Bodman Blames Scientists For Problems at Los Alamos

WASHINGTON –-- U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman yesterday told Congress that endemic security problems at one of the nation's nuclear laboratories are caused by the "arrogance" of the scientists who work there (see GSN, Jan. 31). Waving off the suggestion that an unwieldy Energy Department bureaucracy has caused continuing security problems, Bodman called for a change in attitude among Los Alamos National Laboratory workers.

Bureaucratic issues are not "at the heart of the problem," he told the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.  "The heart of the problem is a cultural issue at Los Alamos."

"Many" of the problems have been addressed, but issues remain, he conceded.  Changing a culture takes time, Bodman told the committee, although he did not elaborate on the steps that have been taken.

Asked by Representative David Loebsack (D-Iowa) to sum up the cultural impediment to security at the nuclear weapons facility, Bodman responded bluntly.

"Arrogance," he said.  "Arrogance of the chemists and physicists and engineers who work at Los Alamos and think they're above it all."

Los Alamos has been the focus of intense scrutiny after a number of security problems in recent years.  Most recently, local police raiding a mobile home found hundreds of classified, weapon-related documents that a 22-year-old contract archivist had taken from the laboratory (see GSN, Nov. 6, 2006).

In other instances, two computer hard drives containing sensitive information were found behind a copying machine at the facility, and the laboratory was temporarily shut down while workers searched for two missing disks that ultimately were found never to have existed (see GSN, Mar. 4, 2005).

Lawmakers at a hearing Tuesday lambasted Los Alamos management and suggested removing security oversight from the National Nuclear Security Administration as well as simply closing the laboratory.  NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks lost his job last month over the persistent security problems (see GSN, Jan. 5).

Scientists at the New Mexico facility, which conducts weapons research and produces plutonium cores of nuclear bombs, do not see security as a central part of their work or as a serious concern, Bodman said.

"It has been that way for a long time, and that in my judgment is the issue," he said.  While avoiding specifics, the secretary said laboratory management would become stricter to address the problem.  The laboratory has also instituted mandatory drugs testing, a requirement that could be instituted across the U.S. nuclear complex, he said.

A report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office stated that security lapses at Los Alamos, the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee were in part a result of administrative problems.

Pointing to the GAO report released yesterday, lawmakers questioned the effectiveness of the relationship between the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Since it was created in 2000, the nuclear agency has failed to develop the degree of autonomy needed to improve security at nuclear sites and improve management, said Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.). The idea was that  creating a semiautonomous agency to lead nuclear security management agency would streamline bureaucracy and simplify lines of authority and accountability.

"I needed confidence that DOE is enabling NNSA to achieve top-notch science and security rather than serving as one big, bureaucratic roadblock," she said.  "Frankly, Mr. Secretary, after reading your submitted testimony, I am losing that confidence."

Government auditors found that until recently the National Nuclear Security Administration had no consistent leadership for its security program, and since its inception, five of its six site offices have not been staffed at needed levels.

Also, the Energy Department's database for tracking security issues identified in assessments is incomplete.  Not all security deficiencies have been entered into the database because it is "very difficult to use," connections are slow due to the lack of high-speed encrypted modems and it often crashes.

As a result, the security administration fails to have a full understanding of problems, according to the GAO report.

"Management problems continue, in part, because NNSA and DOE have not fully agreed on how NNSA should function within the department as a separately organized agency," auditors wrote.  "This lack of agreement has resulted in organizational conflicts that have inhibited effective operations."

Bodman agreed that the National Nuclear Security Administration has not had the effect intended by lawmakers.  "It remains my belief that the creation of NNSA as a separately organized entity within the department has not yielded all the beneficial results that the legislation's authors intended," he said in his testimony.

Bodman criticized the redundancies created by the two linked agencies and said the structure "imposes severe limitations" on his management authority.  The secretary is unable to directly control subordinate NNSA personnel, he said.  The structure also prohibits DOE officials from addressing problems arising from NNSA activities, he argued.

Despite his reservations, the secretary said he was committed to the relationship between the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Energy Department.  "We've made it work," he said.  "It's not a big deal."

February 1, 2007
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WASHINGTON –-- U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman yesterday told Congress that endemic security problems at one of the nation's nuclear laboratories are caused by the "arrogance" of the scientists who work there (see GSN, Jan. 31). Waving off the suggestion that an unwieldy Energy Department bureaucracy has caused continuing security problems, Bodman called for a change in attitude among Los Alamos National Laboratory workers.