Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason at Thursday morning’s Community Conversation event at Buffalo Thunder Resort. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Tracy Atkins of the Office Of Legacy Management, far left, chats with Steven Horak, EM-LA Public Affairs Director, Joe Legare, N3B Environmental Remediation Manager, EM-LA Field Office Manager Doug Hintze and N3B Regulatory and Stakeholder Interface Manager Frazer Lockhart at Thursday morning’s LANL Community Conversation event. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Chair and Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal, left, chats with Patrick Woehrle of the LANL Office of Government Affairs and Protocol at Thursday morning’s breakfast. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager Steve Goodrum speaks at Thursday morning’s Community Conversation at Buffalo Thunder Resort as Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason listens. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
“The Lab is in a strong position right now,” Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Dr. Thom Mason told a large crowd Thursday morning at Buffalo Thunder Resort during a community conversation event hosted by LANL.
The event was attended by elected officials as well as business and nonprofit representatives from throughout the region.
Mason said support for the Lab’s mission is quite robust and bipartisan and that as a result budgets have been growing over the past several years.
“We have been hiring and that’s going to continue, and we have 13,000 people who show up for work every day,” he said, adding that only 25 percent of staff are scientists and engineers with. “The other 75 percent spans the whole spectrum of expertise and is something we rely on the northern New Mexico region to provide for us.”
Mason said there are improvements and changes happening at the Lab in how it operates and does business, paying close attention to safety and security.
“We are really impressed with the engagement we’ve had from Lab employees and the commitment to performing our mission safely and securely,” he said.
Mason said the Lab is implementing programs which will help it find people with certain skillsets.
“The new rad control technician program through Northern New Mexico College is a good example of a specialized critical skill that’s essential for some of our operations including some of the things we do in Technical Area 55 where we have the very important activity of ramping up the production of pits, a very important contribution to the nuclear deterrent. We need RCTs – those are good jobs. They are secure long-term careers and they require some specialized skills so that is a great opportunity for a regional educational institution to have a program that will result in graduates who have that skillset.”
He said the partnership between the Lab and Norther is great and needs to be replicated at multiple institutions across the region.
Mason said the estimated economic impact of the $4.20 billion a year. He said that’s significant for the region and that it’s not just people the Lab hires directly but it’s also the funding that goes to subcontracts which is a significant fraction of the Lab’s work.
“We have aggressive goals to increase our utilization of small businesses because we know small businesses can be responsive to our needs and we want to make sure that we cultivate in the surrounding communities what you might call a small business ecosystem that has the competency and capabilities to meet our high standards whether it’s in construction or operational support or for some of the technology areas,” he said. “We have high expectations and we know that the small businesses is one way that we can broaden our reach. As we develop those competencies in the small businesses in northern New Mexico, it will develop businesses that are interested in broadening their customer base with other sectors of the U.S. Government or the commercial sector.”
On the philanthropic side, Mason said the Lab is happy to be contributing $2.5 million to education through the LANL Foundation and the recent awarding of scholarships, as well as through the United Way of Northern New Mexico and the Regional Development Corporation.
Steve Goodrum, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Los Alamos Field Office Manager, said the Lab’s engagement with the community is very important and that the support from Los Alamos is so important to national security and the success of the NNSA. He said the work ongoing today is some of the best work that he’s seen at Los Alamos in a long time.
Goodrum said there is a lot of national support for the NNSA as evidenced in the budget increase of 16 percent which he said just demonstrates the national support in the important work that NNSA and Triad are doing.
“My commitment is to partner with the Laboratory to be successful with the mission and ensure that all work done is done safely securely and efficiently,” he said.
Goodrum discussed the community commitment plan which is the framework used by the Lab to make allocations of philanthropic funds.
“As important as some of the financial contributions that are being made (and also that our employees make) are, I really think the biggest impact is the volunteerism, whether it’s interest in the environment or civic or faith-based organizations and that reflects very well on the staff,” he said.
He noted that there is a change to the program whereby the Lab matches employee payroll contributions to nonprofits. The Lab will match contributions to charitable organizations in the seven counties where employees are living as reflected during the transition plan.
In response to questions, Mason said because the Lab does not get to operate if it doesn’t operate safely and part of Triad being here is to address this.
“That’s going to be a long-term effort because it has to be across the board. Every day there are things that go on at Los Alamos that are really challenging, that have potentially high hazards associated with them that are done exceptionally well. What we have to do as an organization is get better at learning when things happen how you resolve that issue and not repeat it,” he said.
Mason mentioned that Triad brought in new leadership with a new set of ideas. He said going around the Lab he finds there are a lot of data and good ideas that can be gleaned from the people actually doing the work. He noted the importance of respect and open communication between people responsible for the mission outcomes and the folks in the technical areas that have detailed knowledge on how to do it safely. He said Triad is trying to build that environment where there’s good communication.
“We have to do the work safely and securely and that involves a dialogue across the organization,” he said. “There are a lot of things that are done at Los Alamos that are actually pretty complicated and we need a pretty sophisticated approach but there are a lot of things that we do that don’t have to be complicated and I think sometimes as a technical organization we gravitate towards a complicated solution first and sometimes that’s appropriate and sometimes it’s not.”
Mason said the Lab is currently going through each system to making sure it not being made overly complicated. He said it will take a period of time to work through and equip staff with the tools they need to operate safely and securely and still get the mission done. He said he thinks some progress has been made in some pretty important areas. Safety performance metrics have been added to construction projects so that safety performance is now tied to contract compensation.
Among the safety initiatives launched by recently was a Lab-wide project to clean up legacy contamination on low-voltage breakers to protect electrical workers.
Extensive advance preparation with a focus on communication and safety resulted in the work being accomplished three weeks ahead of schedule with no injuries.
While any injuries at LANL seem to attract public attention and concern, the Lab’s safety statistics are below those of other facilities providing similar scientific research and development facility support and remediation and waste management. In January and February LANL officials report only one reportable case per month for every 160,000 hours worked which is almost half the industry rate of 1.96 total reportable cases per month.
UNM-LA CEO Cindy Rooney speaks with Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde Thursday morning at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Community Conversation event at Buffalo Thunder Resort. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos National Laboratory Human Resources Director Laurie Monfiletto, far left, Annitte Lujan, Executive Vice President/Chief Lending Officer for Zia Credit Union and Lisa Garcia Marketing/Executive Assistant for Zia Credit Union participate in an activity Thursday morning at the LANL community conversation event at Buffalo Thunder Resort. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason, left and NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager Steve Goodrum answer questions from the audience Thursday during the LANL Community Conversation event at Buffalo Thunder Resort. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com