Friday, June 30, 2006

Last Post

This is the last post to LANL, The Real Story . 869,847 visitors, 3,274,719 page views as of today.

This blog will remain on-line for some as yet undetermined period, but I have turned off the ability to comment on existing posts, and there will be no more submissions accepted. The Los Alamos Historical Society has requested that I burn a copy of the blog to DVD so that they could archive it, and I will do this. In addition, I may install a stand-alone version of the blog on computer at the Los Alamos Museum where visitors will be allowed to browse a "live" copy of LTRS, but not make any modifications to it. Details for doing this have not yet been worked out.

There is one person whom I have to thank for having provided me with the incentive to start this blog: George P. Nanos. Were it not for his incredibly ill thought out string of management actions, to include his flawed and precipitous decision to shut the entire laboratory down in July, 2004 for what ultimately became a period of 7 months for some organizations, I might still be working at LANL.

I hope that the open discussion environment provided here produced some good. Many of the problems that have existed at LANL were thoroughly dissected; hopefully that discussion will result in improvements being implemented. DOE, Bechtel, BWXT, WG, UCOP, LM, NG, and a whole host of other government and corporate entities read this blog on a daily basis, so if improvements are not made at LANL, it will not be for lack of knowing about the need.

In my opinion, the best news story to have been written about LANL in the past 1 1/2 years was the piece entitled "A Good Enough Performance" that appeared in the June 15, 2006 edition of The Economist. That article provides a calm, rational basis for predicting what changes are likely in store for Los Alamos in coming years. The post containing that article immediately follows this one.

Many thanks to Brad for his assistance in maintaining the blog, and to the numerous contributors (no, Kevin: we are not a small, yet highly vocal group of malcontents, we were a large, yet highly vocal group of malcontents) who provided much of the thoughtful material that was presented here.

Finally, no one responded to my request for those who were interested to send in an essay that described why their site should be considered as a follow-on to this one. So, either there is no longer a need for this kind of discussion forum, or no one is willing to maintain one. On that note, then, we will now return you to your regular programming.


Good night, and good luck.

LANL 'Real Story’ blog goes offline

By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
July 1, 2006

Lab workers no longer able to blow off steam on Web

He struck fear in the hearts of public-relations officials from Washington to Los Alamos.

Doug Roberts started a Web log Dec. 28, 2004, and gave the Los Alamos National Laboratory community a place to blow off steam.

There was a lot of it.

“I think for a long time, the bulk of the scientists who worked up there were satisfied with their job,” Roberts said Friday. “It was only in recent years when significant problems began to develop.”

Roberts, a retired scientist, shut down new postings to “LANL — The Real Story” on Friday.

For about 18 months, lab workers, critics and boosters had shared information and argued about it. Much of the discussion focused on the lab’s management, or a perceived lack of it.

Roberts said he started the blog in “a moment of blind fury” when he and other lab scientists discovered their letters critical of lab management were not published in the internal newsletter. “There was this regime of silence and cover-up going on at the lab,” he said.

Former Director Pete Nanos, who enforced strict safety and security rules, was at the center of the storm. His decision to shut down the lab over safety and security issues for roughly six months from July 2004 to January 2005 proved unpopular with many employees. Many blog discussions focused on whether the shutdown was warranted.

Then the government put the lab’s management contract up for bid, causing months of speculation, debate and news leaks. A new private company took over management of the lab June 1.

People could send anonymous postings to the blog that told of safety accidents that weren’t immediately reported by the lab to the press or public.

The discussion occurred in a unique environment.

Many scientists who worked there clearly enjoyed a vigorous debate via Roberts’ blog.

But much of the work at Los Alamos, which helps certify the country’s nuclear-weapons stockpile without nuclear testing, is classified for nationalsecurity reasons.

“The definition of what is classified is very clear,” Roberts said. “And that is distinguished from management ineffectiveness and discussion of management ineffectiveness that needs to occur openly.”

Roberts said he never expected the reaction his blog got.

A total of 869,000 unique visitors have gone to the Web site since he began it; they have looked at 3.3 million pages of material.

“As I indicated, it was pretty much a personal safety valve, giving me a way to vent,” Roberts said. “I was surprised the hit rate took right off.”
Roberts lives in Nambé but grew up in Los Alamos. His father went to work there in 1949. Then Roberts worked there as a student in 1970 and full time starting in 1984.

He stepped into a consulting job, working on high-performance computing, when he retired last year. But since then, the company he worked for — located in North Carolina — has decided to hire him full time. Simulations of how an avian-flu pandemic might spread across the country is one area he’s working on.

Roberts put out a call for others to take over the blog but didn’t get any serious offers.

The director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Jay Coghlan, said the blog will be sorely missed. “It’s definitely offered very valuable insights into the laboratory,” he said.

Visitors will still be able to access archives at

Contact Andy Lenderman at 995-3827 or alenderman@sfnewmexican.
'LANL: The Real Story' blog shuts down

HEATHER CLARK, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - They've compared Los Alamos National Laboratory director Michael Anastasio to a fuzzy Star Wars ewok, written scathing song lyrics about the nuclear weapons lab and held serious discussions about retirement benefits and quality science.
But the mostly anonymous posters to "LANL: The Real Story" blog fell silent Friday after its host, Doug Roberts, shut down the popular discussion forum.

The voices - often straightforward, angry or jocular - gave their opinions about a turbulent period at the lab following a 2004 shutdown, the departure of former lab director Pete Nanos and the first management change in the nuclear weapons lab's 63-year existence.

Now, they will take their place in history.

The Los Alamos Historical Society plans to include the blog in its archives, which are tapped by nearly 50 scholars a year researching the lab or the Manhattan Project, said the society's vice president, Lawrence Campbell.

"It represents the interests and a cross-section of opinions, and sociologically it gives insights to what people were thinking and feeling," Campbell said. "It's a gold mine."

"LANL: The Real Story" is the first blog to be included in the archive, which is not the official historical archive for the lab.

Campbell said lab officials also will have a chance to provide the archive with their take on the blog. Lab spokespeople have characterized the blog posters as a small critical minority who are not representative of most lab employees.

A lab spokeswoman said Friday her office has not yet been asked to put its view in the archive and she's not sure whether they will.

Roberts launched the site in December 2004 after an official Los Alamos lab newsletter stopped accepting submissions that were critical of the lab.

The blog was "a personal pressure release valve," he said recently. "I was going to explode, if I had to come home from work one more day and not provide any more feedback to the lab and the course they were taking."

From the beginning, Roberts had said he planned to offer the blog through the lab's management transition. On June 1, Los Alamos National Security, LLC - which includes Bechtel Corp., BWX Technologies and Washington Group International and the University of California - formally took over the lab.

And, since retiring from the lab last summer where he had worked for about 20 years as a computer scientist, Roberts said he believes he no longer should be running a blog for lab employees.

"Its time has come," he said. "I'm ready to be done with it."

Roberts said the blog provides a "previously unavailable insight into a community such as Los Alamos.

"It will give people in the future, if anybody is interested, the makeup of Los Alamos at the time," he said.

An average of nearly 1,454 people per day visited the blog. They looked at 3,273,663 pages over its lifetime, according to data on the blog site.

The blog was regularly checked by government officials, lab managers, employees of Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national labs, journalists and members of the two teams bidding to manage the lab.

Though publishing a blog for employees at a lab that does highly classified work might have raised a few eyebrows, Roberts said nothing classified ever appeared on the blog.

Campbell acknowledged that the blog contained many posts by anonymous employees, but argues it still has historical value.

"It's a mixed bag in terms of the truth," he said. "It's not a mixed bag of what actually is authenticated and what actually occurred. It's just part of history."

The blog, which fits on one read-only DVD, will be kept in a safe at the archives, Campbell said. Researchers will be able to view a copy and possibly see the blog on a computer Roberts has offered to set up on site.

The blog will remain online for an unspecified period, but no new posts will be accepted.

When Roberts announced the closure of the blog, he asked anyone interested in taking it over to write him a letter about why they wanted to host it.

"Exactly zero people responded to that," he said. "Either the need for a forum of this type has gone away or no one is willing to host it."

On the Net:

LANL: The Real Story:

Printed 7/2/06
Not that I'm an "I told you so" kind of guy, but here is a late-breaking (heart-breaking?) story, just for history's sake:


Costs swell at America's most infamous weapons lab
-Betting on 'efficiencies'

By Ashlee Vance in Mountain View
Published Wednesday 12th July 2006 01:40 GMT
Security White Papers - Download them free from Reg Research

The costs at Los Alamos National Laboratory continue to rise with a new management regime failing to provide any concrete answers as to how it will cover the additional charges.

Lab director Michael Anastasio this week revealed that Los Alamos expects to pay close to $85m per year in gross receipts taxes (GRT) to the state of New Mexico. The charges arise as a result of private consortium Los Alamos National Security (LANS) LLC taking control of the lab in July. The University of California - the previous manager for six decades - did not have to pay GRT to New Mexico because of its non-profit status.

UC did, however, have to pay GRT from time-to-time when it contracted work out to private companies. Anastasio declared that UC paid up to $35m a year in taxes, meaning LANS will have to pay close to $50m more per year.
That $50m will be added to the $79m LANS can earn for meeting certain performance objectives. In the past, UC's performance bonus topped out at $8m.

In addition, LANS will incur new contract costs, additional retirement costs and some other basics that occur with the hand over of a 9,000-person lab. All told, the new management could be eating into about 10 per cent of the lab's $2bn budget.

How will it make up for these costs without firing workers?

"Anastasio said the lab is expected to cover the costs through efficiencies," the AP reports after covering a meeting between the director and a legislative committee.

Given the lab's track record of mismanagement, it would be hard to greet Anastasio's promise of "efficiencies" with anything but skepticism.

Los Alamos has been chided as a careless, smug and complacent operation over the years, which is precisely why UC lost its decades old contract to a LLC made up of Bechtel, UC and two other government contractors - Washington Group International and BWX.

The idea is that a for-profit concern will reinvigorate Los Alamos - he who birthed "the bomb" - and restore the lab's reputation as perhaps America's finest laboratory.

So far, however, there has been little proof than LANS is up to the task. The consortium is promising "efficiencies" but offers little in the way of concrete detail as to how it will pull off these efficiencies. In the meantime, ex lab staffers continue to complain that Los Alamos's glory days have faded with many of the top scientists departing for jobs at universities and other labs.

"The lab for quite a few decades has been recognized as doing some of the very best science research independent of the weapons lab," said John Ziebarth, the former head of the Advanced Computing Laboratory at Los Alamos, who left the lab to join the Krell Institute in 2005. "I don't know if that will continue or not at Los Alamos.

"I think the lab is on a path to be a weapons lab and to do what it takes to support the defense nature of the work they do. Whether or not it will become the place where science can excel again remains to be seen."

Another former Los Alamos computer scientist Erik Hendriks, who now works at Google, added, "There are major concerns there. The profit motive is dangerous at a place like that."

A number of workers have serious fears that the budget cuts will result in the loss of their jobs with it being easier for an LLC to dispose of workers than it was for UC.

Los Alamos spokesman Jeff Berger has downplayed the workers' shift from "public employees" under UC to "at will" status under LANS. "At will is a term that means different things to different people," he told us. "Many people use it in a way that suggests employees surrender all protections, and that is absolutely not true."

And yet LANS doesn't seem all that comfortable with the "at will" terminology either. We discovered that a former employee contract which read "Employment at Will" at the start of one paragraph has been changed to read "Employment Relationship" but retained similar language in the body of the paragraph.

"With at will, if you open your mouth, they basically can get rid of you without any due process," said Los Alamos worker Manny Trujillo.

Berger countered this as well by saying, "Our culture is one of openness and effective communication. We want people to speak up. We would have a bias against people not speaking up."

Who knew an LLC could develop an entire culture of openness in just six weeks?

You can read more about the issues facing Los Alamos in this story from the Economist.
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