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I only just found this blog and I’ve just spent the last few hours reading it all! I think there’s too much emphasis on the role that the transition directly played in the current problems. The problems were created by years of allowing costs to spiral out of control –that is not pushing back on DOE directives on safety and security. You could argue that this was an indirect result of the transition since there was so many years leading up to it where LLNL/UC was unwilling to put a foot wrong lest it lose the contract.
It could be argued that a government funded lab that is as complicated to run and secure as LLNL just shouldn’t be in California – it’s too expensive here. It would seem somewhat reasonable then to conclude that the current contractor’s job, one that is 7 years in length, is to shut the lab down. The government has decided that regardless of how cheap LLNL is compared to futile efforts like the Iraq war, it can’t afford us anymore. In the end this comes down to a general reduction in the value of science and its long term benefits versus the potential for obvious and short term results. The whole of America is feeling this squeeze from corporations due to spiraling costs and we are certainly not alone. Sometimes it’s hard to separate irritation with what is happening at LLNL with what is happening in the US as a whole.
For many support positions at the lab, their salary is way above that which they would obtain for an equivalent position in the private sector. Why would these people have ever taken the VVSOP? This growth of overpaid support over the last 20 years is really what has caused costs to spiral.
We are now at a point of diminishing returns. We (scientists who write proposals for funding) are finding it next to impossible to obtain funds because of our high cost. No-one will pay what we cost. Therefore funds continue to reduce and costs continue to rise.
Added to this, the incredible waste of management. Everytime you hear the word “reorg”, millions of dollars just got wasted doing something that adds no value! This vicious cost versus fund cycle is a death spiral for the lab. Biosecurity has about 12 months to extinction at LLNL. Chemistry and basic physics, maybe 2 years. DNT and comp can survive longer but NIF failure will close the lab.
In the process, every decision the lab management makes lowers the standard of the workforce and makes the above scenario even more likely. “Substantially equivalent in the aggregate!” It’s very sad. In the end this is not about persecution as I think everyone has a responsibility for their own career and relative job security. In the end, the reason that talented scientists won’t come to the lab is nothing to do with job security, it’s because of the observable loss of quality science and wasteful management occurring around them. This is about the loss of values, integrity, and scientific discovery that is occurring as LLNL (and in the nation as a whole) as it is slowly taken down.
April 6, 2008 5:35 PM
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