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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

NNSA gets an F.

Anonymously contributed: ============================================================================== GAO gives failing marks to NNSA at House Oversight Committee hearing ============================================================================== http://energycommerce.house.gov/sites/republicans.energycommerce.house.gov/files/Hearings/OI/20120912/HHRG-112-IF02-WState-GaffiganM-20120912.pdf

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brutal for Y-12 and LANL. I bet they'll get a windfall of money to help fix the problems. It's good business you know. No good deed goes unpunished. No bad deed goes unrewarded.

Anonymous said...

GAO has been analyzing this subject for several years & still can’t seem to find the real problems behind DOE/NNSA’s failure – except that DOE/NNSA need more Federal resources to get the job done. Makes me think that GAO is preparing their report based on the desires of a few well placed members of Congress.

“...there have been calls in Congress and other organizations to enhance NNSA’s ability to operate independently of DOE. For example, the Defense Science Board proposed in 2006 that a completely independent nuclear weapons agency be created. 8 In January 2007, we reported 9 that former senior DOE and NNSA officials with whom we spoke generally did not favor removing NNSA from DOE; we concluded that such drastic change was unnecessary to produce an effective organization and we continue to hold this view."

“…efficient use of scarce federal resources needed…”

“Nevertheless, DOE and NNSA must continue their efforts to (1) commit sufficient people and resources to resolve…the problem”

Looks like the next big push is to make all personnel Feds – Abracadabra no more problems.

Anonymous said...

The funny thing (in a very horrible way) is how NIF and LLNL look like choir boys in comparison to LANL and Y-12 looking through the lens of this report. And Sandia almost doesn't exist here. What is it? Facilities that handle alot of radiological materials are just more prone to problems? Sandians don't play these games with fudged project estimates or they know how to not get caught? I don't necessarily buy the "cultures" argument because it doesn't provide explanatory power for some facilities nor any reliable guidance for how to fix things. And LLNL is reportedly a viper pit of nastiness but its problems are pale in comparison for the period covering the last decade. And what the hell is wrong with Sandia? They seem too clean. That can't be. The idea of a decently managed NWC facility would just shatter my entire belief system. There must be a big pit of dead bodies waiting to be stumbled upon in Albuquerque.

Anonymous said...

There must be a big pit of dead bodies waiting to be stumbled upon in Albuquerque.

September 12, 2012 5:37 PM

Yep. And in Livermore as well. This has always been the case, although SNL and LLNL have almost always managed to keep the problem under the rug until they could appear to have addressed it early, and therefore avoid NNSA/DOE "surprise" retribution. LANL, on the other hand, always confesses early, before there is even any evidence they did anything wrong. Legacy of Wen Ho Lee.

Anonymous said...

“The idea of a decently managed NWC facility would just shatter my entire belief system.”

PX is not a lab, no SNM process streams but lots of NE’s & SNM components - seems to be void of any criticism in the GAO report. Much too critical I guess – hear, see & speak no evil?

Anonymous said...

Point well taken. Yes, these labs that slip by without any issues... fall off my radar completely.

Anonymous said...

Sandia has had to learn some very painful lessons with devastating consequences from serious mistakes in the past. It's possible that they have learned from those mistakes. Indeed Tom Hunter has seemed to have done a decent job in picking a management team that managed projects and risks adequately and avoiding repeats over the past decade. One factor that I think is very imPortant is their aggressive diversification of their business portfolio. I have also heard of many anecdotes of the highly customer centric approach to delivery across many DOE programs and WFO. On the other hand, maybe those dead bodies are there, just not well publicized, or very small in numbers compared to that for the problem facilities. There must be more than that to explain the apparent differences between facilities.

Anonymous said...

Other differences may be present as well, but 1:20 AM has an important one between SNL and LANL. When SNL meets with a potential sponsor, they listen. When LANL meets with them, they lecture.
Think about it, and it all fits together. No one likes the DOE orders or the NNSA regs. When they hit SNL they take the view that work needs to get accomplished, and how can you meet sponsors needs and still keep on the right side of DOE. LANL sees the same orders and proceeds at every available opportunity to publicly condemn the low IQ of the individuals in the organization that wrote the orders.
Ask yourself which organization is most likely to have staff that follow those orders. Probably the same one that listens to potential sponsors instead of lecturing them.

Anonymous said...

For anyone that takes the trouble to read the report, it does point out an issue with Sandia, as well as a couple of issues with Livermore.
While the immediate cause for the report is nungate and Y-12 coming in for a beating, the report covers issues from 2000. From 2000 - 2007, things were pretty quiet away from Los Alamos. If this report is any indication of where things are headed, so far 2013 is looking a lot like a replay of those dark years.
And the many shall pay for the sins of the few.

Anonymous said...

September 13, 2012 7:14 AM

Could also point out that the 'culture of arrogance' that was highlighted as an underlying cause in the 2000 report had been mostly absent from 2007. Judging by how things have been going lately, it must just have temporarily gone underground and never truly left. It has been on overt display for the past year or so, and is as bad as it ever was.

Anonymous said...

"LLNL is reportedly a viper pit of nastiness but its problems are pale in comparison for the period covering the last decade."

The LLNL slapdown surrounding "Yes NIF is on-time and on-budget, Secretary Richardson", is not fully accounted in this GAO report because of the time-period GAO selected. So the cost estimate balloon factor as stated (25%) appears smaller, though over a slightly longer period, the balloon factor is quite staggering.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps an apt comparison can be drawn between the behaviour of a long retired prize fighter and Los Alamos. Each has rightfully earned a respected place in the history books for their significant accomplishments under brutal conditions and against long odds; but neither is prepared to move on from the glory days of bygone decades. It just seems easier to become more isolated and bitter instead of adapting to reality.

Anonymous said...

There are a few bright spots in NNSA. The labs and facilities perform fairly well overall in delivering supercomputing projects. Though the credit really goes to the industrial partners like IBM who have to to do part of the heavy lifting to deliver and help manage expectations.

Perhaps LLNL's emphasis on supercomputing in it's portfolio gives it less exposure to certain types of "gotchas." As a side note, Dona Crawford the AD for Computations is known (even when she was at Sandia) to emphasize delivery to customers both internal (as a matrix organization) and external. And Computations has done very well in terms of its performance and reputation.

So the opposite of a "culture of arrogance" being a "culture of listening to and helping your customer" does make alot of sense. One of the first unspoken rules in business is "Don't do anything that will hurt or embarass your customer." This includes causing or playing down security problems that are a result of negligence.

Some of these performance based "bonuses" to LANS/LLNS and the other operators of NNSA facilities are supposed to incentivise positive behavior (or atleast positive performance which is assumed to be tied to good governance and management). We'll see if it works. The penalty needs to hit very hard in cases of bad behavior/performance for it to send a message across an institution.

Anonymous said...

The way that the performance assessments are set up (alot of line items with specific metrics for specific projects), you can skew or pre-determine the overall performance score and make it very insensitive to changes that cause it to fall out of a certain range. Saying that, I believe (will double check) NNSA has discression in what the bonus is for a given year, without having to resort to a formula based on the performance assessment results. NNSA should be able to zero out a performance bonus because of a particularly bad incident that year. I.e., within an organization like Y-12, the actions of a few bad actors should be able to disproportionately wipe out the benefits and contributions of the good actors with respect to a performance bonus, therfore creating internal pressure to clean things up. How Y-12 and LANL do this year will tell us what effect these bad incidents have on performance bonus, and to what degree it is likely to incentivise change towards better behavior.

But of course this is all theoretical. It may work in a modern and well managed private sector firm that is very accountable to its stakeholders. Who knows for a large old national lab. It's possible that people may choose to further blame the sponsor, an internal scapegoat, another lab, Obama/Chu, global warming, or their own parents, rather than admit the existence of or get rid of problem sources within their own ranks.

Anonymous said...

"How Y-12 and LANL do this year will tell us what effect these bad incidents have on performance bonus, and to what degree it is likely to incentivise change towards better behavior.

September 13, 2012 10:13 AM"

In addition to the fee income determination, does the annual NNSA "grade" have any impact on who has the operating contract?

Anonymous said...

You have to be careful. These performance based bonuses also create the incentive to cover up, under-report or downplay incidents. Though this tendency by the facilities to do this has been around for a long time even before performance-based contracts. So basically performance-based contracts have not been effective overall in incentivizing positive behavior (governance and management) at NWE facilities.

Too bad GAO didn't look at the broader picture. Indeed they were the ones to bring up the "culture of arrogance" issue, yet didn't address it or describe the numerous other factors and contexts that play an important part in explaining the state of the NWE. Thinking in these terms, the GAO report is fairly flimsy. Dense on words and details. But light on deeper analysis or meaningful recommendations.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the fee income determination, does the annual NNSA "grade" have any impact on who has the operating contract?

That's a good question. I suspect that Y-12 and LANL related performance assessment (in score overall) won't see a dramatic change in the score's magnitude anyways. On the other hand, political pressure may influence who doesn't get a contract that is up for renewal. It's not a transparent process. I'm also curious to see what has come out of the "show cause" notice to Y-12.

Anonymous said...

Although the Y-12 security breach is grabbing national and international press headlines, in the final analysis it is more of an embarrassment than anything else.


On the other hand, the LANL accidental radiation exposure of dozens of workers will probably turn out to have bigger consequences. When you read that local elementary schools in the community had to be monitored for contamination as a consequence of the exposure, remember the impact of Karen Silkwood.

Anonymous said...

When you read that local elementary schools in the community had to be monitored for contamination...

September 13, 2012 11:36 AM

"Had to be..." or "Were..."? there is a big difference, both in seriousness of concern and intent. State your references. I never read anything like that in the local media. Fearmongering.

Anonymous said...

Cat Litter has relatively higher levels of radioactivity too. Maybe a bigger contributor to annual dose depending on your level of exposure to cat litter.

Anonymous said...

1:28 AM sounds like a reasonable scientific type to make this observation.
If the taxpayers were shelling out 2 billion a year for an operation that was in charge of cat litter control at a facility and if Congress was holding multiple hearings about the control failure, then said observations would be relevant.
Until that time comes, such passion may be more effective when directed elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

There are so many anecdotes and news stories about kitty litter and it's disposal following 9/11. It's really funny. Bananas, smoke detectors and lantern hoods.

Anonymous said...

When you elevate bureaucracy to supreme importance, incompetence grows like a cancer and the good people leave.

That been the story now at the NNSA labs for almost a decade. Unfortunately, no one cares about the rot that has taken over and the layers upon layers of useless and expensive "management" that feed like parasites on what's left of the rotten core.

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