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Project on Government Oversight




Los Alamos Myths and Facts

September 12, 2003 


MYTH: Independent reviews have found Los Alamos security adequate.

FACT: Physical security - Los Alamos has failed to protect locations where tons of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium are stored against every independent mock terrorist test, most recently in August 2002.

Cybersecurity - Regarding the hundreds of missing or stolen computers at Los Alamos, the Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General, Gregory H. Friedman testified, '' . . we concluded that the Laboratory could not provide adequate assurance that classified, sensitive, or proprietary information was appropriately protected.' (May, 1, 2003)

MYTH: The Department of Energy believes security is adequate at Los Alamos.

FACT: Secretary Abraham has ordered an overhaul of security in response to the many recent security failures at Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia Labs. The DOE's Independent Oversight and Evaluation Office has recently charged that there are systemic security weaknesses at all three labs. Furthermore, on the same day that NNSA Director Linton Brooks told the media he was satisfied with security at Los Alamos, he created two independent review groups to immediately evaluate possible security improvements at the labs.

MYTH: A review of Los Alamos' books revealed only a few thousand dollars misspent by the Lab's employees.

FACT: This 'review' was paid for by the University of California, and was not an audit of Los Alamos' books which would have been much more thorough. No independent audit or evaluation has contradicted the findings of Los Alamos investigators Glenn Walp and Steve Doran, who documented numerous incidents of fraud and mismanagement. In one case alone, over $400,000 of camping equipment and other gear were illegally purchased with taxpayer dollars for personal use or resale. The FBI and U.S. Attorney are pursuing a criminal case on this issue. Finally, 17 top managers at the lab were fired or removed from office, indicating more problems than only a few thousand dollars being misspent.

MYTH: A Los Alamos employee never tried to buy a Ford Mustang with taxpayer dollars.

FACT: The investigators revealed documentation showing that a Los Alamos employee used her government purchase card (with a million-dollar-a-month credit limit) to order several questionable items, including a customized Ford Mustang. Five months after the investigators documented this fraud, Los Alamos offered the implausible explanation that the employee thought she was ordering business items and didn't realize she had called All Mustang Performance, an auto body shop. The body shop is vigorously denying Los Alamos' explanation. According to Wired News, a body shop employee stated, "[The Los Alamos employee] called here several times, not just one time, and the message while you're on hold says it's (an auto) body shop. All I know about is Mustangs. . . . If anyone tried to order something from me and it wasn't a Mustang, I wouldn't even know how to take the order."

MYTH: The recently missing plutonium at Los Alamos was inconsequential to public health and safety.

FACT: While Los Alamos Director Peter Nanos minimizes the potential danger posed by the missing plutonium, a 1995 Lawrence Livermore study concluded that ".08 milligrams inhaled will have 100% probability of causing a fatal cancer." The amounts in the two missing vials would provide tens of thousands of times that amount.

MYTH: The University of California has run Los Alamos out of a sense of patriotism and does not benefit financially from the contract.

FACT: UC reaps many financial benefits from managing Los Alamos in addition to its multi-million dollar fee, including overhead reimbursements and patent rights.

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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