DOE lab official: 'Monopoly' yes, cover-up no

A former top official at Los Alamos National Laboratory acknowledged this month that federal dollars were sometimes treated as 'Monopoly money,' but he denied trying to thwart investigations of theft and mismanagement allegations.

In House testimony, Joseph F. Salgado, who was ousted as the lab's principal deputy director in January, defended his decision to fire two investigators for what he called 'repeated instances of inaccurate and incomplete reporting.'

The two investigators, Glenn Walp and Steven Doran, failed to win the trust of senior lab officials, Salgado said.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has been holding hearings into the controversy that erupted late last year after the firing of Walp and Doran.

In late February, the House panel heard about incidents in which lab workers allegedly used a blanket purchasing agreement to buy personal items. The episodes followed other reports of missing computers, hard drives and data tapes over the past several years.

Walp and Doran were still on probationary status when they were fired, so lab officials did not need to justify letting them go, Salgado said.

Accountability problems

Although he denied a cover-up, Salgado acknowledged that Los Alamos has had 'management by accommodation' for many years'a culture with less accountability than today's standards require.

Salgado said that he had not seen evidence of a widespread 'culture of theft' at the lab and that most employees were honest.

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) said the University of California, which operates the New Mexico lab for the Energy Department, must overhaul its management 'tier by tier.'

'You have failed the good people that are a part of this place,' she said. 'This place has to be hosed out.'

John C. Browne, a physicist who was ousted as lab director in January, testified that two years ago he brought in consultants from Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., to recommend IT changes. 'My regret is that all the changes did not come fast enough to prevent these present problems,' he said.

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