Over $1.5 million in lab property was lost by or stolen from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the atomic bomb, between 2000 and 2002, a recent government report says.
The Dept. of Energy released its report on the management problems surrounding LANL – one of two D.O.E. nuclear laboratories managed by the University of California – late last Thursday. The review was conducted by the D.O.E. Inspector General at the request of the National Nuclear Security Administration following allegations within the laboratory of gross mismanagement practices and attempted cover-ups.
Between 2000 and 2002 over $1,514,478 of laboratory property was categorized as lost, stolen or unlocated, the report states. In December 2002, the NNSA had ranked the laboratory as “excellent” in the categories of “procurement management,” and “personal property management.”
According to the D.O.E. report, “The facts disclosed in our inquiry suggest that the department’s process for arriving at such ratings warrants review by appropriate department officials.”
Earlier reports by Glenn Walp and Steven Doran, the two security officials fired from Los Alamos, found unauthorized purchases such as golf balls, underwear, all-terrain vehicles, a Ford Mustang and a two-ton magnet. Lab employees also allegedly lost or purchased the following items on company credit cards: a water tower, a home air conditioning unit, several vehicles, flat-screen televisions, spy equipment, dishwashers, digital cameras, over 200 computers and a forklift.
Walp and Doran’s termination following their reports of laboratory mismanagement has been considered by the UC Regents and the Dept. of Energy as a potential cover-up by the laboratory. The two men were recently rehired by the UC and will receive retroactive pay as compensation for their time out of work.
Regardless of intent, the effect of Los Alamos’s management policies was to discourage the disclosure of incriminating information concerning the procurement, loss or theft of laboratory property, the report states.
Materials were published and disseminated at the laboratory advising employees: “Resist the temptation to ‘spill your guts,'” “Handwritten notes can be especially damaging. … They are not easily disavowed,” and “Finger pointing will just make the program look bad.”
At one point the laboratory issued a memo encouraging employees to come forth concerning mismanagement of laboratory property and then retracted it within a day, saying it was a violation of workers’ right to privacy.
Employees of Los Alamos were also required to sign a contract that included a clause demanding that workers “exhibit loyalty in all matters pertaining to the affairs of the University of California, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Audits and Assessments Office.”
Allegations of stolen and missing property were apparently not properly followed up within the laboratory. When reports were filed they often overlooked important information, such as the compromised frequencies of missing secure radios or the nature of the information contained on missing computer hard drives, personal digital assistants or digital cameras. Because of the poor nature of the reports, much of the information was not passed on to the National Crime Information Center.
The D.O.E. report recommendations included the correction of all problems mentioned in the report, a review of the D.O.E.’s procedures for laboratory ratings, as well as a disclaimer that the D.O.E. would not be financially responsible for any expenses incurred due to laboratory restructuring or lawsuits resulting from the recent Los Alamos scandals.
The UC responded to the report immediately, agreeing to comply with all recommendations. The UC is currently restructuring much of the management at LANL and engaged in an internal review of laboratory operations. The UC’s vice president for financial management has assumed control over the lab’s administration and finances.
LANL will also be added to the UC AlertLine, a hotline for employees wishing to report unethical proceedings in their workplace.