Former Los Alamos officials deny accusations of mismanagement

Former managers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico told lawmakers Wednesday that they fired two investigators in November because of poor work performance, not because they blew the whistle on widespread fraud and theft at the lab.

The ex-managers who testified voluntarily before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations denied accusations that they failed to report the misuse of government purchase cards and the theft of lab equipment to the proper law enforcement authorities and obstructed investigations.

Former Deputy Director Joseph Salgado, and Stan Busboom, head of the Los Alamos security division, were reassigned from management positions during a January shakeup of high-level staff at the lab. Frank Dickson Jr., Los Alamos' general counsel, also testified at the hearing Thursday.

All three said that they did not fire Glenn Walp and Steven Doran, two investigators under their supervision, because they thought the two leaked reports of mismanagement to the media, jeopardizing the University of California's roughly $1.7 billion-a-year contract to run the nuclear weapons facility for the Department of Energy. Instead, they claimed that they fired the investigators because the two had provided inaccurate and unreliable information in some reports, and had not served as good liaisons to FBI agents working on Los Alamos cases.

When pressed for details, they said that Walp and Doran had gotten the facts wrong when looking into allegations that a lab employee had used a government purchase card to buy a $30,000 Mustang. For example, the two investigators gave superiors the wrong address of the car's recipients, Salgado testified. Such misinformation made it difficult for officials and outside investigators to trust Walp and Doran, he said.

But after further questioning, the three acknowledged that Walp and Doran had only had four days to work on the Mustang case before turning it over to the FBI. They also conceded that an FBI agent had told them Walp and Doran were doing an excellent job and were some of the best liaisons he had encountered.

In addition, Busboom acknowledged that he had given both investigators high performance ratings in an October performance review. He said that the evaluation only covered work completed through July and that the quality of the investigators' work declined drastically in the late summer and fall.

A report released by the Energy Department's inspector general in late January countered Thursday's testimony, substantiating Walp and Doran's claims. The report concluded that lab officials had created "an atmosphere where Los Alamos employees were discouraged from, or had reason to believe that they were discouraged from, raising concerns about property loss and theft, or other concerns, to appropriate authorities."

In the report (DOE/IG-0584), the inspector general included a tally of suspected stolen goods topping $1.5 million. The list included 204 desktop computers with a purchase value of $694,938; 12 cameras worth $11,318; and 27 radio transceivers worth $35,000. The FBI and investigators at Energy's Office of Inspector General are trying to find the purportedly stolen items.

The lab rehired Walp and Doran after the IG's office released its report. The two now work as consultants for the University of California's Office of the President. The two would like to see all of the managers who allegedly covered up fraud and theft at Los Alamos fired, rather than simply demoted, they told lawmakers at a hearing two weeks ago. Until these managers are gone and a new leadership team is fully in place, the lab will be vulnerable to more problems, they said.

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