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Government Science

A History of Innovation and Dysfunction At Los Alamos National Laboratory (santafenewmexican.com) 85

In the past, Los Alamos National Laboratory has done some of the United States' most crucial research and development. Lately, the lab has been dealing with accidents and management problems. Reader DougDot directs us to a report from the Santa Fe New Mexican about the questions surrounding LANL's future. Quoting: Federal officials told Congress in December that they will put the LANL contract up for competitive bid for only the second time since the lab opened in 1943. The current LANS contract ends Sept 30, 2017. Identifying what went wrong, and why the lab has proven so difficult to manage, will play an important role for the Department of Energy as it seeks out new managers to run the lab. Investigators say the problems stem from repeated management weaknesses, the kind that were supposed to get fixed when the Department of Energy turned to private industry in 2006 to oversee the lab.

It was the first time the federal government had put the lab’s management up for bid, with the idea that a for-profit model, operating under an incentives-based contract, would fix the problems that haunted the nonprofit University of California, which had run the lab since World War II. ... experts, watchdog groups and former lab employees point to an array of problems, from a clash of cultures between the regimented and profit-driven Bechtel and the languorous, research-oriented university; to incentives that may have induced contractors to put a premium on meeting deadlines despite safety risks; to a mix of shoddy accountability and micromanagement on the part of the federal government.

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A History of Innovation and Dysfunction At Los Alamos National Laboratory

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  • when the players are the problem. works every time.
    • There are ingrained issues at the labs. A new management company can't come in a get rid of existing dysfunctional subcontractors. Their employees often have bad attitudes and live in an entitlement culture. The DOE needs to let new companies displace the existing ones completely and just hire the existing people that want to get jobs done.

      With that said, their are sections of the labs that do great work and have talented people. Those are usually in the smaller, more focused programs.
      • by DougDot ( 966387 )

        There are ingrained issues at the labs. A new management company can't come in a get rid of existing dysfunctional subcontractors. Their employees often have bad attitudes and live in an entitlement culture. The DOE needs to let new companies displace the existing ones completely and just hire the existing people that want to get jobs done.

        With that said, their are sections of the labs that do great work and have talented people. Those are usually in the smaller, more focused programs.

        Wow, sounds like the voice of experience from an actual current or past LANL employee. I spent 20 years at LANL. During the last 15 years there my group brought in all of our own funding from external, non-DOE sources for non-weapons work. We had to fight LANL management and the DOE to do this, because they resented us doing work for others.

        We brought in work from other agencies in spite of the fact that due to LANL's exorbitant overhead costs the annual FTE rate (the amount of money we we had to charge out

        • Not an employee, but I've done work with/for the labs on a few occasions, and know people who've managed some pretty big contracts. They go out there with intentions of changing things and making progress, but those attitudes are not rewarded, but rather result in political backlash. They come back disenchanted.
    • Ah yes, looks like we have a private industry worshipper.

      If the buck doesn't stop with LANS, then what are they being paid for?

  • I worked there for a time. I didn't see the issues, but I am not aware of everything that went on. I am really proud of the Lab and what it was accomplished for the US and the West in general.
    • Did you work there during UC's reign or LANS? I was there for the switch over. It went quite rapidly down hill. First thing they did was start paying themselves much much more money (duhhh). Then they decided to (a) instigate a hiring freeze and (b) make life shitty so they could lose staff by "attrition". Of course what that does id get rid of the people most able to leave (i.e. good people who can find employment elsewhere).

      Then when ever something bad happened, they seemed determined to do as much damage

      • Oh yes, and shit on foreign nationals a bit more (fun fact: we've not been responsible for a single security incident ever).

        Oh yeah, foreign nationals never exfiltrate information to their home countries... Perhaps you should take your head out of a book, and maybe read some current events, as yes, they do, and are the largest source of leaks. There is a reason that The Big Bang Theory made a joke out of one of the characters dating a woman who defected to North Korea and was only interested in the rocket fuel formula he was working on. It is quite common for foreign nationals to try to steal trade secrets and export them hom

        • Oh yeah, foreign nationals never exfiltrate information to their home countries

          Not at Los Alamos they don't. Because we were very effectively kept away from sensitive information by not having a clearance, and having no access to ITAR stuff.

          Perhaps you should take your head out of a book, and maybe read some current events, as yes, they do, and are the largest source of leaks.

          At Los Alamos? Citation fucking needed, mate. Especially as nice, upstanding Americans have been caught selling nuclear secrets for

  • by gbooker ( 60148 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @07:24PM (#51244675) Journal

    I grew up in Los Alamos and I worked there during my high school years through some of graduate school. The article completely failed to mention one of the main culprits for a lot of these problems: The Department of Energy. While I do not have knowledge beyond what is in the press for most of the incidents mentioned, the ones where I do mostly include a major role in the problem played by DOE ranging from their screwed up policies to direct involvement. Given this, a new contractor can only do so much.

    • by DougDot ( 966387 )

      I grew up in Los Alamos and I worked there during my high school years through some of graduate school. The article completely failed to mention one of the main culprits for a lot of these problems: The Department of Energy. While I do not have knowledge beyond what is in the press for most of the incidents mentioned, the ones where I do mostly include a major role in the problem played by DOE ranging from their screwed up policies to direct involvement. Given this, a new contractor can only do so much.

      Or only so much less, in the case lf Bechtel-led LANS.

      But I basically agree with you. BTW, I also grew up in Los Alamos, and worked there during some of my undergrad days. Oh, and then spent two decades there as a staff member.

  • by SoftwareArtist ( 1472499 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @09:18PM (#51245201)

    Investigators say the problems stem from repeated management weaknesses, the kind that were supposed to get fixed when the Department of Energy turned to private industry in 2006 to oversee the lab.

    If you believe that was ever the goal of turning it over to a private company, I've got a bridge to sell you. It was strictly about giving a valuable contract to a big company, done by an administration that Believed(TM) in the divinity of private industry.

    I don't have inside information about Los Alamos, but I did know someone at a different national lab that got privatized at the same time. I heard a lot of horror stories from him. Their policies had nothing to do with running an effective research organization, and everything to do with squeezing as much money out of it as they could get.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I worked for several years at Bettis Labs in PA in support of the Naval Nuclear program -- it's another DOE-operated site, albeit on a smaller scale than Los Alamos. Some of the policies I saw there, which I know applied at at least a half-dozen other DOE sites were nothing short of immeasurably stupid. As one example, the entire facility is operated under a "manpower" limit as opposed to a budget for personnel...which meant that all other things being equal, the operators would hire a disproportionate nu

  • LANL is officially dead. Last one out, turn off the lights. (It'll keep glowing on its own for quite some time.)

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