Los Alamos whistleblowers blast mismanagement at lab

Top managers at Los Alamos National Laboratory tried to stop investigations into rampant theft and corruption at the weapons lab, two whistleblowers told a House oversight panel yesterday.

Glenn A. Walp and Steven Doran, investigators who were fired Nov. 25 from their posts at the Energy Department weapons lab, testified about their experiences to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

The panel is looking into allegations of poor property tracking, misuse of purchasing privileges and vanished computers.

'It's time to gut the place, it's so infected,' Walp said of the top management at the weapons lab, which the University of California has managed for 60 years. During his 10-month stint at Los Alamos, he said, his superiors constantly reminded him that his job was to protect the lab's image and management contract.

Walp said that at one point, his immediate supervisor rejected his proposal to get the FBI involved in the investigation 'on the grounds that the lab did not want the FBI back at the lab after the Wen Ho Lee case and missing computer hard drive incident.' Problems with the physical security of computers and data tapes plagued the weapons lab in 1999 and 2000.

Under the lab's local-vendor agreements with as many as 75 nearby businesses, lab employees have been able to charge many kinds of items under $5,000 to the lab by providing little more than their employee identification number. Walp said he was told, 'You could have a computer system all set up in your home today and no one will know about it and no one will ever know.'

Doran said that since he and Walp were fired, local stores have started to use lists of what lab employees can and cannot buy with their ID cards, and the program will probably be eliminated.

Although Walp said he and Doran were careful to note that not everyone who works at the weapons lab is corrupt, he believes that some employees have committed theft and other felonies.

The University of California recently retained Walp and Doran as short-term consultants to help with its internal investigations.

A third subcommittee witness who worked for a maintenance and construction subcontractor, Jaret McDonald, testified that some University of California employees had bought goods'including lawnmowers, sleeping bags, TVs and lock-picking gear'that appeared to be unrelated to lab business. When university officials appeared to take no action on his report, McDonald said he contacted the FBI through its tip hotline, and FBI investigators followed up.

The Energy Department's inspector general, Gregory H. Friedman, reviewed his recent findings and recommendations for corrective action (see story at www.gcn.com/22_3/inbrief/21101-1.html). In addition, on Feb. 21 his office released another report detailing problems with the lab's inventory of more than 1,600 firearms.

The lab CIO's office said last December that more than 360 lab computers reported lost, stolen or missing during the last four fiscal years do not contain classified information. But Friedman said he does not have much confidence in that assertion, given the lab's history of computer security problems.

Several subcommittee members expressed concern that the extent of the property mismanagement and theft problems could still somehow compromise national security. 'My concern is that if you're willing to steal, you're willing to sell information,' said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.

'The national security mission of the lab is inextricably tied to the day-to-day activities of the lab,' Friedman said.

Under the terms of the university's contract with Energy, unless the most senior members of a department are aware of the fraud, the cost of the lost and stolen equipment falls on the taxpayers and not the university, Friedman said.

Bruce B. Darling, a senior vice president in the University of California president's office, apologized for the actions of top lab managers and said that university administrators are now managing the lab's business and audit functions.

Since the Los Alamos shakeup two months ago, cybersecurity experts have been probing to make sure the lab's computers are not vulnerable to attack, Darling said.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-Pa.) said that top managers from Los Alamos will be asked to appear before the panel's next hearing on the matter, slated for the week of March 10. Several administrators have been demoted but are still on the lab's payroll.

'To some extent the university is trying to be prudent and make sure they have solid cases against these people, but clearly some of them have to go,' Greenwood said after the four-hour hearing. 'My guess is we will never know the total dollar value that has been 'greening the valley' for decades.'

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