Top LANL Security Managers Demoted Following Whistleblower Firings

Two high-level security managers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) were demoted to nonmanagement positions this week following their firing of two whistleblowers. Glenn Walp and Steve Doran blew the whistle on LANL's history of fraud and theft in November. The demotion comes following the promise of LANL's newly appointed interim director Pete Nanos to improve LANL management through aggressive personnel changes.

James Holt, LANL's associate director for operations, replaced Gene Tucker, who served as deputy security leader, and Stanley Busboom, Holt's assistant in the operations directorate. Holt said, "In order to address [recent management] concerns, new leadership in the division is necessary; therefore I have reassigned [Tucker and Busboom] to nonmanagement positions."

Nanos was appointed following John Browne's resignation as LANL director on January 2nd. In his resignation letter, Browne held himself fully accountable for the recent controversy at LANL, although he denied that there were any management problems. Browne said, "In my opinion, there is neither a culture of theft in our workforce, nor a culture of cover-up in senior management."

Nevertheless, in November, allegations arose that LANL had overlooked the theft or loss of nearly $3 million in property over the course of several years. Despite a 2001 letter from an employee suggesting an internal review of employees' credit card use at LANL, senior management did not investigate claims of theft until forced by Walp and Doran's whistleblowing.

Browne also recognized the need for further improvement to the security program at LANL, but mentioned changes to the program during his tenure as director. He said, "While improvements are clearly needed in light of the recent criminal activity at [Technical Area-35], our security programs recently have been audited by [the Department of Energy (or DOE) Office on Independent Assessments] and shown to have major improvements compared to five years ago." Browne is referring to the three years of theft and fraud that were overlooked by LANL until November.

Furthermore, Browne commended LANL's "increased programmatic focus" for its preparations to produce modern plutonium pits at the interim facility scheduled to begin regular production soon. Citizen groups nationwide have voiced their disapproval of modern pit production out of concern that it will violate international treaties integral to disarmament and will create more waste within the DOE complex, which has a notoriously poor record of cleanup. Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, said, "[The University of California (or UC), LANL's managing contractor] largely squandered $700 million in ineffective cleanup."

Browne's resignation and the demotion of Tucker and Busboom come amidst already tense scrutiny of LANL's contractor management, particularly considering that the Bush administration is proposing to fill half of all civilian jobs in the U.S. government with contractors. LANL's treatment of Walp and Doran only further UC management concerns among activists. Coghlan said, "UC fosters an arrogant, largely unaccountable culture at LANL that shoots its whistleblowing messengers rather than genuinely seeking to correct its problems."

Mismanagement at LANL has gained national attention in light of the fraud. A recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times stated, "The managers of [LANL] today seem more bent on damage control than self-improvement."

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