Examining privatization impacts on national labs

-A A +A

Study Committee will be in Los Alamos Monday and Tuesday

By John Severance

Jeff Colvin, a staff physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, was in town Thursday, but he wasn’t here to talk science.
He spent a little over an hour discussing what he views as the ill-effects privatization has had on the DOE/NNSA Labs. About 40 people were in attendance to listen at the Best Western Hilltop Hotel Thursday night.
After it was over, he made a plea to those in attendance, who were mostly employees of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“The other way to support that privatization has been disastrous to the labs and move forward with de-privatization is to join the union,” Colvin said.
Local University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) (UPTE) officials were on hand including CWA Local 9119 president Richard Montoya, who said there were currently 85 members of the Los Alamos chapter.
“We are all here to represent you and we are working hard at getting the collective bargaining agreement,” Montoya said. “We need people to recruit more members but we can not represent you unless you join the fight. We have laid low for too long and in fact, we have gone to sleep. We need to wake up and realize what the issues are.”
Colvin made the same presentation to the National Research Council of the National Academies Study Committee on Jan. 24. That same study committee will be in Los Alamos Monday and Tuesday.
The study committee is holding a public comment session from 8-9:30 a.m. in conference room 203A, Los Alamos Research Park, 4200 W. Jemez Road.
 The Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration took over control of LANL in June 2006 after the University of California had run the labs for years.
Colvin said this was because of “security incidents at LANL that focused Congressional attention on UC’s mismanagement of the labs.”
Colvin said the labs run under the auspices of LANS, LLC, which he called an offshoot of the Bechtel Corp., and it took over control of LANL in June 2006. And LLNS, LLC, “basically the same corporate entity,” he said, took over management of Livermore in October 2007.
“One key promise of privatization – introducing market competition to the enterprise – was immediately dashed by selecting the same corporate entity to manage both labs,” he said.
Colvin said because of privatization, $400 million was added to the operating costs of the two labs and it was those operating costs that were the main driver for layoffs at Livermore.
In the first year after the transition at Livermore, Colvin said 2,000 employees left either voluntarily via a Voluntary Separation Program or via layoff.
The 2008 layoffs triggered the largest age discrimination lawsuit in the history of NNSA labs with more than 130 plaintiffs.
“The case is still in the discovery phase and the first hearing is scheduled for June or sometime this summer,” he said.
Other highlights of the talk:
• Overhead rates have not been reduced at either lab.
• Lab management decides its own management fees.
• Bloated executive compensation with large management bonuses, special pension deals, car allowances and other perks. There also is supplemental pay from the company to get around DOE- imposed salary caps, Colvin said.
• Not only is there more pay for managers but there are more of them.
• Colvin said it has been increasingly difficult for scientists and engineers to get research funding.
• Colvin claims the new business model puts the labs’ science mission in jeopardy and the focus has shifted to meeting performance goals, earning maximum fees and maintaining funding flow.
• Colvin said there has been a decline in science and engineering productivity since the labs have been taken over by DOE and NNSA.
• Colvin said at LLNL, employees who lose their project funding are shifted onto an overhead account for “Employees Between Assignments (EBA)” and are tasked with getting other funding.
• Colvin said there has been career damage from program misdirection. He gave an example of the deuterium equation-of-state controversy when LLNL experiment results were not capable of being replicated at other labs, the tendency was to “circle the wagons” at LLNL and discredit internal critics of the LLNL experiments.
• Colvin said there are hundreds of buildings on each lab site, many housing specialized labs containing hazardous, toxic and/or radioactive materials. He said with the transition to DOE there was a major shift from regular routine maintenance to a “run to fail” facilities management model in order to save overhead costs. He also said every single building at LLNL has beryllium contamination.
• Colvin said there also has been a setback in recruitment with the transition.  New employees at both labs do not get a pension benefit and job security is a thing of the past, he said. There is an erosion of benefits and a loss of retiree medical insurance at LLNL as well as salary erosion. In addition, Colvin claims employees no longer have access to information. Before, information on salaries, budgets, spending and hiring was previously readily available via the California Public Schools Act. Now, LANS and LLNS consider all such information “company propriety.” Colvin also said numerous Freedom of Information Act requests have been rebuffed by the DOE and NNSA.
Colvin said the study committee needs to answer the following question: “Has the added cost added value?”
“The committee can obtain the data we cannot,” he said.
Toni Chiri of the Public Affairs Office of DOE and NNSA at the Los Alamos Site Office attended the meeting Thursday. When contacted Friday by email, she did not comment on Colvin’s presentation.
In accordance with PL 111-84, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2010, the National Research Council of the National Academies is studying the relationship between the quality of the science and engineering at Los Alamos, Sandia, and Lawrence Livermore National laboratories and the management of those laboratories. Specifically, this phase of the study is charged with assessing the following two issues:
• The relationship between the quality of the science and engineering at the laboratory and the contract for managing and operating the laboratory.
• The management of work conducted by the laboratory for entities other than the Department of Energy, including academic institutions and other Federal agencies, and interactions between the laboratory and such entities.


Effects of Privatization of the National Labs

I want to thank Jeff Colvin for coming out from Livermore to share his research about the effects of privatization of the National Labs. UPTE requested the NAS study of privatization, and while we are leading them to the well, we need to show up at the public hearings to ensure they drink. One correction in the story in the Monitor is that I am the President of UPTE Local 1663 in Los Alamos. UPTE CWA, our parent organization in California has over 10,300 members covered by Collective Bargaining agreements with Univ. of Calif. and another 1000 members not in a CBA. Like our members in Los Alamos, those 1000 members are trying to organize new units for CBAs. We feel it is time we asserted our rights and responsibilities as employees to negotiate fair treatment, policies, working conditions, benefits and salaries with our new employer LANS, as we try to educate the DOE and Congress about the negative effects privatization has had on the labs and encourage them to take this critical government responsibility back from the grasp of self serving corporate hands. We believe the lab accomplished more and better science and was a better place to work before privatization. Richard Montoya Pres. UPTE 1663

Richard Montoya