Anonymous Letter to Congress
SUBJECT: Continuing problems at the Los Alamos Site Office
As recent media attention verifies, problems continue at the LOS Alamos National Laboratory. Many of these problems are due to actions by the NNSA Los Alamos Site Office. Due to fear of retaliation by the Department of Energy management, we are sending you an anonymous letter and requesting that Congress initiate an investigation into mis-management at the Los Alamos Site Office of the Department of Energy. The problems noted below constitute health, safety, security and management concerns. While whistleblower protection is afforded per 10 CFR 708 we fear DOE management retaliation because we have personally seen what has happened to another whistleblower at the Los Alamos Site Office, Chris Steele.
The “we” who have authored this letter constitute a group of current and former employees of the Los Alamos Site Office (LASO) and the New Mexico DOE Complex. As a group our personnel have a sum of more that 100 years of experience. We can say with confidence that we have never in our careers, either in public service or the private sector witnessed such gross mis-management as seen at the Los Alamos Site Office.
Our concerns are not unique to our group but are shared by a major portion of the Site Office employees, save those who, are senior managers installed by and supportive of the previous Site Office Manager (Ed Wilmot, now disgraced and reassigned).
We are so concerned with the existing adverse working condition, hostile work environment and low worker morale that we felt it necessary to bring these concerns to your attention. Our concerns include the following:
CULTURE OF MISMANAGEMENT
There are acknowledged problems at the Site Office and Laboratory that have been historically labeled as solely the fault of LANL. The previous Site Office Manager surrounded himself with senior managers that are known to be responsible for mis-management within the organization. The DOE among others has stated on numerous occasions that the “culture of the lab” is to blame for problems that have occurred. The “dirty little NNSA/LASO secret” is that the same senior managers have guided or directed the lab in their work and are therefore complicit in this mismanagement.
Plainly said, the lab culture has not gotten this way on its own but was in a very real way allowed to fester through negligence or lack of oversight by LASO management. The previous Site Office Manager not only surrounded himself with managers lacking competence but chastised employees in front of their peers who attempted to improve the organization through constructive criticism. Proof of this approach is evidenced in a Site Office wide employee performance standard instituted at the direction of senior management that specifically requires “constructive feedback”. This requirement therefore becomes a performance metric on support of the site management. This subjective and ludicrous metric is sure to be abused by management. Thus, this requirement is a direct signal to all employees that if they critique management, they will suffer consequences.
QUESTIONABLE NEED FOR THE LASO PILOT
The previous Site Office Manager (Wilmot) stated that at the direction of the NNSA Administrator (AMB Brooks, now removed) the site office was required to institute a “pilot program” for management and oversight of the new LANL contract. Several employees have on good authority that this directive was actually penned by the former Site Office Manager with assistance from his Deputy (who remains at LASO).
This “pilot” effort followed several other major office initiatives of questionable value. Approximately 3 years ago following arrival of Mr. Wilmot, the Site Office implemented a CREM review after serious problems were discovered with classified documents. Following the CREM initiative, the site office implemented a “Strategic Pause” after a laser incident occurred at the lab that partially blinded a student employee. The “pause” required that LASO employees totally revamp processes and procedures, most of which were never used.
Following the “Strategic Pause”, the Site Office implemented “Contract Transition” in order to prepare for the transition to the new LANL contractor. On the heels of the contractor change came the ill-advised “pilot”. It appears that LASO senior management endorsed a “flavor of the month” change and these misguided efforts have resulted in the frustration and “burn out” of many dedicated and hard working employees. A tell tale sign of mismanagement and incompetence is constant change in organizational structure and continued implementation of “grand initiatives”. Note that this approach also impacts the operating contractor as they cannot determine who should provide their direction and who they come to with questions and concerns.
Given past problems, one must question why the LASO was thought to be the appropriate site for implementation of a pilot of reduced contractor oversight as a way of doing business. Why select a site that is known to have had a history of serious management problems and serious problems with business systems? Audits and review of other documentation will verify the lack of a viable business system at LANL. The implementation of a “lassie faire” approach to LANL contract oversight by LASO that depends greatly on a “Contractor Assurance System” (CAS) is also highly questionable given the recent and highly publicized security breach (known in some literary circles as the “CREM DE METH” caper). Many Federally-mandated requirements including those related to worker safety are receiving minimal attention due to disruption caused by implementation of’ the new pilot. LASO employees are being forced to occupy new positions and review activities that they are unfamiliar with and/or not qualified to review. Reliance on a CAS system has resulted in the creation of numerous new databases of limited use but great cost to the taxpayer.
SAFETY/SECURITY STAND DOWN
Within the last 3 years, a stand down of operations was initiated at LANL to address safety and security issues. This effort was initiated by LANL Management with full support of the previous LASO Manager (Wilmot). This stand down of LANL operations cost the taxpayers in excess of 300 million dollars. The expense of this effort is dubious since most of the work products that came out of this pause were never put in place by the LANL and were not verified by LASO to be implemented and effective. The recently issued PNOV related to LANL operations of 1.1 million dollars ‘(the largest fine ever issued) is a prime indicator of the continued problems at LANL and the lack of qualified oversight by LASO. There is at best only limited evidence that any true improvement in the safety or security operations has resulted from the change in the operating contractor. This is a direct reflection on the Los Alamos Site Office and (its) lack of oversight and direction.
The LASO reorganization under the pilot has negatively impacted the technical qualification of the LASO workforce in many key positions. In fact senior management knowingly placed lesser qualified people into positions requiring significant technical knowledge. These actions were endorsed by and implemented by LASO management as directed by the former Site Manager (Wilmot).
As examples, when Mr. Wilmot arrived there were 15 qualified NNSA Facility Representatives (who are the real “eyes and ears of the NNSA”), now there are only 3 fully qualified FRs. At this time there is only ONE qualified safety analyst while at the time of Mr. Wilmot’s arrival there were eight. A year ago there were 8 fully qualified Senior Technical Safety Managers at LASO, now there are only three. The former site manager systematically drove out qualified employees and is rumored to have diverted training funds to support his “initiative of the month” approach. The morale at the Site Office is at an all time low, thus leading to more continuing resignations and departures from the LASO. There are currently over 15 vacancies at LASO.
THE SAGA CONTINUES (SADLY)
Even today, mis-management at the LASO and LANL continues despite the presence of a new interim Site Manager. It appears that the new Site Manager is leading LASO and LANL in the same footsteps as his predecessor. Indications of continued mis-management can be seen:
• Non-competitive selection of friends and former colleagues to positions. Recent reorganization and vacancies have favored friends.
• Reorganisation without full understanding of impacts. The new interim Site Manager has implemented yet another reorganisation. Need we remind Congress that there has been continuous reorganization at LASO over the past 2 years. No less than 3 major reorganisations have taken place. This has merely been a “shuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic”. Finally, why would the new interim Site Manager reorganise again if it is his intent to vacate the position in 4 to 6 months? Once a new permanent site manager is appointed we would expect yet another reorganisation. Congress should demand an accounting of these costly reorganisations!
• A direct consequence of the reorganisations has been the physical relocation of LASO staff. In less than 2 years there have been 3 costly physical relocations of employees to different office space. It is well known that one of these moves cost the American taxpayer $125K! The new site manager is implementing yet another move of employees even though the Site Office will relocate to a new building in 1 year. Congress should not tolerate this needless expense of taxpayer dollars.
• Under the direction of the acting NNSA Administrator and the interim Site Office Manager, LASO will add 1 new SES Technical Deputy position and 1 new EN-5 Cyber Security Advisor. Currently there are 2 SES Site Office positions including 1 non-¬technical deputy. DOE currently has an overabundance of SES positions that are not fully utilised. A much needed EN-5 Senior Safety Advisor at LASO was eliminated as part of these changes. Congress must be aware of past poor performance of the Security Organizations at LANL and LASO. The addition of an EN-5 Cyber Security advisor is seen as rewarding poor performance. Senior management, rather than increasing the number of working staff has opted to increase their own numbers and to insulate themselves from accountability. What is needed is a strong leader that will utilise all existing staff. Congress is already cognisant that LANL and LANL have the highest grades and salaries in the field
In conclusion we ask Congress to initiate a full investigation of the LASO. Results of this investigation will show a need to direct the DOE to implement a wholesale change in senior management at LASO. Only through drastic measures will there be hope of salvaging the future of LANL, a national science and engineering treasure. We are stunned at the complacency of DOE management who are certainly aware of the deteriorisation of this institution. Please help us stop this problem by directing the DOE to take swift and definitive action.
Current and Former DOE employees.