John McTague, the first vice president of laboratory management for the University of California’s national labs, announced plans to resign the position last Friday. McTague, formerly a materials science professor at UCSB, will return to his position at the university once a replacement is found.
The position of vice president of laboratory management was created in 2001 to curb increasing incidents of mismanagement among programs at Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley and Los Alamos National Laboratories, all of which fall under the jurisdiction of the UC.
McTague, 63, said that he has planned to resign since February but decided to wait until planned changes in laboratory management systems were complete.
During McTague’s term of office, significant improvements were made concerning the financial accountability of all the labs. The greatest improvements under McTague were made to the National Ignition Facility at Livermore Labs. The facility’s construction, which had been running years behind and billions of dollars over budget, reigned in under McTague’s leadership.
Although praised highly by UC President Richard Atkinson, the Dept. of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, McTague’s term was not without controversy. Lab officials have at times accused him of being inefficient and abrasive. He also drew fire for his support of Raymond Juzaitis to head the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories after former director Bruce Tarter stepped down.
Juzaitis is the associate director of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Weapons Physics Division. The historic rivalry between Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories made this a controversial stance. Directors at Livermore have traditionally been promoted from within the lab. In addition, Juzaitis was involved peripherally in the Wen Ho Lee affair at Los Alamos.
Lee was an employee in the Weapons Physics Division who spent 275 days in jail on 59 felony counts in 1999 after being accused of transferring nuclear secrets to an unsecured computer at Los Alamos. The severity of the charges proved unfounded, and Lee was released after pleading guilty to one minor charge and being sentenced to time already served. The incident is widely considered a blemish in the laboratory’s 59-year history.
Although Juzaitis was Lee’s supervisor, the two did not work together directly, and Juzaitis appears to have played little – if any – part in the affair. Regardless, the suggested link between the two was enough to raise the ire of the Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, who implied to Atkinson that the Dept. of Energy would not support Juzaitis’ appointment. Before any final decision was made, Juzaitis withdrew his candidacy for the position of lab director.
Controversy aside, McTague has been widely lauded for his performance as the first vice president of laboratory management, and Lawrence Livermore – traditionally a hotbed for management problems – received top rankings from the Dept. of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration last year.