Watchdogs Urge Reduced Contractor Fees at the Los Alamos Lab



Washington, DC and Santa Fe, NM – Today, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and Nuclear Watch New Mexico sent the Secretary of the Department of Energy a letter urging that the contractor award fee for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) be slashed. The total possible fee that can be earned for FY 2014, which ended September 30, is $17.1 million in fixed fee and up to $40 million in incentive fee. The watchdog organizations argue that the incentive fee award should be cut at least in half because of grossly substandard contractor performance.


The Los Alamos Lab is run by Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), whose two main partners are the University of California (UC) and the privately held Bechtel Corporation. UC ran the Lab as a nonprofit until June 2006, and received approximately $8 million in annual compensation. In contrast, the for-profit LANS was awarded $51.9 million in FY 2013, or more than six times the old nonprofit fee, for no apparent improvement in contract management. As recently reported by The Albuquerque Journal, LANL Director Charlie McMillan makes $1.5 million annually while also acting as president of LANS, which is a possible conflict of interest.


LANS’ contract performance in FY 2014 was demonstrably worse than other years. The best, well-publicized evidence is that the Lab used unapproved waste handling methods to prepare plutonium-contaminated radioactive wastes for disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). A waste drum subsequently ruptured, contaminating 21 workers and closing WIPP, with estimated reopening costs of a half-billion dollars (which watchdogs say will no doubt increase). Moreover, the New Mexico Environment Department now threatens to levy substantial fines against LANL because of its missed deadline to send transuranic wastes to WIPP.


Less well known, the Lab is the nation’s only so-called “Plutonium Center of Excellence,” but has been unable to conduct major operations at its plutonium facility since the end of June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues. The two watchdog organizations do not support plutonium operations at LANL, much of which is geared towards what they consider the unnecessary production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores of nuclear weapons. However, at the same time, contractors should not be paid for work they don’t do, according to the groups.


Peter Stockton, POGO’s senior investigator, commented, “It’s time for some tough love! LANS screws up the WIPP facility, costing the government at least $500 million, and had to stop operations at its plutonium facility for over a year because of nuclear safety concerns. In the face of these debacles, DOE should be seeking restitution, not providing a performance bonus.”


Bechtel has had a particularly troubling contracting history with DOE. Under its management estimated costs for the Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation soared from $3.5 billion to $13 billion, with numerous whistleblower complaints. Similarly, under LANS’ management of the Los Alamos Lab, estimated costs for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project mushroomed from around $600 million to $6.5 billion, leading to cancellation of the proposed “Nuclear Facility.” Now, in effect, Bechtel has awarded itself the construction contract to build the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 production plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Under a previous contractor estimated costs for the UPF exploded from around $600 million to as high as $19 billion. To help fix that, the UPF’s mission has been recently narrowed to nuclear weapons components production only (eliminating dismantlements) in order to hold to a budget cap of $6.5 billion. That means the American taxpayer is paying more for less, and arguably for the wrong priorities. Lockheed Martin and Bechtel run the new Y-12 management contract.


Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch director, commented, “The Department of Energy’s cozy relationships with its contractors must end, given their repeated failures and massive cost overruns. Substandard performance by the Los Alamos Lab contractor is costing the taxpayer dearly, and therefore DOE should slash its incentive performance fee award at least in half. From there, DOE should consider booting Los Alamos National Security, LLC for another contractor entirely.”


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The POGO/Nuclear Watch NM letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz urging reduced award fees for the Los Alamos Lab contractor is available at



The “Os”…


Emanuele Corso


It has been a good long time—70-plus years—since my last encounter with the NYPD. My namesake grandfather had his grocery store on West 46th between 9th and 10th. I spent my summers and school vacations with him opening the store at 6 am after stopping first at the Fulton Street markets. Home was in Brooklyn, and the daily drive over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan remains a vivid memory. At the market we’d load up with fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese. Each vendor would offer a slice or a piece of whatever they were selling—it was the original walking breakfast. We’d next drive through the streets, just awakening with activity, to the store. My first job was to sweep the sawdust from the floor and replace it with fresh. Then into the front window to sweep up bread crumbs and put down fresh white butcher paper before the bread man arrived. Next began the parade of eponymous truck drivers whose names were Mr. Ballantine, Mr. Borden, Mr. Schlitz, and so on.


One of the morning tasks was to create the display of fruits and vegetables in front of the store’s window. Grandpa did this with care and a bit of artistic flair—it was my grandfather’s art actually—and he was quite proud of it.  I remember people stopping by to chat, especially the old Sicilian ladies in black, of course, squeezing everything for freshness, including me. West 46th was a neighborhood teeming with interesting characters, most of whom stopped to exchange greetings and a few words. At noon the store would fill with dock-workers in for their hero “sangwitches,” to be washed down with a quart of beer. It was a wonderful world of characters and personalities for me to have grown up in; these are all my fondest memories, which I treasure to this day.


Sadly, it wasn’t all thus. Every day, into our world would swagger the beat cop, twirling his night-stick, walking usually from east to west on our side of the street. Invariably the cop would stop in front of the fruit display, select a gem of an apple, peach, or pear, toss it up, catch it, and walk off without a word. Notice I didn’t include pay for it. In those days most cops’ names began with an “O” as in O’Toole, O’Reilly, O’Neil and so on. I was puzzled, why doesn’t this guy have to pay like everyone else? Grandpa wouldn’t say a word but would make a silent gesture drawing his fingers under his chin. You get the picture. We were the “other” then and silence was the safest response.


There have always been “others” in every era, and every culture treated dismissively and with scarce if any respect. In the U.S., blacks have been treated as others since long before the so-called “Revolution” of white landowners and businessmen against their king. The Civil War “revolution” of Southern whites to preserve slavery didn’t resolve the matter either, nor did two world wars in which black Americans served equally and with valor but came home to the same racism they had left. Yes, the overt legal issues have mostly been resolved, but not the essential and foundational social, emotional or moral ones. Racism was and continues to be deeply embedded in the society, as are prejudices against Jews, Catholics, Blacks, Hispanics, foreigners of any kind—in short “others”. And, one has to ask, why does it have to be this way?


So now I’m in New Mexico reading the news on the Internet when I see the cop who choked Eric Garner was named Pantaleo, and what struck me immediately was that his name ends in “O.” Back in the day the racist names began with “O.” Is this progress? Does Pantaleo know how Italians were treated 70 years ago? Have we not progressed as a society since the 1940s, or are we just better at pretending we have? The 1948 Kerner Commission report unequivocally stated that racism was then pervasive and as American as apple pie, and now, 66 years later, it’s clear not much has changed, except a few more minorities have been added to the “other” list.  The newly elected Republican majority in Congress seems full bent on harassing and embarrassing our black president to the extent of openly discussing denying him a Congressional venue for his State of the Union address. Armed militias are stationing themselves along the U.S.- Mexican border, posing for group photos holding all manner of firearms; they are there to prevent children from entering the country. Isn’t this depravity?


Inequality and racism have been the evil twins hovering above every civilization seeking its humanity. Time and again people have struggled to address this reality—“Liberté, egalité, fraternité”—people seeking truth, justice, equality, freedom and dignity. These are the qualities of life that define what we wish humanity and thus our societies to consist of. Racism is simply another face of inequality, another facet of injustice, a denial of liberty that chains both racists and their victims to incivility, hatred and dysfunctional society. In the absence of truth, none of the problems of inequality, injustice or racism can ever be resolved. So it is that the truth must be told, inequality exposed and racism condemned.


We must not accept that racism and inequality are facts of existence with no resolution. Nothing is gained by pretending to have a race-neutral or egalitarian society; regardless of John Boehner’s claims otherwise, we are not having truthful discourse about the matter. Truth number one: racial problems are not legal, they are moral. We have applied legalistic solutions for years and haven’t come close to approaching the underlying moral issues. I’ll submit that casting and discussing inequality and racism or even better “other-ism” as a moral question will take us further toward the truth. We need to begin now while there is still time. Racism and inequality are by far the most deadly enemies of American society. We cannot continue to impoverish entire classes of citizens while cutting taxes for the most wealthy. We cannot continue to criminalize feeding the poor and homelessness; these are truths—moral truths. Adam Smith long ago clearly spelled it out: “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” Not even the fantasy of “American Exceptionalism” will save us from the inevitable—it didn’t save Ozymandias and it won’t save us.


Emanuele Corso’s essays on politics, education, and the social contract have been published at NMPolitics, Light of New Mexico, Grassroots Press, World News Trust, Nation of Change, and his own —siteseven.net. He taught Schools and Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he took his Ph.D. His B.S. was in Mathematics. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command, where he served as a combat crew officer. He has been a member of both the Carpenters and Joiners and IATSE (theatrical) labor unions and is retired from IATSE. He is presently working on a book: Belief Systems and the Social Contract. He can be reached at ecorso@earthlink.net


Department of Health Relocates Las Cruces Immunization Services

Services previously provided in west Las Cruces move to city’s east mesa

(Las Cruces) –  The New Mexico Department of Health announced today it is closing its West Las Cruces Immunization Center, 1850 Cooper Loop, Building A, and relocating its immunization services to the East Mesa Public Health Office at 5220 Holman Road.

“We made the decision to move immunization services to the east side of the city to better serve our local residents,” said New Mexico Department of Health Southwest Region Director Ray Stewart. “Our west Las Cruces office was located in a primarily industrial part of town. Moving our immunization center to the East Mesa will provide additional services to one of the most rapidly growing residential areas in Las Cruces.”

Tuesday, December 16th will be the last day for services at the west Las Cruces location.

Immunization services will be provided on a full time basis at the East Mesa Public Health Office beginning on Monday, January 5th. Part time services will be provided at the Las Cruces Central location during the interim at 1170 N. Solano Drive in the Preventive Medicine Clinic, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.  You may call (575) 528-5001 for more information or to make an appointment.

In addition, immunizations for persons through age 18 are available with no charge/fee under the federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program at Ben Archer Health Centers (BAHCs) in Las Cruces at the following locations:

1998 Motel Blvd.                                                           1600 Thorpe Road
Las Cruces, NM 88007                                                   Las Cruces, NM  88012
Phone: (575) 541-5941                                                   Phone: (575) 382-9292
Hours: Mon, Wed, Fri 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.                             Hours: Monday-Thursday 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
Tues. Thur. 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.                                             Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Please call the Ben Archer Health Centers for details on their services.

For more information on the Department of Health’s Southwest Region visit http://nmhealth.org/about/phd/region/sw/



SWEC: The time is now for the future of the Gila River

The time is now for the future of the Gila River

December 31st. That’s do or die time for the Gila River.

At the end of 2014, the state of New Mexico must notify the Secretary of the Interior if it will move forward with a diversion project under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA).  Although the Interstate Stream Commission has decided to say “yes” to diversion, NM Governor Susana Martinez still has the opportunity to intervene and show that she won’t put New Mexico taxpayers and water users on the hook for a billion dollar boondoggle. Read more.

Please take a minute from your busy day and call the Governor’s office at (505) 476-2200, or click here to send her an email. Tell her you do not support building a diversion project on the last major undammed river in New Mexico.

SWEC Contributes to Report on Ecological Restoration in the U.S. – Mexico Border Region

The Good Neighbor Environmental Board last week issued its 16th annual report to the president, which examines environmental degradation in the border region and recommends actions the U.S. federal government can take to protect and restore the border environment. SWEC’s Executive Director Kevin Bixby is a member of the board and helped write the report, which contains a number of recommendations related to one of the greatest restoration needs along the border—the poor ecological condition of the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico and west Texas. Read more.

New Report Shows Loss of Species Getting Worse

A new snapshot of the status of biodiversity shows that—surprise!–things are getting worse. The science journal Nature reviewed the most reliable available data to provide a graphic status report of life on earth. The findings are sobering. More than 40% of amphibian species worldwide—the most threatened group of animals—are in danger of extinction, mostly because of devastating outbreaks of chytrid fungi. More than one-quarter of known mammal species are also threatened. As many as 690 species of plants and animals may be going extinct each week, due almost entirely to human activities. You can view the report here.

Don’t Forget Your Albertsons’ Card

Shopping at Albertsons this holiday season? Don’t forget your SWEC Community Partners card. Every time you shop at Albertsons (any location) and show your card a portion of the sales is donated to SWEC to help wildlife conservation programs. Can’t find your card? Stop by the center and get a new one, or call us at (575) 522-5552 and we’ll send one, or print a temporary card here.



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    The “Os”…

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