Defense Dept. Memo Criticizes Cost of Nuclear Weapons Labs While Los Alamos Director’s Salary Nearly Triples

Our colleagues and friends at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) have released an explosive report based on a leaked Department of Defense memo concluding that “The Department of Energy’s network of privately-operated nuclear weapons laboratories are riddled with waste, redundancies and lackluster scientific standards.” POGO also found that “that seven of the top 15 officials at the three DOE nuclear labs make more than $700,000 per year, with one earning $1.7 million—more than the president of the United States and many government executives.”

Coincidentally, Nuclear Watch New Mexico had been independently compiling data on the salaries of the three laboratory directors, as presented in the table below. It shows that the salary of the Los Alamos Director has nearly tripled since for-profit management began in June 2006, even as the Lab is cutting some 600 jobs. As seen below, privatization of the nuclear weapons labs’ management contracts has resulted in directors’ salaries far above average in both the federal government and the private sector.

 

 

The DoD memo leaked by POGO contains the following admirable passage on good governance:
Diminishing Public Accountability. Without a strong yardstick, our government cannot govern well — not even if it retains the best and brightest on contract. The government’s own assets must capably bear the responsibility for decisions that affect national interests, and they must maintain public confidence by the manner in which those decisions are made.

In contrast, the directors of the three nuclear weapons labs (the Los Alamos, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories) wear two hats, first as lab directors, but secondly as the presidents of the board of directors of the for-profit limited liability corporations (LLCs) that run the labs. That may be a questionable conflict of interests, in which the LLCs are enjoying record profits from issues that deeply “affect national interests” (i.e., nuclear weapons) while the salaries of their “CEOs” (the lab directors) are exploding.

Arguably the lab directors have not maintained public confidence in the decisions they make because of the general trend of increasingly withholding crucial public information. One example is the Performance Evaluation Reports that rate contractors’ performance and determines the amount of taxpayers’ money awarded to them. Those reports were publicly available until 2009 when the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) began to withhold them, and became recently available again only after NukeWatch NM sued for them under the Freedom of Information Act.

NNSA awarded the limited liability corporation that runs Los Alamos Lab $74.2 million for FY 2010, followed by $83.7 million in profit for FY 2011, a 13% increase in one year, and 10 times more than what the University of California (UC) use to be awarded when it was LANL’s sole nonprofit manager. Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Director, commented, “In today’s political and economic climate citizens need to remain vigilant that for-profit corporate interests don’t corrupt serious national issues. This very much applies to how our nuclear weapons labs are run as well. We specifically call upon Los Alamos Lab to fully explain to northern New Mexicans why it needs to cut some 600 jobs while at the same time the for-profit management corporation is enjoying record profits and the Director’s salary has nearly tripled in six years.”

# # #

All data on nuclear weapons labs directors’ salaries are from:
http://www.recovery.gov/Transparency/RecipientReportedData/pages/RecipientProjectSummary508.aspx?AwardIdSur=74953
http://www.recovery.gov/Transparency/RecipientReportedData/pages/RecipientProjectSummary508.aspx?AwardIDSUR=115066&qtr=2011Q1
http://www.upte.org/LosAlamos/salaries/salaries.html

POGO’s press release “Leaked Defense Memo Criticizes the Department of Energy’s Push to Expand Nuclear Weapons Laboratories” is at http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/alerts/nuclear-security-safety/nss-nwc-20110418-nuclear-waste-dept-of-energy.html

POGO’s detailed letter to congressional committees on these issues is at http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/letters/nuclear-security-safety/nss-nwc-20120418-nuclear-weapons-labs.html

To read the leaked DoD memo, click here http://pogoarchives.org/m/nss/new-missions-for-the-nuclear-weapons-labs-11-16-2011.pdf

551 W. Cordova Rd., #808, Santa Fe, NM 87505-4100 • Voice and fax: 505.989.7342
info@nukewatch.org • www.nukewatch.org • http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/
http://www.facebook.com/NukeWatch.NM

Obama Bails Out Arms Reduction Treaty by Dramatically Increasing Nuclear Weapons Budgets

Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday President Obama submitted the new bilateral Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia to the Senate for ratification. At the same time he submitted a modernization plan required by Congress that “includes investments of $80 billion to sustain and modernize the [U.S.] nuclear weapons complex over the next decade.” Given that two-thirds of the Senate is required for treaty ratifications a large political fight was always expected over a second attempt at ratifying the previously rejected Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, last December all 40 Republican senators plus one independent wrote to President Obama demanding modernization of both the stockpile and complex as a condition for New START ratification. Meanwhile, the prospects for ratification of the CTBT (first proposed by Prime Minister Nehru of India in 1954) look increasingly dim.

In response to Republican demands, the Obama Administration plans to increase funding for the nuclear weapons research and production programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) by more than 40% from $6.4 billion in FY 2010 to $9 billion by 2018. In turn, $9 billion is 43% above the average annual cost of $5.1 billion during the Cold War for analogous Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs.

The one-page unclassified summary of the modernization plan declares

U.S. nuclear weapons will undergo extensive life extension programs in the coming years to ensure their safety, security and effectiveness. Maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent requires that the United States operates a modern physical infrastructure and sustain a highly capable workforce.

That may seem intuitively logical on the face of it, but NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs are subtly changing the frame of debate to favor their own interests. Independent scientists have repeatedly found that the nuclear weapons stockpile is safe and reliable and can be so maintained by existing life extension programs. Past NNSA budget requests repeatedly invoke a “reliable” stockpile, but its FY 2011 request is full of references to an “effective” stockpile.

NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino claimed at a recent presentation to international delegations at the United Nations for the NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference that the U.S. is meeting its disarmament obligations in good faith. At the same time, he repeatedly stated the U.S.’s need to maintain an “effective” stockpile. When asked what effective meant he replied it meant having confidence in the nuclear weapons stockpile underpinned by the right mix of infrastructure and people.

In order to extract increased funding, NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs are trying to shift the debate over maintaining the stockpile from technical arguments over warhead safety and reliability to subjective arguments over maintaining an exorbitant research and production complex and workforce. This will not only cost enormous sums of money, which is what the labs seek, but will also perversely undermine confidence in the stockpile because of planned changes, including new military capabilities, that will be made to existing, previously tested weapons. Giving the nuclear weapons labs a blank check contradicts Obama’s declared national security goal of a future nuclear weapons-free world. Instead, he should be redirecting the labs into dramatically increased nonproliferation programs, cleanup, and meeting today’s national security threats of nuclear terrorism, energy dependence and climate change.

The one-page unclassified summary of the Obama modernization plan for the stockpile and nuclear weapons complex.

The average annual cost of $5.1 billion during the Cold War for DOE defense programs is derived from Atomic Audit, The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, Steven Schwartz, et.al., Brooking Institution Press, DC, 1998, Table A-2, p. 561 (adjusted for inflation).

NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino’s presentation to the NPT Review Conference

For more background, please see “Labs Seek “Stockpile Modernization” Through Test Ban Ratification – Updating” of Treaty “Safeguards” to Protect Nuclear Weapons Budgets

Of particular interest are cited Los Alamos Lab viewgraphs that state “Technically: there is little difference between a ratified CTBT, and the current testing moratorium” and “There are several ways to sustain capabilities… Get more money.” The point is that the nuclear weapons labs are fully aware that treaty ratifications are an opportunity for them to secure more funding, as they did in the build up to the 1999 ratification process that rejected the CTBT.

A Tale of Two Cross-Sections

At the recent LANL Hazardous Waste Permit Hearings, the public was presented with two cross-sections of the current understanding of the geology under the Lab’s largest nuclear waste disposal area, Tech Area 54. These cross sections are important because the NM Environment Department, with public input, will soon have to decide the final disposition of the over 800,000 cubic yards of radioactive and hazardous waste buried there. The options range from leaving the waste in place with some sort of cover to exhuming the waste.

The geology under the site is very complicated and includes layers of lava flows, ash falls, and old stream beds. The waste is buried in unlined pits, shafts and trenches and is perched 800 – 1000 feet above our sole-source aquifer. Some of the more soluble contaminants, such as tritium, perchlorate, explosives, and chromium have already made their way to the aquifer from other parts of the Lab. The cross-sections are needed to understand the contaminant pathways from the dumps to the aquifer.

First, the Lab’s version – (click on image for larger picture)

The Lab's TA-54 Cross-Section Version

The MDAs, or Material Disposal Areas or dumps, are across the top. MDA G is the largest by far. The PM-#s are wells where drinking water is drawn. The R-#s are characterization and contaminant sampling wells. The elevation is on each side. The top of the regional aquifer is the horizontal blue line near 5800′. There are some perched aquifers shown, too.  The one question is a new structure that the Lab is calling a “dike” discovered by well R-22.

The NM Environment Department’s Version – (click on image for larger picture)

NMED's TA-54 Cross-Section

The Environment Department’s version gives a different interpretation of the fractures that could be pathways to the aquifer. It has many question marks, including the “vent” and the perched aquifers.

We appreciate the two versions. With so many unknowns, with so much waste, and with such a potential negative impact to our aquifer, the most protective course would be to remove the waste.

New Nuclear Facility – An Attempt to Divide and Conquer

During our March 3, 2010 CMRR public meeting in Los Alamos, the CMRR DOE Project Manager told us the the final estimate for the CMRR Nuclear Facility was scheduled for 2014. Additionally we learned that the CMRR Project as a whole is planning to segment some of the work into smaller projects with their own separate schedules for estimates and construction.
This project and cost segmentation concerns us in that much of the preliminary (but huge) infrastructure construction will be completed before the final cost estimates of the CMRR-NF are available.
The Infrastructure Package Construction, including the concrete batch plant, utilities, excavation, etc., will be completed in 2013. The road relocation and the basemat, which includes 225,000 cubic yards of concrete, are also scheduled to be completed in 2013. Even the structural concrete for the building itself, another 130,000 yds3 of concrete, is due to start before estimated final project costs are available.
The current cost estimates for the entire CMRR Project are now pegged at $4.5 billion (from an original $660 million in 2004), but are also listed as “TBD” in the NNSA FY11 budget request, in other words still not known. To allow the infrastructure to be completed, or even started, before final cost estimates for the Nuclear Facility are complete would condone the NF being built at any price.
We request that Congress strongly pressure NNSA in the authorization and appropriations processes for final CMRR Project cost estimates, and bar NNSA from proceeding with major infrastructure investments for the Nuclear Facility until those final Project cost estimates are provided.

New Plutonium Facility Estimate Embraces $4.5 Billion

Buried in Volume 1 of the Department of Energy’s FY 2011 Congressional Budget Request are the Details of Project Cost Estimate for LANL’s proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement (CMRR) Project. (Pg.226 & 227)

The Details –

$164 million –       The cost of the Radiological Laboratory/Utility/Office Building (RLUOB) recently finished with construction

$199 million –       The estimated cost of equipment for the RLUOB scheduled to be installed by 2013.

$3.4 billion –          The current estimate of the Proposed Nuclear Facility due to be completed in 2018.

$782 million –       “Contingency”

$4.5 Billion –         Total

This does not D&D of the existing CMR (estimated at $500 million).

Update – Lab Shipment Scare at Sunport

Phil Parker at the Journal gives an update.

The package was labeled “explosives” on the inside, so the cargo handlers were rightfully concerned when their alarms went off. The cargo facility was closed for about four hours during the incident.

It was reported  that , “The containers are usually shipped via ground transportation but sometimes, he [LANL spokesperson] said, they’re sent by air.” I’m guessing that it costs more to send it by air, not to mention the extra cost of wasting time of the Albuquerque Police Department bomb squad, the cargo handlers, and Lab personnel.

The Journal reported, “Security at the airport didn’t know about the arrangement. “Apparently it was just a misunderstanding,” said airport spokesperson Daniel Jiron.” Once again, the Lab deflects any responsibility.

Lab Tries To Ship Explosives on Commercial Airline

KOB TV 4 broke the story and is still has the only account as best as I can tell. Read report and see video here.

Los Alamos National Laboratory sent an 8’ package labeled “explosives” to the Sunport to be flown to California on Southwest Airlines (where bags fly free). A sensor alarm alerted the cargo handlers to “a small amount of trace explosives” and the package never made it to the plane. It was reported that no flights were delayed and there was no danger. It was also reported that the Lab meant to ship the package by ground.

The danger here is that the Lab which is entrusted with the nation’s nuclear secrets cannot ship a package correctly. It was an 8’ package labeled “explosives.” It’s not like it got accidently mixed in with other packages and put on the wrong truck.

The public deserves all the facts. How did the “mix-up” occur? Has the Lab shipped similar packages before? What type of “explosive” label did the package have on it? Did it meet all shipping standards for explosives? Did the explosives pose a detonation hazard? Could the package really have been shipped by ground? How does an 8’ package labeled “explosives” even get unloaded into the air cargo building?

Lab’s Cyber Security Still Not Trustworthy

A GAO Report released Friday the 13th found that “significant information security control weaknesses remain on LANL’s classified computer network. LANL had vulnerabilities in several critical areas, including (1) identifying and authenticating the identity of users, (2) authorizing user access, (3) encrypting classified information, (4) monitoring and auditing compliance with security policies, and (5) maintaining software configuration assurance.”

The report explains that LANL spent approximately $433 million from fiscal years 2001 through 2008 to operate, maintain, protect, and procure equipment for its classified computer network. The largest expenditure for the classified computer network was for high-performance computing, which accounted for $322 million (or 74 percent) of total expenditures. LANL began to expand the classified computer network in 2005, accounting for $48 million (or 11 percent) of total expenditures during the fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2008 period. Expenditures for special initiatives, such as the Integrated Cyber Security Initiative and Multi-Platform Trusted Copy program, accounted for $19 million (or 4 percent) of total expenditures. The core classified cyber security program, which serves as the foundation of LANL’s protection strategy for the classified cyber security program, accounted for $45 million (or 10 percent) of total expenditures over the period.

Clearly, the Lab was more focused on high-performance computing rather than focusing on protecting the nation’s nuclear secrets, or maybe the Lab thought everything was OK.

This GAO report comes after the DOE Office of Enforcement devoted significant attention to monitoring compliance with a Secretarial Compliance Order that was issued in July 2007. Specifically, the DOE Secretary directed the contractor for the Los Alamos National Laboratory – Los Alamos National Security, LLC – to remediate deficiencies that contributed to a breach of classified information security controls and to correct longstanding deficiencies associated with classified information security, and classified and unclassified cyber security programs. Los Alamos National Laboratory reported that the actions were completed by December 2008, and the DOE Los Alamos Site Office formally validated completion of the required actions.

But problems were still not corrected. To satisfy the above July 2007 DOE Compliance Order, the laboratory reaccredited all classified computer systems. During 2008, as part of its reaccredidation process, LANL revised risk assessments for classified computer systems and included the results in the system security plans. However, of the five system security plans the GAO reviewed, one plan’s risk assessment did not adhere to the latest methodology and did not include evidence of a comprehensive threat analysis, as required by DOE. Furthermore, the remaining four plans noted that all known threats and vulnerabilities were not evaluated to determine risks. Without comprehensive risk assessments, risks to certain systems may be unknown and appropriate controls may not be in place to protect against unauthorized access to or disclosure of sensitive information, or disruption of critical systems and operations.

What’s the problem? A Special Report from the Government Computer News tells us –

According to data reported by the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), reported attacks on U.S. government computer networks climbed 40% last year, and more infiltrators are trying to plant malicious software they could use to control or steal sensitive data. Accounts of unauthorized access to government computers and installations of hostile programs rose from a combined 3,928 incidents in 2007 to 5,488 in 2008, The latest report, issued in February 2009, represented a small sampling – just 1% of federal agencies have fully developed tracking systems – and some of the uptick in reported attacks may be due to better reporting in the last year.

Government networks are targeted by foreign nations seeking intelligence, such as China and Russia, as well as criminal groups and individuals who may want to disrupt power, communication or financial systems. Some attackers are less interested in stealing data than in undermining a system’s ability to operate by planting software that could slow critical networks in emergencies. Security industry observers expressed alarm about phishing, in which seemingly legitimate e-mails solicit sensitive information, and ‘web redirects,’ which shunt a computer to a website where it downloads malicious software. According to reports, fewer attacks are being used to take down an organization’s entire IT system. Instead, attacks now penetrate IT systems without impairing them, primarily to siphon out sensitive information without detection.

Scroll to top