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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

De-privatizing the Labs

By Jeff Colvin

SPSE-UPTE Legislative Director and UPTE Executive Vice President

In February 2014 a sealed drum containing low-level radioactive waste that was shipped from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a radioactive waste underground repository near Carlsbad, New Mexico, caught fire and exploded, exposing some 23 workers to radioactive contamination. The accident closed WIPP, and the whole facility remains closed to this day.

Another consequence of the WIPP accident, in addition to the large fine levied against Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), the private company that manages LANL, was the poor performance rating that LANS received from the Department of Energy (DOE)/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and having one year lopped off the management contract. Thus, the contract that LANS has to manage the laboratory for DOE/NNSA now expires 30 September 2017.

If no further contract extensions are awarded (a distinct possibility, especially since several serious electrical accidents have occurred recently, one leading to a serious injury and the most recent leading to a work stand-down at several technical sites), then the contract may be re-bid. If that happens the whole process, which starts with writing a Request for Proposal (RFP) could begin as early as this Fall with notification to LANS. Although the LLNS contract to manage our lab here in Livermore expires at a later date, there is sure to be political pressure to re-bid that contract also, especially since LANS and LLNS are in essence the same corporate entity with the same board of directors.

If the lab management contracts are to be re-bid, we want it done right this time. University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) has believed for a long time that the real problems plaguing both labs stem from careerism and profiteering by corporate management, leading to everything from the failures to meet unrealistic programmatic goals set to earn the maximum management bonus at LLNL to the WIPP accident at LANL. These issues were discussed at a public forum UPTE leaders held in Los Alamos last spring.

At the forum, UPTE announced the launch of a new RFP Committee to put together a plan to influence the RFP process. UPTE’s RFP Committee has now expanded to include participants from both Labs, and is holding monthly meetings via conference call. Our success is tied to engaging as much of the workforce as we can at both labs. Accordingly, we urge you to join UPTE (if you are not already a member), and participate in the work of the RFP Committee. We want to hear your ideas and comments. To join us please contact either Eileen Montano of SPSE-UPTE LLNL at or 925-449-4846 or Richard Espinosa of UPTE-LANL at or 505-603-9034.


Anonymous said...

How do you propose to influence the RFP process? It seems to me that the real battle will be influencing what metrics are used to judge proposals that are submitted. That requires the ears and trust of important people in Washington (I don't even know which people they are, and that would be question number one) and a very active influence effort. A once-a-month conference call is not likely to get anywhere, you need very actively engaged people with great DC contacts who know the key players personally. Furthermore, what entity, existing or plausibly formed in the future, would even want to bid on the LANL contract? LANS has failed spectacularly in whatever efforts it expended in trying to improve the LANL cowboy culture, and anyone else looking at the situation is probably going to conclude that it is not fixable.

Anonymous said...

Jeff. Worst peice of claptrap you're written. Your audience here is powerless and the Jacobites in DC are either too ignorant to care or are in someone's pocket.

You are screwed. They will blame you for the percieved miscues while a zealous plotting Rasputin takes advantage. He will reduce employee compensation and benefits.

The only solution, an employment contract in place during the transition and a rabid cohesive employee bargaining team that is out to avenge previous NNSA wrongs. In particlar that employees approve any new operating contact on the very practical grounds that NNSA purchasing personnel are too frigging stupid to write an effective contact.

The sin is contact 44.

The other part of the solution is to rehire UC Under sole-source contact 48 cost plus management, with provsions for independent managememt in the interest of the weapons program.

Anonymous said...

Anything tied to DC is a cluster bomb.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, even unions look good compared to the Bohemian Grove monsters who now manage the place.

Anonymous said...

Bohemian grove is for the greats that make the big money! Capitalism works botches, if you have to sell out, than sell out for millions baby, Charlie can buy and sell you 10 times over! Think about that, realize that, and bow down to the masters of that!

Anonymous said...

Are coherent posts allowed on this thread?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I can't see how LANS can win the next bidding of the LANL contract given all the issues in the past two years.

That said, NNSA loves LANS and the LLC is doing everything it can to please them. If NNSA asked the LANL senior leadership and LANS Board of Governors to run naked through town, there's a pretty good chance they would do it. NNSA is also not wild about the pain and work it causes "them" when big M&O contract change hands. They could care less about the wellbeing of the contractor employees, but all the employee complaints to congressional representative/staffs that have to be responded to, plus the effort that goes into the whole selection process. Look at how long they dragged their heals on the Sandia contract bidding.

I like every other employee at the lab wishes that LANS would go away, I will not be shocked to see them win the next contract for LANL again. The only them that could change this is if UC were to decide to go in a different direction and choose different LLC partners, such as a UC/Lockheed-Martin owned LLC.

Anonymous said...


Your best (and its close to zero at that) chance of influencing a change is through UC, not NNSA which likes the current approach and LLCs. you and anyone else reading this blog interesting in voicing their thoughts should contact UC VP Budil over at UCOP:

Kimberly S. Budil, Ph.D.
Vice President

Office of the National Laboratories
University of California
Office of the President
1111 Broadway, Suite 2130
Oakland, CA 94607-4081

Phone: 510 987-0804
Fax: (510) 839-3831

Anonymous said...

August 1, 2015 at 7:39 AM

What you say is partially true. NNSA does indeed love LANS but there is now talk about getting rid of NNSA in light of the horrible job that LANS and LLNS have done so LANS will go and LLNS will soon follow. Also it is only partially true that LANL employees want LANS gone. Most managers, excess bureaucratic staff, and other parasites want to keep LANS, which oddly enough is close to 50% of the current lab worforce which is why anyone with a brain sees precisely why LANS needs to go. NNSA knows that they are fighting for their own survival at this point so they will throw LANS overboard as fast as they can. This will buy them some time and then they will try to throw the lab overboard, than they will eat themselves. The whole idea of LLC was a total disaster and someone has to pay. Well not really considering that huge amount of money that was stolen over the years so we all know who had to pay.

Anonymous said...

I don't see DOE/NNSA combining the two contracts into a single RFP contract. The time for doing that would have been back in 2006/2007 when the two contracts were just a year apart. NNSA elected not to do that then.

The real interesting question will be what happens if an LLC bid team involving UC doesn't win the LANL contract. Specifically for LLNL, which has much deep UC ties than LANL. I just don't see UC walking away from a LLNL bid, if their LLC looses LANL why keep it the same for the LLNL bid.

Battelle and Univ of Tennessee, each own half of the LLC running Oak Ridge Lab. Battelle has expressed an interesting in exploring NNSA contracts. They already have a minor role in LLNS LLC, and are well known to UCOP. If LANS goes down, UC has no real need for Bechtel involvement in LLNS. A UC-Battelle owned LLC for LLNL seems like a stronger team than LLNS.

Anonymous said...

Losing the management of LANL would be a severe blow to the ego of Janet Napolitano. A good reason to do it.

She is awful. A carpetnagger who is completely scrweing California students and taxpayers by selling UC admissions to the highest bidder.

She must go.

Anonymous said...

She is also so stupid it is depressing to be in the same room with her.

Anonymous said...

University of Texas, Texas A&M and seasoned national lab management partner Battelle. The next partnership (totally non-profit) to run the labs. The crystal ball is getting clear each and every day.

At least this non-profit partnership will give a damn about the institution they are running, unlike the absent landlord of UC.

Anonymous said...

How's this LLC structure...

A LANL LLC = University of Texas, Texas A&M, University of New Mexico, and Battelle.

A LLNL LLC = UC and Battelle.

... too logical for the powers that be?

Anonymous said...

The proven organization design is an independant UC manager under Contract 48 with minimal DOE oversight. NNSA abolished. Worked well enough for 65 years. Much better than what followed.

Anonymous said...

August 6, 2015 at 9:50 PM,

I agree, however Norm Pattiz stated at an LLNL all-hands meeting a couple of years ago that UC liked the LLC model and having industrial partners in it.

Translation: We (UC) like not having our name clearly associated with the weapons labs and publicly dragged through the mud every time there's a screwup at the labs, plus I'm mega wealthy and like rubbing elbows and hanging out with other super rich dudes like Riley and Brendan Bechtel.

Anonymous said...

Norm Pattiz, Janet Napolitano, Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsome independantly have proven themselves to be incompetent idiots. Not worse than previous California leaders, but like them.

The strength of the labs run by UC over its 65 years was its key staff, advisors like Syd Drell and Wolfgang Panovsky and its isolation incompetent leaders, demands and politics in Sacramento and DC. Less time time in the limelight, less time accounting to the standards of fools, less time justifying is the path forward.

Bring back conntract 48, eliminate NNSA, and melt into the background.

Anonymous said...

You are missing the clear direction the DOE is going, consolidation. Why do you need 3 NNSA labs and 3 DOE non NNSA labs. The next contract will be about consolidation. The Cold War is over and the current administration and bureaucrats have no need for the NWC. Look at the newest contract model from NNSA (Y-12, Pantex, etc.) and its incentives and future options. Most of the DOE was turned to LLCs decades ago. The labs are the last are untouched by the reductions across the complex. It's coming.

Anonymous said...

The Cold War is over...

August 16, 2015 at 7:26 PM

Completely irrelevant. The world is still dangerous and getting more so. If you think it is a good time for the US to intentionally, and publicly, reduce its nuclear weapon expertise and diversity, think again. Iran has just been guaranteed a nuclear weapon capability in a decade or less. North Korea and Pakistan already have nukes. Is that a less scary situation than the Soviet Union?

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