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Editorial: Bureaucratic ineptitude entrenched at LANL

| Sun, Oct 6, 2013

Unlike thousands of federal employees, the top brass at Los Alamos National Laboratory are still going to work – and getting paid.

What they are not doing – and have not been doing for years – is making any measurable progress on the efficiency front. In fact, runaway regulation, excessive bureaucratic red tape and incompetence are so clogging the work pipeline that the lab and the National Nuclear Security Administration that oversees it are virtually ineffective when it comes to getting some very large and very expensive projects off the dime.

Newest example is the lack of progress on a new nuclear waste treatment plant. An analysis by the U.S. Inspector General’s office says the lab is a decade behind schedule and $129 million over budget in replacing the aging plant where radioactive liquid waste is treated – after spending $56 million on just design work.

The report says breakdowns at the 50-year-old plant put the lab’s mission – protecting and maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile – at risk. It lays the blame clearly at the feet of the lab managers and the NNSA.

A key problem claimed by the inspector general was the lab’s failure to develop a formal risk management plan when planning began in 2004. The risk plan would have identified ways the project could go over budget and get behind schedule. However, such an analysis was not done until 2009, long after problems emerged.

If this was an isolated problem, it might be excused away, but it’s just the latest in a long list of behind-schedule, over-budget projects.

Last year, the NNSA indefinitely delayed construction of a new Los Alamos plutonium laboratory after estimated costs soared from $600 million to more than $4 billion. About a year ago, a new $213 million security system at the lab’s most sensitive nuclear weapons work site was found not to work and that it would require tens of millions of dollars to fix.

Such a pathetic history would be enough to send most American workers to the unemployment line. But the NNSA has continuously turned a deaf ear to Congress’s calls for tightening up its game.

Maybe it’s time to permanently furlough top NNSA officials if they can’t get the job – virtually any job it seems – done on time and under budget.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.


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