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Project on Government Oversight

Livermore Lab Has to Pay for Safety and Security Problems: Is that Enough?

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December 19, 2008

Today, Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor's Todd Jacobson reported that that National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reduced by 30 percent Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC's award for the FY 2008 management of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) from a possible $53.7 million to $37.7 million.

Part of the reason NNSA cut $16 million was LLNL's disastrous performance in an April security test by the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security (HSS). In a fee recommendation memo, NNSA's Principal Deputy Administrator for Military Application Brig. Gen. Jonathan George found "the Contractor's performance in the area of protective force operations and information security to be 'unsatisfactory' based in large part on the Contractor’s security failures surrounding the HSS audit."

"Unsatisfactory" is not the word POGO would use to describe LLNL's performance when mock-terrorists successfully broke into the nuclear weapons lab, created an improvised nuclear device, and stole plutonium and highly enriched uranium. As you may recall, in March POGO had predicted that LLNL would fare poorly in a security assessment because the Lab's location inside a residential community (with 7 million people living within a 50-mile radius) makes the site impossible to secure.

"While the penalty is significantly larger than the $3 million that Los Alamos got whacked with for its CREM de meth debacle, I still don’t think a 70 percent approval rating reflects the seriousness of what happened at Livermore," says POGO Senior Investigator Peter Stockton. "How could LLNL have gotten the full amount of its fixed fee for managing the Lab, when there’s proof that intruders can steal plutonium and detonate an IND, a clear failure in management?"

NNSA stated that LLNL's contractor was also penalized for issues "concerning the adequacy of the Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention Program." These inadequacies resulted in five beryllium related events over the last 18 months, including a case where both lab and subcontracted workers may have been exposed to beryllium for years without their knowledge and without precautionary measures in place. However, it's not clear how much of the at-risk fee was subtracted for LLNL's dangerous and shoddy management of that Program.

"There needs to be a clear message to the contractors at other NNSA and DOE sites how seriously this program should be taken," explains POGO Investigator Ingrid Drake. "If the contractors do not comply with the Program, Lab workers’ can be exposed to beryllium, which can lead to the development of the incurable and potentially fatal lung disease, chronic beryllium disease."

POGO recently asked HSS to take a look at how well Oak Ridge National Laboratory has done resolving serious problems in beryllium controls raised by the DOE Inspector General in 2006

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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