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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Talent retention: Is it achievable at LLNL?

Anonymously contributed: ======================================================================= I have seen people leave LLNL, some of them talented, some mediocre (not a judgment but the truth!). Recently, the best software developer in our department announced his departure. No incentives to keep him. He is essentially getting the same treatment as the mediocre people. Difference between excellence and mediocrity is 0. Question to upper management: is talent retention achievable? Hint: look in the mirror when you answer!

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

To retain, one must first attract...

Anonymous said...

or have

Anonymous said...

9 out 10 of the things that LLNLS and LANS get paid for are for doing nothing. Talent does not get bonuses
for Bechtel. So the short answer is that no retention for talent. Tell me how talent fits into the "for profit" scheme as it is written now?

Anonymous said...

Seen the same sad hemorrhaging of good talent at LANL. From what I've witnessed over the last few years it seems management could care less. They just want to get rid of staff (good or mediocre) as quickly as possible to help mitigate the enormous expenses involved with their bloated management empires.

They've been hiring their Bechtel and BWXT friends and putting them into high paying Associate Director and other top positions and many of these people they hire have little more than Bachelors of Science degrees, frequently in a field that isn't even relevant to the particular Directorate they manage.

I've also heard that a majority of offers that the labs now make to recruit new research staff are being routinely turned down. Seems that the word about the decline of the NNSA labs is getting around. And as before, it seems that the new management crew running the "for-profit" NNSA labs could care less.

Forget the science. Forget integrity. As LANL's Director McMillan is fond of saying to his employees: "Follow the money!" -- he certainly did.


Anonymous said...

Tell me how talent fits into the "for profit" scheme as it is written now?

September 19, 2012 8:43 PM

Uh, the same way it does at any other private company? (Or don't you think "talent" exists in the private sector?) Talent attracts funding (i.e, customers) and creates profit. If you keep up with the news you know that there is currently a major gap between job openings in sectors of the economy needing scientific, engineering, and technical talent, and job seekers with the required education and experience. Lots of jobs are currently going unfilled.

Anonymous said...

"Uh, the same way it does at any other private company? (Or don't you think "talent" exists in the private sector?) Talent attracts funding (i.e, customers) and creates profit. If you keep up with the news you know that there is currently a major gap between job openings in sectors of the economy needing scientific, engineering, and technical talent, and job seekers with the required education and experience. Lots of jobs are currently going unfilled.

September 19, 2012 8:59 PM"

I agree that is how it works in real for profit companies however you have to agree that LLNLs and LANLs are not like these. They get a fixed fee. In the requirements for that fixed fee where does talent come in? Think about this and it will become obvious way so many people with talent are leaving to work at other places.

Anonymous said...


There was a report on the labs I think in the bulletin of atomic scientists. One of things it said is that there is no reward for accomplishment there is only punishment when something goes wrong. In a situation like this there is little incentive to have any kind of talent. In fact if no one shows up nothing will go wrong and you get your profit. Do you think talented people want to be in this situation? Do you think the American tax-payer wants this?

Anonymous said...

Incoming!!!! Quick, duck & cover....
-------------------

White House estimates $1 billion cut to nuclear security in looming ‘sequester’

Published: 6:36 PM 09/19/2012

According to a report released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Obama administration has recommended cutting more than $1 billion from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) — an agency designed to protect against the spread of nuclear weapons — in the event the congressional budget stalemate results in so-called “sequestration” of a large portion of federal budget dollars planned for 2013 spending.

The report, unveiled last week, came in response to the Sequestration Transparency Act. In 2011 Congress passed the Budget Control Act, planning additional budget cuts if lawmakers failed to strike a budget deal through the “super committee.”

According to the estimates that the OBM called “preliminary,” the NNSA faces more than $1 billion in cuts, the most of any program in the Department of Energy. The White House estimates a $678 million cut from weapons programs, $216 million from defense nuclear nonproliferation, $102 million from naval reactors and $39 million from administrative costs.

http://dailycaller.com/2012/09/19/
white-house-estimates-1-billion-cut
-to-nuclear-security-in-looming-sequester/
------------------

This should do wonders in helping LLNL and LANL hire and retain top talent! The latest buzz out of Washington is that the dreaded "fiscal cliff" will, indeed, be coming.



Anonymous said...

You are just noticing this?? Welcome to planet Earth.

Anonymous said...

In the requirements for that fixed fee where does talent come in?

Hmm, some of the performance measures involve serious work that fundamentally requires human talent.

If you want to be able to make the case for at least approaching market salaries, there has to be a regular flow of people out of the labs. Just don't want it to be torrent.

Anonymous said...

When I saw this post I had to laugh. Alot of lab people who are promoted into management or given leadership responsibilities, think of themselves as talent, since "why else would they have been promoted." So this question probably doesn't make sense to alot of people at the lab.

If the lab really needed top notch talent to deal with specific projects, it could just hire expensive experienced people from the private sector. So I thought that maybe the issue was more related to attracting and developing talent in the pool of early-career employees.

One of the lines I have seen in this blog, is very applicable to the lab for this issue... A-students attract A-students... B-Students attract C-students. The lab is a kleptocratic top heavy organization brimming with B- and C-student who control LDRD and performance appraisals and such. And the lab kleptocracy manifests itself in the form of "golden boys/girls," people who are mediocre but are "chosen" and who are pre-determined to be successful (projects, funding, promotions). The practice of promoting mediocre golden boys and con artists is very much an integral part of the institution and its culture. It is inconceivable that any A-student would willingly stick around in that kind of environment if given the option to go elsewhere where their rewards move in the same direction as their contributions.

It's actually good for me to hear that talent is leaving the lab. They are making the right decisions in their own personal interest, and it spurs other good people to leave too. I always tell people to only look out for themselves and their own interests. When I give advice to very promising and talented younger early-career scientists and engineers who are trying to decide which job offers to accept, I tell them, when they bring up LLNL, that they should consider employment there if only as last resort or to take advantage of the higher salaries so that they will be in a good position salary-wise (salary-matching or salary-bump) for their next career move. Those who have had the opportunity to work at both LLNL and even a semi-sane private-sector corporation, would attest to the insanity of the lab.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Having worked in both the private sector and at LLNL, I agree with this characterization.

Anonymous said...

"9 out 10 of the things that LLNLS and LANS get paid for are for doing nothing."

Kinda harshly put...but pretty true. When I look around the lab, what percentage of what we're now doing really requires top technical talent...not much. It's a shame, because challenging work attracts and retains scientists who are up to the challenge.

"Talent does not get bonuses
for Bechtel. So the short answer is that no retention for talent. Tell me how talent fits into the "for profit" scheme as it is written now?"

I agree that we need to change the incentive structure so that it rewards technical strength vs all the management politicing (which we've brought on ourselves, and compliance BS (which is being forced on us, but not being successfully resisted by our management). I'd like to see 360 reviews of our management which would set their salaries / bonuses.

I'd like to see the labs have a set dollar amount of management overhead dollars (much lower than now) and stick to that ratio, similar to size of gov being set to GDP.

Straightening out the management games and bringing in more challenging work would help retention.

Anonymous said...


Equally Big Issue:

All the real talent that remains at the labs that is just lying low and wiling away the hours until retirement.

How do we engage them?

How do we get relevant again?

Anonymous said...

Kleptocracy? Libelous if it wasn't such a concise and appropriate term for LLNL's organizational culture.

Anonymous said...

It's true that so much talent in mid-career employees who are essentially trapped (imprisoned) by the situation at the lab. Not recognized for their demonstrated abilities. Not rewarded for their accomplishments. I know many at LANL in the same position as well. I don't know what to say. Being on the outside, I can only suggest that it's never too late to transition out. Smart people are valued everywhere. Don't feel like age is a major factor in holding you back. Otherwise keep on surviving in the lab and keep living well. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Live in the private sector is no cakewalk. The hours can be sometimes grueling. But it also opens up so many more options. Work at the lab? in many areas: few options.

Anonymous said...

Bechtel, like any long-established large organization, is not perfect and they had some hiccups when they joined the lab management structure. It is disappointing that after more than five years some long-term staff still insist on a "them vs us" approach to Bechtel. These complaints can be heard in public at all levels, from line staff to PAD. Come on people, not every ill at the lab is the result of Bechtel being here, and many of the most serious issues are holdovers from the UC days that will continue to cause problems no matter who is on the management contract.
It is way past time to put the pain of transition behind and move forward. So, next time you hear someone go off on a riff about Bechtel, be reminded that some people just refuse to move forward and seem to thrive in the bitterness of the past. To continue to do so is stupid.
Maybe it will get better with time. Or maybe not, since 'you can't fix stupid. Stupid is forever.'

Anonymous said...

It is quite possible that Bechtel just inherited a bad situation and at worst made only an incremental contribution to a worsening situation. NIF was in my opinion a bigger force at play since it required daily ritualistic human sacrifice in the form of preferential treatment regarding resources, LDRD and overhead. But the big one was probably Tomas. He was a kind of cognitive force multiplier that amplified problems gave more cause for concern in the minds of employees. His bluster and buffoonery was never called out for fear of retribution. Even one very prominent Academic in the DoE Office of Science circles made matter-of-fact remarks after hearing about his resignation that "well its no surprise considering a guy who was promoted far above his level of incompetence.". Tomas epitomized unfairness, and cronyism. Unfortunately many problems persist because Tomas is simple a product of a culture at the lab. Is Bechtel fixing that culture? They probably have no incentive to do so. Should they change that culture? Sure, if they happen to have the ability to perform miracles. Does bringing back UC or another contractor help the situation? Maybe only to give false hope magic will happen as a result. Call me a skeptic. But I think I'm a realist. LLNL won't change overnight and there are few positive forces in play to improve the situation. Maybe Parney can pull this off but he would need at least 5 years. Probably more like 10. And that LLNL of the future will probably look NOTHING like the LLNL of today. Maybe more like a French CNRS than a CEA.

I could be wrong, but I don't think Bechtel is helping to improve the situation in any meaningful way. But also I don't think they are making it much worse. Call it negligence if you want to. But root cause lies elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Hah! The words "talent retention" are oxymorons with LANS/LLNS Management. The only way talent will be retained at the Labs is for NNSA to slap a PBI on it. And that is NOT going to happen, because:

(1) They know they can't meet the goal.

(2) It's already been agreed "under the table" with NNSA/LLNS/LANS Management that workers heads will roll regardless of how talented or important they are to National Security.



Anonymous said...

LANS had an opportunity to "stop the bleeding" by preventing their highly prized National Security workers during the VRIP. The only ones they prevented from leaving were the Facility Engineers, doctors/nurses, lawyers, and technicians.

They (LANS) only cares if the toilets are flushing, snow is removed from in front of the NNSB from Anastasio's/McMillan's parking spot, the light bulbs are replaced, they are protected from litigation, their checks (i.e. bonuses) are deposited, and they get their free annual physical.

Anonymous said...

I've spoken with recent hires and there is a consistent theme. With a 401(k), some new hires feel disposable, and likewise feel the Lab is disposable as well. They can pull up stakes and move to a new job tomorrow and there is no incentive to stay.

Others indicate it's just a job. There's no passion like we used to see, no working unrequested longer hours, nothing extra.

There is simply no incentive. Little sense of national importance, repeated kicks in the teeth to employees from Washington, cynical letters of "Thank You" from management for meeting PBIs and earning management a big multi-million dollar bonus.

Sure, these people I've spoken with find its a good job, interesting sometimes when not tied up in red tape, but making it nearly impossible to attend scientific and technical conferences through new conference regulations, year-on-year constant-dollar pay cuts, take-home-pay cut repeatedly by growing expenses, time consuming and expensive red tape to get through for nearly any activity, just to name a few.

Management lives in a dense reality distortion field which blocks them getting or believing much real information from the level of the worker. At least some of the new generation of Lab workers seem to feel like hired help and there's little to show them that a lifetime career of satisfaction and achievement is in the offing. But in a poor economy, it's good enough for now.

Anonymous said...

Strange that Parney addresses rumors amounting to character assassination, but doesn't say a single thing about an issue like this concerning employees. Maybe the newsline article was written a while ago and that it took a long time for it to get "cleared." But it's still ironic that the underlying issues regarding fairness to the employees, seen continuously over many many threads in this blogsite, were not addressed and that it didn't occur to the author of the newsline article, attributed to Parney, that the character assassinations are due in part to the perceived unfairness at the lab.

Anonymous said...

September 21, 2012 7:09 AM -- yours is an accurate characterization of the current environment. It's not good for the new employees and it's not good for the old. It's unclear who upper management wants to work here and on what -- they seem to be stuck playing internal politics 24/7. There was always some of that, but now that is all they do. Demoralizing...and doesn't bode well for the future when the economy picks up and everyone leaves (young and old)...

Anonymous said...

There are no problems in talent retention at the lab. All of these discussions are merely part of a smear campaign to discredit lab management. These outside agitators need to know that they can be liable for making such libelous remarks that are clearly intended to harm the reputation of LLNL and incite dissent and disharmony within the organization. While LLNL is a strong, healthy and robust organization that need not defend itself against such ridiculous claims, we are morally obligated to mitigate any of the undue harmful secondary effects caused by these agitators on employees and their families.

Anonymous said...

LLNL legal weighs in.... :)

Anonymous said...

Nah I bet it's a troll. Legal is hopefully not stupid enough to put anything onto the web without the proper review and all the boilerplate language.

Anonymous said...

Talent retention is not possible at the LLC run labs.

However, talent reduction is and it's being achieved at a remarkable rate.

Heckavajob, NNSA!

Anonymous said...

LLNL has to be very careful about making legal threats to people outside the one square mile. They know this too that they have no power outside the fences because a real investigation by the FBI would shed light on practices at the lab that are to put it mildly, unflattering and embarrassing, and actually support some of the claims being made throughout this blog.

Anonymous said...

Legal probably would not post. But PR might. This blog is probably being monitored by PR as part of their job (rightly so). Imagine if they also started posting in what might be interpreted as a disinformation campaign.. paid for by tax-payers. If I were in Legal, I would make sure PR posts nothing before it has been reviewed and vetted by Legal.

Anonymous said...


" These outside agitators need to know that they can be liable for making such libelous remarks..... we are morally obligated to mitigate any of the undue harmful secondary effects caused by these agitators on employees and their families.'

225 years and the 1st amendment still eludes the lightweights.

Anonymous said...

It is not libel if the statements are true.

Anonymous said...

I feel somewhat bad for Parney. I'm not sure if he fully comprehends how bad things are there, let alone any real strategy to rebuild the organization.

How much does he meet with the employees without the presence of minders? Are they fixing LDRD? (it's never been a great process, but it's just been more blatantly worse to support NIF). Are they putting muzzles on the embarrassments who inevitably have ended up in mid and upper-level management?

Anonymous said...

Yeah agitators are definitely insiders. So are the sources for certain leaks and rumors. I wonder if LLNL upper level management has figured out why? It certainly isn't because of them. They see themselves as having a sparkling record of management and being exemplars of fairness and openness. Unfairness? Unpossible!!! Cronyism? Balderdash!!!

Anonymous said...

Some of these discussions regarding the "plight of employees" is disturbing, since LLNL and its employees need to work as a team in order to meet important mission needs of this great nation, to ensure the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear stockpile. While it is not possible to fully verify the conditions being asserted regarding the welfare of LLNL employees, management feels it is important to address these issues and to implement a plan to mitigate the potential risks. The welfare of the employees is very closely tied to the ability of management to perform its work. Therefore, implementation of the right incentives within the management structure is the most effective way for addressing employee concerns. The exact form of the management incentive structure has not been determined. Nevertheless it is expected to be produce positive results over the next 5 to 10 years.

Anonymous said...

I read this and thought it was an obvious joke. Then I thought twice... these managers at LLNL probably would cook up something like that... reward themselves until things get better.

Anonymous said...

September 22, 2012 4:04 PM is a management shill or an upper manager who is absolutely way beyond his ability to see reality. High salaries and approbation from your higher-ups will do that to you.

Anonymous said...

... they have no power outside the fences because a real investigation by the FBI would shed light on practices at the lab that are to put it mildly, unflattering and embarrassing, and actually support some of the claims being made throughout this blog.

That is so very true. There is no way they could go after a libel case for many reasons, but especially for the fact that many claims are actually true, and also they have far too many dead bodies buried just inches below the surface. Wouldn't be this way if they ran a clean, well-run and professional organization. You will find no more impotent a division than legal at LLNL. You almost have to feel bad for those poor bastards.

LLNL attracts and invites this kind of scrutiny from the new media. Parney, welcome to the world of new media.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they will attempt a cease and desist order, or some other form of injunction against the blog as a whole. It wouldn't surprise me if they haven't thought about it. Though they won't get very far.

Anonymous said...

LLNL Legal needs a few adjustments, in particular the addition of those who specialize in criminal defense justice.

Anonymous said...

It wouldn't surprise me if they haven't thought about it.

September 22, 2012 10:15 PM

I think you need to examine your sentence structure. Too many negatives I think. Unless you meant to say that you think they haven't thought about it. A little more thought before posting would help you make your point.

Anonymous said...

The only response from LLNL mouthpieces is to attack poor grammar? Maybe it came from someone who didn't have the privilege to college and the get a PhD like you. I've seen this kind of elitist arrogance before by LLNL management. Go after the grammar and syntax to belittle the people who work in mechanica and shops rather that address their issues fully. This is all very consistent with LLNL management.

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for the corrections to the grammar and syntax for the above comment. Well, what are you waiting for? Go ahead. Respond and show us how stupid we are and how smart you are.

Anonymous said...

September 22, 2012 11:41 PM apparently believes that one needs a PhD to use good grammar. Last time I looked, it was still taught in "grammar" school (get it?). In any case, if you don't believe that your poor grammar and syntax can muddle, or even negate, your opinions, you are a fool.

Anonymous said...

Knock off the grammar belittling - it's tiresome, pedantic, and mean.

Let everyone express themselves to the best of their abilities.

Your grammar posts only serve to show the worst side of your personality, they do not expand the conversation or encourage the free flow of ideas.


Anonymous said...

The "free flow of ideas" is only meaningful if the ideas are. With bad grammar, sometimes you can't tell. It makes no sense to espouse good education if you are going to blithely accept evidence of its failure. Sorta like security at NNSA facilities.

Anonymous said...

If you don't understand someone's comment, ask politely for a clarification.

Your method of commenting has ego and self-aggrandizement at it's core, not an interest in the exchange of ideas.

Your interaction style reminds me a lot of many of the upper lab managers.

Anonymous said...

If a user of poor grammar gets to skate every time, he might start thinking of himself as the intellectual equal of those who know how to speak (or write) English correctly. "The soft bigotry of lowered expectations." Indeed. Thus sink our country and our culture.

Anonymous said...

Grammar and spelling corrections are intended to divert attention from the actual issues.

Anonymous said...

LLNL operates as a kleptocracy. Getting rid of Tomas didn't change that. LLNL is still a kleptocracy and the employees are the ones who are hurt the most. Think about those people who decided to start their careers in service of this nation, in areas that are not exactly marketable in the private sector, only to find themselves in a kleptocracy where the employees are imprisoned while corrupt bullies in management are permanent fixtures in the lab. The same applies to LANL employees. Trapped in a kleptocracy.

Anonymous said...

Agree 100%.

What can we do? Is there a way out of this mess?

Anonymous said...

The possibility that many of us fear, is the downsizing and consolidation into a lab that is mainly centered around NIF. No WFO, stripped down weapons program, no basic non-lasers work.

It kind of makes sense. Why would Parney (a non-outsider) have such a tight hold on information, if there wasn't something else coming down the pipeline. Not taking concrete and effective steps to reassure the lab community of its value to the lab, and discussions about the future, where the Lab is going, how everyone fits in, etc.

Managers in hyper-paranoid mode. However poor the communications was between management and employees, that went to zero during the course of this year. Then having managers posting on this blog all sorts of propaganda to divert attention away from the lab. Ed NOT leaving on October 1 as the rumors suggested, tells you something... that the lab must be making some decision about the future direction of the lab which involves Ed. Things look ominous.

Anonymous said...

The LLNL philosophy regarding Work For Others (WFO):

"WFO is complete after the funds are transferred to LLNL accounts up front."

Anonymous said...

"Take the money and run!!!"

"Customers and Sponsors (NNSA) don't tell us what to do. We tell THEM what to do."

Anonymous said...

...the lab must be making some decision about the future direction of the lab which involves Ed. Things look ominous.

September 24, 2012 10:27 AM

It's called sequestration. Only a lame-duck session of congress to avoid it - not gonna happen. All management planning at all NNSA facilities is currently focused on how to deal with 10-15% cuts across the board (halfway through the fiscal year = 20% - 30% in effect). Since all agencies face the same problem, WFO will also be in the tank. Fasten your seatbelts, but don't expect them to keep you from being "ejected."

Anonymous said...

"Ed NOT leaving on October 1 as the rumors suggested, tells you something"

You don't fire your best hatchet man when you see a slaughter coming!!

Anonymous said...

If you are a decent person that shows up to work every day and gets the job done, plus extra, LLNS management does not reward you. If you are an incompetent loudmouth that is abusive, you will get raises and promotions.

Anonymous said...

The LLNL philosophy regarding Work For Others (WFO): "WFO is complete after the funds are transferred to LLNL accounts up front."

Certainly not true in my neck of the woods.

Anonymous said...

How in the hell can you retain talent at the Labs when it all left during the past six years!

Anonymous said...

Rainmakers are gone, though for good reason since they were suppressed anyways. What's left are people both good and bad at the mercy of whatever is coming their way. LLNL should have diversified its portfolio but Tomas steered the lab towards the ground. Now all of you remainig can suffer the consequences while Tomas sits on his fat package (probably in the millions, but with alimony/chile-support, maybe he will go under).

Anonymous said...

"Rainmakers are gone, though for good reason since they were suppressed anyways."

So true. That's something that has always mystified me about the lab, how upper mgmt seems hell-bent on driving out everyone who brings in projects (legitimate, normal projects), even when those people clearly want to stay, the lab just treats them like crap until they just give up and leave -- and resume their exact same rainmaking independently or at another lab/company.

Am I missing something here?

Does upper mgmt see these rainmakers as competition (i.e. they make upper mgmt's lack of rainmaking painfully obvious in comparison?) Or are these people just kinda savvy and smart and see through all the upper mgmt BS, and emboldened by their self-sufficiency, call things like they seem them and are therefore a threat? Is it just a pure control thing -- and people who can bring in projects can't be controlled, bullied, told what to do, etc? Or ??????

Whatever's driving it, we need to fix it immediately or we will have no new projects coming in. We have so few of those people with that type of talent left...

Anonymous said...

Program Development at LLNL means what supports NIF. But remember: killing non-NIF programs also supports NIF.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you. It's not going to get better for the employees even if they do cut all the parasitic managers off. NIF is the big bet. Double down on LIFE. Screw the tax-payers. Lets predict: a Keasling-type deal with DOE where an LLC is spun off - stock options - personal enrichment for certain NIF people - asset bubble - cash in before people realize the true lack of revenue generating potential for many decades. If Jay Keasling can get a deal like that, then so should Ed Moses.

Anonymous said...

You employees are just cannon fodder anyways. Didn't they tell you that during employee orientation? Stop getting in the way of someone else's agenda. It doesn't matter if a bunch of employees are disgruntled so long as a few core people get a big payout. Then it will all have been worth it. You employees are nothing. Don't expect to be let in on the "profit sharing."

Anonymous said...

nonymous said...
"Rainmakers are gone, though for good reason since they were suppressed anyways."

So true. That's something that has always mystified me about the lab, how upper mgmt seems hell-bent on driving out everyone who brings in projects (legitimate, normal projects), even when those people clearly want to stay, the lab just treats them like crap until they just give up and leave -- and resume their exact same rainmaking independently or at another lab/company.

Am I missing something here?

Does upper mgmt see these rainmakers as competition (i.e. they make upper mgmt's lack of rainmaking painfully obvious in comparison?) Or are these people just kinda savvy and smart and see through all the upper mgmt BS, and emboldened by their self-sufficiency, call things like they seem them and are therefore a threat? Is it just a pure control thing -- and people who can bring in projects can't be controlled, bullied, told what to do, etc? Or ??????

Whatever's driving it, we need to fix it immediately or we will have no new projects coming in. We have so few of those people with that type of talent left...


October 1, 2012 1:12 PM


Well let me say Parney's choice of people acting in S&T is the same old same old.....Please bring in new blood....we need it.

Anonymous said...

Again, replace LLNL with FDA White Oak and its like reliving my last year and a half.

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