Los Alamos Lab Puts 4 More Scientists on Leave

The New York Times
August 5, 2004 Thursday
Late Edition - Final

LOS ALAMOS:Los Alamos National Laboratory announced Wednesday that four more scientists had been put on leave as an investigation into two missing classified computer disks continued.

The four are implicated in the loss of the disks, which no one has been able to find since July 7. Nineteen other scientists are on disciplinary leave until security and safety violations have been addressed.

The laboratory has been shut down since July 16 as it undergoes a reassessment of all operations.

With their lucrative contract to operate the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory up for grabs, top officials at the University of California went to the laboratory on Wednesday to speak ''eyeball to eyeball'' with its 12,000 employees and contractors.

''I need you to help me help you,'' said the university's president, Robert C. Dynes. ''Get it?''

The university has not yet decided whether to bid to renew its management contract, said Gerald Parsky, the chairman of university's board. ''We cannot tolerate the recent security and safety violations,'' he said.

Although the University of California has operated Los Alamos for 61 years, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced in April 2003 that others would be allowed to bid on the contract after a scandal involving misuse of laboratory money by employees. The contract expires in September 2005.

The lab, with a $2 billion annual budget and entry into the federal research laboratory system, is considered a plum. The Universities of Texas and Colorado are interested.

The California officials said Los Alamos employees would have to demonstrate that they had changed their ''cowboy culture.'' ''There is a lot of blame to go around,'' said S. Robert Foley, the university's vice president for Los Alamos laboratory management.

George P. Nanos, director of the laboratory, said two-thirds of the lowest-risk activities, like office work, had resumed, but not medium- or high-risk activities.