Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Drip-drip-drip–GUSH! Bush “privatization” launches a brain drain at America’s top defense research labs.

Just when you thought there was probably no more damage the Bush administration could do to national security than it has already done, here comes more:

Thanks to a harebrained Republican-Conservative scheme, the nation’s top defense laboratories are sliding hellbent into operation under new management. The only problem is, many of the scientists who work there are now hellbent to get out. And many already have left, creating a massive national defense brain drain.

Why are the scientists and engineers so eager to jump ship?

For starters, the hush-hush research labs (Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Laboratories) are getting privatized. Management has been under the auspices of the University of California. But now Los Alamos is reporting to the bubbleheaded bumblers at Bechtel Corporation. And Lawrence Livermore is probably next to become a Bechtel operation after September 30th of this year. http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/labcontract/faqs.html


We’re talking about the very same, privately-held, Republican politico-connected, shadowy Bechtel screwups who took billions of your tax money for construction projects in Iraq and then fled the country before completing them.

Among the notable Bechtel disasters in Iraq was a children’s hospital. It was heralded as one of the “good things” happening in Iraq by Laura Bush and Condi Rice. But kind of like the Bush “mission accomplished” that didn’t get accomplished, the hospital never got built.

Well hey, Bechtel had an excuse. There were “difficult soil conditions” the company whined. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3628

But let’s get back to Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Labs. Under the University of California’s management, some of the nation’s most brilliant physicists and engineers devised ways to bolster the national defense and help make the United States a leader in nuclear technology, space and missile technology and other kinds of critical weaponry.


The nutcake Conservative theory was that laboratories such as Los Alamos, the birthplace of the A-bomb, would benefit from privatization because, “Excellence in science is enabled by excellence in business and operations.”

That helpful thought comes from Tyler Przybylek, chairman of a federal panel charged with evaluating contractors bidding for Los Alamos' management. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20060419/ai_n16158127

But some things, like the national defense and healthcare, are too important to be left to greedy corporations whose first obligation is to make a buck.

So what happened? It’s shocking, but not surprising.


Sooner than you could say “war profiteer,” Bechtel set to work screwing Los Alamos employees out of their pensions.

According to the Oakland, California Tribune of last April 19, “A labor union and four workers contended in a lawsuit Tuesday that the University of California and a UC/Bechtel National-led team were forcing more than 9,000 employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory to swap one of the nation's plushest pensions for lesser benefits and driving workers away from the nuclear-weapons lab.

“At stake is the gold-plated University of California pension that has drawn thousands of workers to design and maintain U.S. nuclear explosives at both Los Alamos and its sister lab, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“The University Professional and Technical Employees union alleges that the university is violating a commitment written into the state constitution to look after its pensioners, including weapons workers in New Mexico and California.”

The consequence was a lawsuit, with lab employees asking the courts to save their benefits.


Now scientists – particularly employees who have built up some pension equity – are running for the exits.

A scientist at Lawrence Livermore (and no, you’re not getting his name because he hasn’t bailed out yet) told The New York Crank, “We had to make tradeoffs to get those pensions. Many of us are academics who were never allowed to publish because of national security issues.”

An academic who isn't allowed to publish is kind of like a singer who isn’t permitted to perform – except for performances in a top-secret underground bomb shelter, and then only to an audience of six tone-deaf generals and a brain-damaged cabinet officer.

Deprived of the academic acclaim they earned but never got, the only solace of the University of California defense laboratory thinkers was a university pension and university tenure that made professional near-anonymity worthwhile.

Then Bechtel came along. And guess what?

Here’s what, according to that Oakland Tribune article:

“Worker advocates say the new management at Los Alamos has taken away protections enjoyed by the university workers, making them 'at- will' employees, and is pressuring them to accept uncertain future retirement benefits in order to keep their jobs.

"An employee who can get fired on the spot for no reason is not going to speak up for scientific integrity, is not going to speak up if there's a safety problem," said Jelger Kalmijn, the systemwide president of the union.”

Even worse, it turns out, employees in this situation are quitting in droves.


“Uncertainty about benefits and other employment conditions drove retirement rates at Los Alamos 50 percent higher last year than in the past, and Livermore workers predict the same for their lab as it moves into a management competition. The result could be a loss of the scientists, engineers and technicians with the most experience and knowledge of U.S. nuclear explosives.”

Well, according The New York Crank’s source, that’s already happening at Lawrence Livermore, too. And the more experienced the scientists and engineers, the more likely they are to bail, in order to protect their pensions, the Crank was told.

Brilliant! The only worse move the Conservative looneys could have made would have been to sell the labs to North Korea and Iran.

Or are the geniuses of Bush conservatism working on that, too?

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