Energy will recompete Los Alamos

Energy secretary Spencer Abraham says a new contract will heal many ills.

Tom Fedor

Following a pair of reports critical of systems management at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Energy secretary Spencer Abraham has announced plans to recompete the contract under which the University of California has run the weapons lab since its beginning in 1943.

The university's current contract runs through September 2005.

Spencer said last month that Energy will issue a request for proposals for the lab's supervision because of concerns about many oversight issues, not just systems management.

Most recently, Energy IG Gregory H. Friedman reported that the lab failed to keep track of its computers. The bulk of new computers bought during fiscal 2001 and 2002 did not have property numbers in a purchase card database and bar coded tags as required by lab rules.

Those findings, combined with an April 21 report from an independent auditor hired by lab management, add to the stream of allegations of theft and mismanagement at the New Mexico lab.

Past prohibition

In his report, Freidman noted that although cardholders were prohibited as of Aug. 26 from buying controlled items with lab purchase cards, they bought 22 notebook and desktop PCs after that date.

There was no mention of compromised secrets as a result of the security lapses, but Friedman referred his findings to counterintelligence officials at Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration. The IG's office is preparing a broader assessment of lab controls over desktop and notebook PCs.

Anthony R. Lane, an associate NNSA administrator, said in a statement that the agency will factor the corrective actions into ongoing efforts to improve Los Alamos management.

Meanwhile, an audit report from Ernst & Young LLP of New York recommended that Los Alamos centralize user access controls, take better care of backup tapes and re-engineer its business processes before switching to a new financial system. The auditors surveyed lab operations on behalf of the University of California.

Ernst & Young said, among other things, that:
  • Lab officials are preparing to switch to Oracle Financials to replace legacy systems. Because a highly integrated enterprise resource planning system can propagate data errors quickly, the lab 'should re-engineer its business process controls and security to the greatest extent possible before going live on Oracle,' the auditors said.

  • Los Alamos ships its backup tapes to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by Federal Express. 'Due to the changing environments that these tapes will go through from LANL to LLNL and back again, it is highly possible that the data could be damaged in routing and become unreadable,' the audit report said. Los Alamos should hire a vendor to provide temperature-controlled transportation and off-site storage of the tapes.

  • It should start performing routine data recovery tests on its servers and test its business systems disaster recovery plan at least once a year.

  • It should consider assigning user access control responsibilities to one central group instead of various sections of the lab's Business Unit Services Group.

Other Los Alamos functions that Ernst & Young studied included accounts payable, banking, Energy funding, budget execution, cash receipts, payroll processes, property management and property accounting.

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