Work restart at Los Alamos lab grinds along slowly

UT Watch Note:

Classified work operations have been shut down at Los Alamos since July 15th in order to search for missing computer disks containing classified information and to allegedly shore up some faulty security protocols. As this article states, work only began recommencing on July 29th.

This shutdown comes at enormous cost to taxpayers. Los Alamos' budget yearly budget total about $ 2.2 billion. A very conservative estimate would put classified work, measured as a total of all work in dollars, at about 50% or $ 1.1 billion. Therefore, for each day that Los Alamos is offline, it costs a little over $3 million per day in lost productivity. As of July 29th, Los Alamos has wasted $ 45.2 million. Each day that operations are not at 100% capacity this number grows.

Associated Press Writer
July 30, 2004

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.: Officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory are learning that bringing one the nation's top nuclear weapons installations back on line after a near total work stoppage is a complicated, detail-laden process.

The undertaking is so massive that lab officials have turned it into its own project with a project manager and staff, all assigned the daunting task of keeping track of what lab activities must be reviewed and restarted and when, lab spokesman Kevin Roark said.

Some of the lab's administrative office functions were up and running Wednesday, including the chief financial officer division.

It follows the July 15 move by the lab's manager, the University of California, to halt all classified work after the discovery of two missing computer disks containing classified information. A day later, lab Director Pete Nanos stopped nearly all work at the lab.

Calling it an opportunity for employees to reflect on their responsibilities and blasting some for not following security rules, Nanos said the lab would review every department's activities and recommend restart only when all compliance issues were addressed.

But getting a handle on the progress, both inside and outside the lab, has been difficult as lab leaders wade through the process.

Starting late last week, Roark said the lab resumed some of the lowest-risk activities - namely administrative office work.

"There are a certain number of activities that have been stood up as of today," Roark said Wednesday. "... We don't have a firm handle on the exact numbers because it's constantly changing."

On Tuesday, lab spokesman Jim Fallin had estimated that about 10 percent to 20 percent of that lab's low-risk, essential activities - such as procurement and supply - were ready for restart but said they hadn't resumed.

Roark said those statements were based on the best information available at the time, adding that lab officials are doing their best to keep the lab work force and the public well informed while mapping out the detail-laden process internally.

"We're going to be tracking some 3,000 activities," he said. "It's complicated."

The lab is monitoring its progress by tracking the restart of lab functions rather than at the group or division levels. For instance, the public affairs office has been running its media relations and employee communication functions because neither was subject to the work stand-down after being deemed essential. But the office's photography and video functions remained idled Wednesday.

No activities deemed medium- or high-risk had been restarted, including functions involving hazardous material or computer disks and other classified data storage devices, Roark said.

The lab's cafeteria, gym and museum remained closed Wednesday.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Wednesday that members of Congress are watching carefully as the lab works to shore up security measures. He was among congressional and Energy Department officials who visited the lab last week following the work stand-down.

"The Congress is not going to tolerate the lack of security of classified material at Los Alamos any longer," Barton said.

The process of restarting Los Alamos has also cost lab employees a favored benefit at the hilltop facility. In a labwide e-mail Tuesday, Director Pete Nanos said employees' option of working nine-hour days so they can take off alternate Fridays will be suspended beginning Aug. 30.

The schedule option was suspended for managers July 23.

"This is not intended to be punitive in any way," Roark said. "This is an effort to assure that we take care of safety, security and compliance by being fully staffed five days a week."