House panel grills Los Alamos managers

Three present and former Los Alamos National Laboratory officials today denied that they tried to thwart investigations into allegations of theft and mismanagement last year.

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

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 two investigators, Glenn Walp and Steven Doran (Click here for GCN story).

The House panel last month heard about the so-called TA-33 incident, in which two lab workers allegedly used a blanket purchasing agreement to buy camping gear and other personal items they stored in a classified area, and another employee's attempt to buy a Ford Mustang with a federal purchasing card. The episodes followed other reports of missing computers, hard drives and data tapes over the past several years.

Joseph F. Salgado, who resigned as the lab's principal deputy director in January, defended his decision to fire Walp and Doran for what he called 'repeated instances of inaccurate and incomplete reporting,' failure to win the trust of senior officials and 'management failure in the custody of investigative information.'

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. He said he did not accuse the two investigators of leaking a 30-pound box of Los Alamos documents to an Albuquerque Journal reporter last November, although he said he believes the papers came out of their division of the lab.

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

Under questioning by Eshoo and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Stanley L. Busboom, former director of the lab's security division, testified that he had given Walp and Doran a satisfactory review last July.

Busboom, who still works at Los Alamos, said he had not participated in or observed any attempts at a management cover-up. Laboratory counsel Frank P. Dickson Jr. testified that he never told Walp and Doran they had to protect the lab's image or its management contract with the University of California at any cost.

Salgado said he was offended to hear the phrase 'keeping the valley green' used in the Feb. 26 hearing. He said the phrase implied a link between allegations of theft from the lab and drug problems in the surrounding Espanola Valley, and was 'tantamount to racial profiling.'

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