Energy changes top management at Los Alamos

Two top managers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are stepping down from posts at the famed, but troubled, Energy Department weapons-research facility.

Lab director John C. Browne and principal deputy director Joseph Salgado submitted their resignations to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham Dec. 23 and will step down on Jan. 6.

The office of University of California president Richard C. Atkinson announced the shakeup only yesterday because Los Alamos had been closed for the holidays, said Michael Reese, a spokesman for the president's office. The University of California manages Los Alamos and two other laboratories for the Energy Department.

Officials also wanted to wait until they found an interim director, physicist and retired Navy Vice Adm. George P. 'Pete' Nanos, to announce the transition, Reese said.

The weapons lab has been under fire for several years for numerous problems, including missing computer tapes and other data-security issues. Reese acknowledged that last November's firing of two waste-and-fraud investigators from the lab prompted the discussions that led to the resignations.

'We wanted answers to some fundamental questions, and we weren't getting them,' Reese said.

Atkinson will appoint an oversight board to guide Nanos in reviewing the laboratory's administrative procedures, Reese said.

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

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R.-La., chairman of the House committee, and Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa., who heads the oversight and investigations subcommittee under Tauzin, praised the management shakeup.

'We applaud Secretary Abraham for sending a strong signal that he will not tolerate business as usual at the labs and for taking these aggressive steps that hopefully will improve accountability,' they said in a statement.

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