Chiefs resign, PCs 'lost' at Energy lab

Energy secretary Spencer Abraham is re-evaluating management at Los Alamos.

Los Alamos National Laboratory faces multiple investigations by the FBI, the Energy Department and Capitol Hill following allegations of fraud and mismanagement.

The most recent controversies surround the recent firing of two whistleblowers, poor record-keeping, and lost and stolen equipment.

Energy secretary Spencer Abraham is re-evaluating the University of California's management of Los Alamos. The university has run the New Mexico weapons R&D lab for the government since the days of the Manhattan Project and has three years left on its five-year contract.

Los Alamos director John C. Browne and principal deputy lab director Joseph Salgado submitted their resignations to Abraham Dec. 23. The resignations took effect Jan. 6.

The office of University of California president Richard C. Atkinson waited until Jan. 3 to announce the shakeup because Los Alamos was closed for the holidays, spokesman Michael Reese said. The university also manages Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Los Alamos' interim director is physicist and retired Navy Vice Adm. George P. 'Pete' Nanos.
Outgoing director Browne said in a statement that he accepted 'personal accountability for everything that happens here, both good and bad.' He will remain at the lab as a scientist.

Missing computers

The weapons lab has been under fire for several years for numerous problems, including missing computer tapes and hard drives.

Reese acknowledged that the November firing of two waste-and-fraud investigators prompted senior university managers to travel to New Mexico. 'We wanted answers to some fundamental questions, and we weren't getting them,' Reese said.

The two whistleblowers, Glenn Walp and Steven Doran, had been probing allegations of procurement fraud and security problems when they were abruptly fired in late November. A Washington watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, called it retaliation.

POGO has released a pair of leaked Los Alamos memos outlining possible property theft at the lab.

A memo from the office of the lab's chief financial officer said that property reported missing during a fiscal 2001 inventory amounted to 141 items valued at $723,000. Another $533,000 worth of property was reported lost or stolen, including 79 PCs, workstations, and notebook and handheld computers, according to an attachment to the second leaked memo.

Another attachment, which originated in the lab's security office, noted that most missing items were characterized as lost during January, March and June'near Christmas and graduation times. The statement said officials believe many lost items were actually stolen.

'Reporting a desktop computer as lost is parallel to my spouse telling me she just lost the refrigerator,' the attachment's author wrote.

Fuzzy details

A third attachment criticized the lack of detail in reports of items reported stolen during fiscal 2001.

'The reports indicate that no questions were asked pertaining to the type of data that may have been on stolen computers, laptops, personal digital assistants and digital cameras,' the attachment's author wrote.

Danielle Brian, POGO's executive director, said that Walp and Doran had tallied 263 desktop and notebook computers missing from the lab since 1999, and virtually no records exist on what data they held.

Atkinson will appoint an oversight board to guide interim director Nanos in reviewing administrative procedures at Los Alamos. The board will likely consist of senior University of California managers, university regents and scientists, Reese said.

Anne Broome, vice president of financial management for the university president's office, also will have a hand in Los Alamos' management.

The University of California has retained former U.S. attorney Charles La Bella to deal with investigators from the FBI, the Energy inspector general's office, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Reese said.

In a Dec. 24 letter to Atkinson, Abraham said that the 'inescapable conclusion' from the dismissal of the two investigators is 'a systemic management failure for which the laboratory management must be held accountable.'

In other fallout, the director and deputy director of Los Alamos' security division are being reassigned to nonmanagement jobs, lab officials said Wednesday.

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