send us letters like this one.

Sounds like we may be hearing more about this.

LANS "Engagement Survey" Analysis Summary

Thanks to the two of you who took the time to analyze the LANS Morale Survey. I'm sure the LANS "Communications Office" (have you noticed how I tend to use quotes to denote an ironic misnomer?) will come out with their own attempt to spin the survey as being positive, but the numbers tell us the Real Story.

I got a call from an Albuquerque Journal reporter on Thursday who was looking for some kind of quantifiable proof of the degrading morale among LANL staff over the years, but I was only able to give him my own subjective opinions. Thanks to 9:22's contribution on the "Survey Rollout" post we now have some solid comparison numbers:

Well, having supplied the data to Doug for posting, I have to say I'm really disappointed you all have been so lazy about analyzing results. (Maybe it's true all the A students have left?) Some of the old survey data is still available from the Newsbulletin archives. So for example:

"I am proud to be associated with the Laboratory"
1997: 82% agree
2004: 79% agree
2009: 66% agree (now "I am proud to tell people I work for the Laboratory")

"Morale in my group is high"
1997: 45%
2004: 40%
2009: 28% ("Morale of my coworkers is good" - note the bar appears to be lowered from "high" to "good").

2009: 46% agree that "My morale at work is good."
2004: 78% "My work gives me a sense of personal accomplishment"
2009: 66% "My work is rewarding"

2004: 66% "Employees are treated with respect, regardless of position"
2009: 49% "Employees are treated with respect"

2004: 60% "Satisfied with my overall compensation incl benefits
2009: 62% "Satisfied with my overall compensation incl benefits"
(Perhaps the only category that's held steady)

2004: 64% "Lab keeps me informed about matters affecting me"
2009: 49% "I feel well-informed about events/decisions/news that affect my job"

2004: 69% "Would recommend Los Alamos as good place to work
2009: 63% "The Laboratory is a good place to work"

Also, 1:28 AM pointed out that most of the lowest-rated responses are a direct reflection of the quality of LANL's current "management team" (there I go with the quotes again):

Let's cut to the quick. Here are the key percentages that register in this document as "Agree"...

The leadership team is working together to advance the Laboratory mission. : 37.75 %

Career opportunities at the Laboratory are good. : 33.73 %

Laboratory managers set good examples. : 27.58%

I have confidence in the leadership of the Laboratory. : 28.69 %

The morale of my co-workers is good. : 27.75 %

Laboratory managers consult employees about decisions that affect them. : 25.42 %

The Laboratory rewards those who contribute most. : 23.57 %

I believe that action will be taken on the results of this survey. : 17.30 %

In most organizations, abysmal ratings like this would result the the sudden resignation of the executive management. It indicates a total failure of leadership and severe lack of trust of the employees in their top management team. However, with LANS you can be almost certain that there will be no real outcome for their poor leadership skills. PBIs, baby! That's all that matters to NNSA.

Thanks to who ever handed this data off to Doug. Have no doubt, you did the right thing and the many blog readers appreciate the risk you must have taken. God bless you, my friend!


Dec 9, 2009

Official LTRS Rollout of the 2009 LANS "Engagement Survey" Results

Otherwise known as: the LANL Morale Survey. The summary numbers can be found here. Sorry about the sideways orientation of the report, but the results are pretty self explanatory. Please feel free to supply your own analysis.

Dec 8, 2009

Indefinite Career

Since you LANL folks have the day off (purportedly, according to one pissed off-sounding anonymous commenter because Mike Anastasio did not want to drive in the snow up from Santa Fe) I thought you might be amused to learn that somebody in the University Of California Office Of The President ended up on the blog here by searching for "indefinite career". It looks to me like UC wants to be in this for-profit NNSA lab business for the long haul. The host name "" should help identify who was looking into this lifetime career opportunity.


Click to enlarge

Dec 7, 2009

Don't plan on going anywhere, anytime soon

From the "It's really, really broken" department:

Date: Wed, 02 Dec 2009 16:19:49 -0700
From: Distributions
Subject: Status of Travel Claims

Status of Travel Claims

The Travel Office is currently experiencing a high volume of expense reports and phone calls. We are working to assist everyone as promptly as possible. The current turnaround time for reimbursement is 10 business days. Please advise your travelers of the turnaround time. We work expense reports in the order they are received so let them know it will be approximately 2 weeks before they receive their reimbursement. They should not call the Travel Office. Also, please advise your travelers that by linking the reservations and the credit card transactions to the expense report, it will increase the timeliness of their reimbursement as the processors will not have to look for additional information.

Also please advise your travelers that if they need assistance with entering an expense report, they should refer to the training and checklist provided on the Travel Home Page. Due to the high volume of expense reports, the processors are not available for training. Should you need to call the Travel Office, leave a message. The phone calls are tracked electronically so unless you leave a message we will not have a record of your call so that we can assist you. For Domestic Reimbursement, please select Option 1 "reimbursement" from the main menu and then select Option 1 again for Domestic Reimbursement. For Foreign Travel, select Option 1, then Option 2. For Relocation, select Option 1, then Option 3 for relocation reimbursement. Your patience is requested as we are answering calls as promptly as possible.

Don't call us, we'll call you.

Lab Conducts First X-Ray Test on Mock Weapon

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
Saturday, December 05, 2009

Los Alamos National Laboratory on Thursday evening took the first ever three-dimensional X-ray movie of a mock nuclear weapon detonation, a milestone two decades in the making.

The test at the lab's Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility, known as "DARHT", used the world's most powerful X-ray machines to take pictures of the inner workings of a W78 nuclear warhead, said Dave Funk, head of the lab's hydrodynamics experiments division.

The 6:09 p.m. test, with more than 60 Los Alamos staff in attendance, was a success, yielding good data on the W78's behavior, Funk said in a telephone interview Friday.

The massive X-ray machine is part of the National Nuclear Security Administration's suite of test equipment and computer simulations used to maintain U.S. nuclear weapons without underground test blasts.

Garrett Harencak, a senior National Nuclear Security Administration official overseeing the lab's weapons work, issued a statement calling the test "an important development in the NNSA's stockpile stewardship mission."

"I applaud LANL for reaching this important milestone. DARHT will help ensure a safer and more secure stockpile without testing," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a statement.

The test ends an embarrassing episode for the weapons program. DARHT was originally planned in 1988 with a price tag of $30 million to $54 million, but a series of delays because of litigation by environmentalists, design changes and design flaws dragged out the project, and pushed the final price tag over $300 million.

For the first five decades of the U.S. nuclear program, weapons were actually detonated to test them, first above ground and then underground beginning in the 1960s. "You got the answer, right? It worked or not," Funk explained.

The United States abandoned full test blasts in 1992, establishing a program of small-scale experiments and computer simulations instead.

In a nuclear weapon, high explosives are used to squeeze plutonium to create a critical mass, yielding its nuclear blasts.

DARHT tests allow weapons designers to X-ray a mock nuclear weapon during the early stages of that blast, to compare the weapon's performance to predictions made by the lab's supercomputer simulations, Funk explained. Without the explosive plutonium, there is no nuclear yield, and the blast can be contained with a big steel vessel, according to Funk.

Dec 6, 2009

Comment of the Week, The Winner

Sad, but true. We do. I never much cared for the anonymous character assassination that has flourished on all three of the LANL blogs. I believe it says something unsavory about the people who work there.

From the Saturday COW, here is our selection for Comment of the Week:

Actually, the anti-Pedicini folks should shut their holes. At least John isn't afraid to (a) speak his mind even if the opinion is not what people want to hear and (b) he signs his name when he posts on the blog. There is a reason why LANL higher-ups want to keep him around ... he knows what he is talking about even if they don't want to hear him say it.

I respect someone who has the courage to use his own name to voice his convictions. Not so much respect for anonymous cowards.


Dec 5, 2009

Comment of the Week, Saturday Edition

For those of you in the LANS PASO (Public Affairs Spin Office -- Hi, Kevin!) who like to claim that this blog only reports bad news about LANS, I am happy to set the record straight with this upbeat note sent in by a reader on the Comment of the Week, Wednesday Edition post.

Good News! Your LANS team is working harder than ever to make LANL a great place to work. The future looks bright with the steady hands of our LANS executive team at the helm.

This week, Dr. Anastasio released a heart-to-heart memo to his fellow employees at "the lab". In it, he urged our world class "best and brightest" to press on and take LANL to even greater levels of achievement.

Here are just a few, small pieces of the good news that Dr. Anastasio had to say to employees:

"The bills (FY2011 funding) are good for the NNSA enterprise and good for the Laboratory."

"All of this is good news - especially when you add to it to the considerable investment being made at LANL through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), or “stimulus bill. We have received $212 million for our cleanup activities, and we have competed for and won (to date) close to $40 million in ARRA-funded work in science and technology."

"As with every year, we can’t sit back and rest on what we have. I – along with my fellow Lab directors – have been working with the Administration as they formulate the FY11 budget."

Dr. Anastasio is working very hard for LANL, but even with his hectic schedule, he has announced that he will be taking time out to have a All-Hands meeting with his employees in early January. It's clear that this is one Director who intends to get down in the trenches and stay engage with his hard working staff. You won't want to miss this upcoming meeting!

Yes, LANL is turning around and headed for greatness. Our Director and his new business-savy team from Bechtel and
BWXT are all actively working overtime to make LANL a huge success. Recent survey results demonstrate that over 91 percent of the workforce is dedicated to helping LANS achieve success with its efforts. Join this incredible LANS team in their hard work that is making it all happen. Great things await us as we push forward. Onward, ever onward, people!

This is clear, indisputable evidence that LANS is on a trajectory for greatness that the history books will not forget. Posterity will remember LANS fondly for the great greatness that it brought to LANL.


Dec 2, 2009

Comment of the Week, Wednesday Edition

Ok, guys, here's our COW. From the Coverups Are Bad, Transparency is Good post:

It's only taken a little over a month and employees are already beginning to forget about the morale survey fiasco. This LANS mess will die a quick death. By April, it will all be forgotten as word of the FY2011 budget start to come around and employees prepare for a further dose of LANL downsizing (excuse me, I mean... "right-sizing". I'm still new at this LANS-speak thing).

To me, as a relative outsider these days (even though I still collaborate with a few of my LANL colleagues) it is fascinating to observe how well LANS is managing to maintain a public happy face regarding conditions at LANL. Keep those tweets coming, D'Ag!