After turbulent times, Sandia’s top two officials welcome stability, new programs, outstanding research
This year’s annual Lab News State of the Labs interview had a whole different flavor from last year’s, when Sandia and the other national labs were going through some very difficult times. The outlook has markedly brightened, and Sandia President and Labs Director C. Paul Robinson and Executive VP and Deputy Director JoanWoodard spoke enthusiastically about that and a host of subjects important to the Labs and its employees. Among the topics are the Labs’ best-ever bud-get, new sources of support, new pro-grams, the stabilizing effect of NNSA,the first meeting with the new secretary of energy, a planned examination of energy needs in a long-term global con-text, the Labs’ aggressive new recruiting and hiring program, efforts to ease managers’ burdens, programs to main-tain a balance of life and to keep San-dia a family-friendly workplace, the latest attempts to improve Sandia’s lagging pension plan, the problem of good scientists leaving for private industry,the Labs’ nevertheless outstanding R&D, and several phenomenal advances in technology that should prove important to the entire nation. Paul also offers his first public comments about his controversial testimony in the Wen Ho Lee case. They were interviewed by Ken Frazier, Bill Murphy, and Chris Burroughs of the Lab News staff.
LN: What a difference a year makes! Last year when we talked to you, just about everything that had happened in the previous year was bad. There had been a very difficult time. This year a lot has changed,much of it, maybe even most of it, for the better.Could you characterize our situation now and the degree to which it has improved?
Paul: Let me start with budget.When we sat down last year we had just received a marked-up budget from the Congress, but DOE had still not decided how to allocate it. They indeed held back some of it during the year.This is their usual practice. We were really worried. I think it is fair enough to say that it was going to be very, very tight, but we had examined enough budget cases that we made the decision we were not going to have a force reduction, we were going to tighten the belts a lot, try to develop some other programs, and get through the year. Well, during the course of that year,DOE continued to release more money than we expected that they would, and people doing Work for Others pro-grams saw their budgets increase, both for other federal sponsors and the work we do for private companies. We closed the year with $200 million more in income than what our target was when we started. That was not all spent during the year, so for the first time in I believe four or five years we added to the carry-over account for the laboratory — which was a surprising change.
LN: We had been drawing down on the carry-over, correct?
Paul: We had been drawing down on it,somewhat by DOE trying to get everyone to draw down their carryover, but in addition the launch of a major satellite program, MTI, the Multispectral Thermal Imager, had spent what was the biggest part of each year’s carryover. We knew that was going to be a big carryover, which would eventually be exhausted, and we launched the satellite. This year we began the fiscal year looking at a budget of nearly $200 million from where we had finished last year.
Joan: The revenue projection for just operating, not capital equipment, is $1.46 billion. That’s on the order of $400 million up from our worst-case start of last year.
LN: A very substantial increase over just a couple years.
Paul: And our construction is $48 millional so, slightly up from where it was.
LN: When Sen. Domenici was here recently he was quite upbeat about all this too, and you were as well. It’s obviously a refreshing change from how things have been.
New levels of support
LN: To what would you attribute a pretty dramatic turnaround in support? What’s behind that?
Paul: As usual with Sandia it occurred in more than one program. Clearly the largest in Work for Others was National Missile Defense,where we design, launch, and fly representative target vehicles, and when there is a hit or miss we score that on behalf of the government. So I like that job for a lot of reasons. We got the job because of some of the other portfolios we were responsible for. Such as, we support the assessment of foreign military programs, so we were able to base our threat targets on realistic expectations. And we have always been good at designing and flying reentry vehicles. And so Kauai has been busy, but we also have begun to launch quite a few more out at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That’s been the biggest single increase. The second reason I can think of is the work we have been doing in cybersecurity, which has several facets and several customers. That work has been growing. You of course read of our Red Team results, the 35 out of 35 successful penetrations of other systems. Cybersecurity is a huge challenge, as is national missile defense. I think it’s good for us to be involved in both of those programs and have customers other than the Department of Energy looking toward us with support.
Joan: It has been a good mixture of both increase in the nuclear weapons program and work for other agencies. All the issues that have occurred over the past 18 months have brought attention and new learning on the part of a number of key decision-makers in Washington, generating a better understanding of the reason for the existence of these labs and the whole complex. Further, there is a fair amount of work coming along in the Stockpile Life Extension Program.Overall, there has been some welcome increase in funding in the nuclear weapons program. The other piece of our increase has been a diversification of our customer base. The non-proliferation work and assessments work for the intelligence community are a big piece. In energy and critical infrastructure, even though the total has stayed the same — some of the energy programs have come down a bit —we also have had some increases in the critical infrastructure area. That’s starting to coalesce into some specific projects.
Paul: It would be very important for us to note that for the first time in 10 years we have a nuclear weapons development activity going on in the Laboratory. It is a phase 3, in this case instead of an initial design it’s a redesign. We call it 6.3 instead of just phase 3. (Phase 6 is when something’s out in the stockpile, phase 3 is design, so 6.3 is, you are redesigning something that is currently in the stockpile.) We start with the Trident I program. In addition to the redesign of Sandia components, the Navy is paying us also to redesign an integrated arming, fuzing, and firing device. I already see in people within the weapons program a very great difference in how they do their work. We’re not just thinking about the future and preparing for the future and not just looking at surveillance of the stockpile that’s out there, but here we are encountering a major new challenge. One of the most important roles we have as a Laboratory is to be system integrators, bringing everything together and integrating it with the military carrier. For something with 6,000 parts, which is typical of a nuclear warhead,that is a big challenge. If you haven’t integrated a system with that complexity in 10 years, how do you know you still can? So beginning these programs is timely, and I think it’s very good for the Laboratory to be in this phase of work again.
“I have believed all my career that nuclear weapon issues are even more important than foreign policy issues in the sense that you must not have partisan divides over them.” —Paul Robinson
LN: So we have a whole different psychological feeling in the Labs?
Joan: And with a new dimension of requirements from our customers. Cost of our designed systems is receiving a lot of attention this time around. There are some very stringent and challenging cost-reduction requirements, particularly in the reimbursable for the Navy.
The advent of NNSA
LN: In the political area we have now the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] in place.That must be a welcome change. I know you advocated it, and others did too. What has been the result of that?
Paul: I know for me the interactions are a lot better than where they have been in the past. It’s single-point contact as opposed to the great number of offices you had to consult with in the past.They are still in the process of organizing NNSA in how to pull the parts together. But, for example, the nonproliferation and national security work was getting stove-piped from the nuclear weapon design work, and now they report to a common person, retired Gen. John Gordon. To start to see those decisions, one reflected off the other’s needs, and synergism breaking out, it’s a pleasure.
Joan: Another piece I see is access. It is just so much more prevalent. Not only Paul with John Gordon directly but also even among the other folks in the staff in the organization. We just learned of one recently where Don Carson inpublic relations is establishing a very wonderful,very team like relationship with the public relations folks within NNSA. That sort of healthy,respectful interaction has not been quite as common as we would have liked in previous years.This has been a nice change.
LN: Has there been a benefit in Gen. Gordon’s tenure overlapping a change in the Administration?
Paul: I think it would have been impossible without that. He’s had a chance to do a learning curve of just what the problems were. I think he now understands them quite well, of the need to streamline, which was a key driver for the legislation creating NNSA. I spoke this morning with an individual who will head an office for John in systems studies and policy support studies, looking out a little further into the future and trying to develop a sound basis for future directions. He invited stronger Sandia participation, since that’s some-thing we have prided ourselves in. It was great news.
Joan: And that’s really significant. The existence of that office is significant because it provides the foundation to have a multiyear budget plan, and you know how we have struggled with fairly wild budget fluctuations over previous years. This should give us a longer term perspective for program and planning.
Paul: Gen. Gordon is writing a five-year plan,which will parallel the way the Pentagon does its budgeting. It’s called FYDP, the five-year defense plan. Besides givingus more visibility to adjust to changes instead of being surprised as we were this time last year, it should allow us to get in close step with things going on in the Department of Defense, where they will make changes in delivery vehicles; so that we can stretch out or speed up our programs to more closely match that.Particularly now in the production work that we’re now doing, you’re on a shorter string to respond to changes than in engineering design. No question this is going to smooth out the peaks and valleys.
“It would be very important for us to note that for the first time in 10 years we have a nuclear weapons development activity going on in the Laboratory.”
The new secretary of energy
LN: Paul, you very recently met with new Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. How did that go and what did you talk about?
Paul: First, I was asked to come in and give some background discussions prior to his confirmation hearings, about the very wide spectrum of work that goes on in the department — and certainly Sandia, I believe, has as broad a portfolio as any laboratory. I found him very sharp, a quick learner, and I believe we set the basis for what will be a very team like relationship going forward. He believed that the strongest reason he was chosen to be secretary of energy was to try and get much better relations going with the Congress. That’s a worthy goal! I have believed all my career that nuclear weapon issues are even more important than foreign policy issues in the sense that you must not have partisan divides over them. You know, in foreign policy we say that “debate stops at the water’s edge.” With nuclear weapons, the debate should never extend beyond the classified community that is considering what to do, and you need to have those initial debates and come out of them without partisan shapings. I think in the same way that the new President has stated a goal to be the president of all people regardless of party, Spencer Abra-ham believes very strongly that is how he will approach Department of Energy duties.
“I found him [Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham] very sharp, a quick learner, and I believe we set the basis for what will be a very team like relationship going forward.”
LN: And he understands the new situation with NNSA within DOE well?
Paul: I felt during his confirmation he articulated that very well, including saying that’s his number one responsibility in the job,but that in fact he can rely very heavily on Gen. Gordon to carry most of that load for him. In fact I should tell you, Gen. Gordon and Spencer Abraham have already developed just terrific working relationships. It’s great.
Joan: All that is good, because in fact the secretary will be consumed for some time with the energy issues that have newly come up. Perhaps we are biased, but I think that research and development in technology plays a role in working those energy challenges. In fact, one idea that came from the discussions Paul had with Secretary Abraham was to conduct an icebreaker retreat with the directors of the multiprogram national labs. The focus will be energy, and the format will be that of a Prosperity Game. So this is bringing a Sandia development, Pace Van De-vender’s game concept, to bear on what I think is an important problem, and also developing relationships that will be fabulous for the new administration.
Paul: It could have greater benefits than just getting to know each other, which was its first benefit, and that is, we are trying to look 10 to 20years out in addressing the energy problem. I believe everybody recognizes already there is no instant answer that’s going to ease the crisis in California and the growing crisis around the country.
Joan: And the focus is on the global con-text, which is also wonderful, thinking back on the specific wording of our core purpose, “. . .peaceful and secure world through technology.”It’s got just the right focus.
Paul: The other key part of our discussions,and like a lot of successes it has many fathers and mothers, in some of our thinking to prepare for transition we had said the energy problems are not just the Department of Energy’s. As a nation the United States has only 2 percent of the proven reserves of oil and about 3 percent of proven reserves of natural gas; on the othe rhand, the lion’s share of the known reserves of oil is in the Persian Gulf countries, 55 percent,and with natural gas 40 percent of the reserves are in Russia. Now, that says it’s not just the Department of Energy’s purview. You must have the Department of State; the Department of Defense, because these are very unstable security areas of the world; clearly Department of Commerce — we’re going to have to trade to get these resources; and similarly Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency at home. And so suddenly it’s a large multiplicity of agencies that have got to come together. And we said as secretary of energy you can’t do that by yourself, maybe it would be a good idea to get the vice president, who has recent intensive energy experience, to chair a task force on behalf of all of the government to try to build a strong national energy policy. You probably heard that they announced that. So we felt like we were able to be of some small help in making that happen.
LN: Do you have any sense from the new secretary when he might come visit the Labs in a formal visit where employees could meet him?
Paul: I suspect his plans have been changing as the crisis in electricity in California has grown worse. He wanted to put a priority of doing that very early. In fact, the time scale was so short before California would run out of any of their interim solutions that he has devoted 90 percent of his energy to working on that, which he is still doing today.
LN: How long was your meeting, and did you find him personable?
Paul: More than four hours, and I found him likable. His staff had told me he has a photographic memory, and it sure looked that way to me. He is very quick on the uptake and has been demonstrating that in a lot of the lessons he’s taken to heart. I hope we are able to be of some help to him in dealing with the problems on his plate.
Testimony in the Wen Ho Lee case
LN: Paul, let’s go back to something a bit in the past, and forgive us if it seems a bit personal. We haven’t had a chance to talk to you about this. You testified very strongly in the case of Wen Ho Lee for the prosecution, and you received a lot of criticism for it. Can you tell us anything about why you did that and what the repercussions have been and the effect on you?
Paul: Yes. It certainly has been not been the easiest assignment I’ve drawn in awhile. Most people in the Laboratory, I think, don’t know how I happened to have gotten involved.
Paul: The initial question was what is the potential damage from having downloaded all of these secrets and placing them in an uncontrolled way — such that they could have migrated to another country. The government prosecutors asked what would be the significance of that. So they asked the Pentagon if they would provide a witness to come during the Christmas holidays of1999 to testify at the trial. Well, not a lot of people wanted to come. And they said, you should probably check it with the Strategic Command in Omaha, which has overall command authority for nuclear weapons, and get someone from there. So that was their next call. When they called Omaha, they said, well, my goodness, the chairman of our STRATCOM Advisory Group for policy is already in Albuquerque. He is the director of Sandia National Labs. The next call was tome. And I said fine, as I didn’t think this is some-thing I could easily walk away from. And so that was the basis for why I was testifying, as opposed to my being lab director here. Now, I do not know with certainty what the motivations were by Wen Ho Lee in taking the actions that he has admitted he took. That’s prob-ably the most troublesome part to anyone who has been associated with the case. But in fact, I still believe it was a very, very dangerous thing he did. To take all of the designs of US nuclear weapons, the Nevada test data associated with those weapons, and a further library of all the threat designs we’ve looked at for terrorism threats and take them out of protective custody into first an unclassified computer and then later make portable tapes —multiple copies of those tapes, so we learned during the course of it — is still frightening to me.Now the government, which was going to have a very difficult time prosecuting the case, I believe did a good job in keeping focused on what happened to the information that was taken out of classified storage. They put that as their first priority to understand.All of the deals that were made and plea bargains were to find out the answers to “What happened to the information?” which I think is the right focus. I testified that the value of such information is more than a trillion dollars. It is the integrated work of the nation in nuclear weapons for a very, very long time. And so to do everything you can to find out what happened to the information and to assure the country that it has not migrated off our shores seemed to me the right place to put your focus.
“I do not know with certainty what the motivations were by Wen Ho Lee in taking the actions that he has admitted he took . . . . But . . .I still believe it was a very, very dangerous thing he did.”
LN: When the case collapsed, and then he was released, how did you feel about that?
Paul: One of the things the media have talked about a lot has been the dropping of 59charges to one charge. I think what people had not understood is where the 59 charges came from. The way the system at Los Alamos was designed, a common file system stored unclassified and classified data, with a robot that would actually grab computer cores and connect them to the computer so you could move rapidly to carry out solutions to problems. If you were downloading something from the common file system, in going to an unclassified computer, you had to swear that what you were downloading was unclassified. That was done 59 times. And so when they finally decided to bargain for one count, it was the same offense multiplied many times. So I was not particularly disturbed that they chose that. Again, the trade was to find out what happened to the tapes, which is a process still underway in debriefs with the government now.
Work, staffing, recruiting
LN: We want now to talk about things specifically related to Sandia. With the new budget, are we in a situation where we may have more work than we have people to do it? What can we do about that, and what is the situation for keeping and getting new staff?
Joan: Overall Lab size is up a little over what we currently had on roll at the start of the year. We project retirements and separations, and the projection of retirements is a little larger than what we’ve seen in previous years. The combination of those two puts us in a position to have a hiring program this year of on the order of500, and, for probably on the order of the next five years, the same level.
“We project retirements and separations, and the projection of retirements is a little larger than what we’ve seen in previous years. The combination of those two puts us in a position to have a hiring program this year of on the order of 500, and, for probably on the order of the next five years, the same level.” —Joan Woodard
LN: 500 per year?
Joan: 500 per year. . . and that’s split about half and half between technical professionals and other folks within the laboratory. We’re starting, but it’s a slow start. We knew from 10-15-20 years ago how to successfully recruit top people. It’s been confirmed from consultants we’ve talked to that the same methods work today. But we have to rebuild the machine. We haven’t recruited for so long. So just things like the recruiting teams and getting our new hires that came out of school onto those teams from their alma maters — we need to get that built and in place. At this point — actually by the end of December — we hoped to have over half our hiring [for the fiscal year] completed, and we’re at the 20 percent mark. Half was a really aggressive goal. In fact, if you looked at our best years in the ’70s and ’80s, I’m not sure we had completed half by December. We’re still very confident, and things are really picking up in terms of activity: interviews, candidates coming in, offers going out. Our acceptance rate is going pretty well. Across the Lab, it’s still in the mid-80s. Even in Division 1000, which is largely a science and technology organization, we’re running at about a 75 percent acceptance rate. We’re getting in grads from some great schools, so we’re hitting the kinds of schools we need to be hitting .I just had an opportunity on Monday to have lunch with a group of about 20 relatively new hires to the labs, and it was awesome. Just talking to them about why they came to Sandia and how they find it! They were excited, they came here for the same reason we talk about, which is why Sandia exists — technology, national security, a purpose that’s important to the country. They talk about the equipment, the access, and the working with high-class people. So, it reinforced to me what the character of Sandia is at a time when we really need to make sure we all under-stand that. That was fabulous.
Paul: I would like to jump in to compliment the work people have done to get the recruits we have, because I know the job is a lot harder than it ever was before. There are fewer graduates in engineering and science degrees—and at the same time there are fewer US citizens with those degrees. And the competitive offers, even with the somewhat cooling in the dot-com economies,there are still very generous amounts of money being thrown at the new graduates. And so for us to do as well as we are is quite amazing. I think it says we have a huge challenge in each of the next years if we’re going to get the folks we want. At the same time we were trying to do this hiring, our California site, which is certainly the leading edge of the intense competition, has been losing more people than at any time in the past. I guess I can use the slang word when we first heard about it: we have a “geek leak.” That sprang up at our California site. It was nearly 10 percent attrition in one calendar year.
Joan: It turns out the big increase was in retirements, a lot of people retiring and then moving to a second career.
Paul: The area of our site — Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin, California — has taken on anew name. It’s being called “Silicon Alley.” A lot of the Silicon Valley/San Jose companies are relocating and setting up branches there: Cisco Systems, Oracle, People Soft. And they have been making huge offers to a lot of our people, including a whole lot who have chosen not to leave. But I think that’s going to be a challenge also, just to keep who you have on board, much less bring in a lot of new talent.
New hires and re-hires
LN: How about the lunch you had with new hires. Is that something you plan to do periodically?
Joan: It was part of a visit I make to each of the divisions. I try to spend a day with each of the divisions at least once or twice a year. As part of that I have lunch with a cross section of folks within the organization. In this meeting with relatively new hires I also asked them, “What about your friends or your peers at school? Where are they? How are they finding it?” And they had a lot of stories about folks who went out and some are making huge amounts of money, but they, in fact ,voluntarily brought up the differences — the ability to manage a balance of life at Sandia is a lot easier than at some of the dot-coms. . . and also the ability to have the overall support of equipment, infrastructure, and excellent people found in a major national lab.
LN: Are you finding a sense [among new hires] of specifically wanting to do work because it’s in the nation’s interest?
Joan: When I asked them, “Have you heard anything about core purpose and the values of the Lab?,” I got nothing much back. Paul will be very disappointed. So we have our work cut out for us, Paul, in trying to continue to work that communication, but we’ll get there. But, when I asked, “What do you think our core purpose is?” they said, “Well, we’re here for national security,national defense.” So they knew, it was in their heart. They understand there is this national purpose that we’re here for.
Paul: Folks at California organized an after-noon session at Fall Leadership this year to have recent hires and re-hires from both New Mexico and California give a view from the outside coming in to the directors and vice presidents. And I found it very strong that the chance to do some-thing bigger with their life rather than just making a narrow product is still a very, very important attractor. This included some of the folks who came back, even though they earned very good money while they were out — it wasn’t as fulfilling. And I can say from personal experience,having worked in the lab in my early career and then out in industry for a while, I didn’t feel nearly as fulfilled or feel that my work was as important as in the labs.
Joan: This panel also brought up the point I made earlier about balance of life. Many rehires cited as part of the reason they came back was that they were having to compromise the rest of their life, which wasn’t acceptable to them. And when you read literature about what students are looking for in their career, balance of life and lifestyle are very important.
More than just family-friendly
LN: Especially for a woman; I’ve found Sandia a very family-friendly place.
Paul: We’re trying to be even more so. We have gone through several cycles of trying to be helpful in the child care arena. They have been, at best, interim solutions. DOE opened its child care facility and then the Air Force opened up some slots in theirs, but now there’s an initiative working with the credit union to build a child care facility in Research Park. Once we’re successful with that, we’ll have to take up the question that’s arising for everybody in our society, and that’s elder care,which is becoming a very serious problem. So we think part of making this a good place to work is being much more proactive in those two areas.
LN: Joan, you’ve been in your job now for two years. Is it what you expected?
Joan: [Laughs]. The first couple of years were nothing like I expected. You’ve heard us talk about it before. My question to Paul was: “Is it always like this?” In fact, those years were like nothing that had ever occurred before. Recent time — the last year or so — has been a real delight. We have wonderful people to work with,both in the Labs and many of our customers.There are really two reasons we have had the kind of revenue increase over the last year. One is that there were some folks in DOE who realized we were in a starvation situation and helped us; but the other thing is that the leadership of the Lab and all the different business units and their employees all really worked hard. That was wonderful to see. Technology — every time I get to go out and make one of those visits to the divisions, it’s just awesome, it’s amazing. Yesterday afternoon I took Col. [Jan] Eakle, the [Kirtland] base commander, on just a brief visit to the decontamination foam development work; it’s just amazing to see what’s going on.I also see some very encouraging things in the formation of the NNSA and in all the things that Paul talked about. The other thing that’s been wonderful is that John Gordon and his folks have put the spotlight back on the science and technology and the business for which we exist.Science Day — it was so welcome at a time when it’s crucial for people to be reminded of why they’re here and that the work they’re doing is really important. The work environment that we talk about as so important — it’s more than just child care, it’s more than just family-friendly. It’s also, do people feel like they’re trusted, trusted by their customer in a reasonable, respectful relationship? We have some work to do there, I think, to rebuild and regain that trust, to have a very healthy relation-ship and healthy interactions. And I must say, Paul’s been a delight to work with. I’ve learned a lot. A tremendous teacher and a tremendous model.Paul: I think we have a terrific relationship. The concept that we pioneered with [previous Executive VP] John Crawford of two of us in a box has worked very, very well as a support net-work. To each be able to function and actually“have a life.” Even though I’m not sure we really have other lives, at least we can travel on work business as well as function at home by inter-change of work.
Easing managers’ burdens?
LN: Last year, I [C.B.] went to the Women in Management conference. I wonder what’s come of that. This is a whole other story, but just briefly,what’s going on in terms of women in management and women at Sandia in general?
Joan: The Women in Management conference, as you may recall, high-lighted a number of issues, but in fact a significant fraction of them were issues that face all management, men and women — continuing to highlight that we have put a tremendous burden on first-line managers. In many cases that burden has made an unmanageable situation. A number of things have been kindled as a result. One is that we are taking a look again at the work done earlier by Directors Pat Eicker and David Williams on the burden, the responsibility, and the overall scope of the manager’s job. I’ve asked each of the vice presidents, through whatever mechanisms they have in place or want to put in place, to get some sense about how their management is doing, and in particular ask the very special question of how has the implementation of the Level 2manager helped that situation. That’s happening right now, and I’m about to start getting some of those reports from the different divisions.Another piece that came up is that we have managers who really work hard to do a good job with the management of their people — and yet, there are a lot of times when we just don’t give the reinforcement and the encouragement and the recognition we should. So we took a little bit of a step this year with the Employee Recognition Award to put a little more emphasis on that in the criteria for the award. For next year we’re hoping to take a look — and I don’t know exactly what’ll come out of this — but perhaps a separate award category to highlight the importance of good management of people and give some noteworthy, important, and sorely needed praise and recognition to folks who do a very good job of that.The other thing that’s happened involves the Women’s Program Committee, which we have had for years under the Diversity/EEO/Affirmative Action Program. In that group, there have been a few souls who have kept engaged and been involved, so we’re bringing them together with the folks who have been involved in this Women in Management activity and trying to revitalize the Women’s Program Commit-tee. It will help us also with pipeline issues —trying to get young people interested in science and technology careers.
“At the Sandia Board of Directors meeting on Jan. 29 we presented a roadmap that we intend to pursue to try and achieve [pension-plan] parity with the UC labs. That’s the goal we’ve looked at.”—Paul Robinson
Paul: Let me suggest: One metric of whether NNSA is succeeding or not will be whether the first-level managers’ jobs get easier and lives get better. Because I think what heaped a lot of things on them was the micromanagement that we talk about. The key word is “streamline.” If John Gordon is successful in streamlining, cutting out a lot of that extra oversight, which unfortunately landed in the managers’ laps — it rolled downhill as far as it could go — that should help. We need to work hard at streamlining in order to make their lives more livable.
LN: Here’s a subject that obviously all employees are very much interested in but also relates to the issue of attracting new employees: pension benefits and what further improvements might be possible. I know you’ve all worked very hard on this issue.You’ve announced one change that affected past retirees. What is the latest word on anything that will affect retirement benefits for current employees?
Paul: Well certainly, Pete Domenici answering that question during his colloquium set the expectations, which have been very much some-thing we’ve been looking at. The University of California, since Pete’s talk, did increase their formula. Now, there are some comparisons you have to do between their plan and ours because they do not have a company match of contributions. But even when we tried to harmonize those — and we’ve found you have to do this in auditable ways, and we used an outside firm to help us do that — we are coming in second best. At the Sandia Board of Directors meeting on Jan.29 we presented a roadmap that we intend to pursue to try and achieve parity with the UC labs. That’s the goal we’ve looked at. It is not going to be easy. I told the board members frankly that at this first meeting of the year and under the new administration, we were exposing them to our roadmap because we wanted them to be in the chair at take-off in order that when we make our landing we can be sure they’re going to still be with us.Their remarks were to bless the approach we’re taking. Ralph Bonner is once again leading the effort. It would involve looking at retirement health benefits, possibly some adjustments in the life insurance. Every time I tell people how lucky they are that, by far, we are number one of any company we’ve ever seen in terms of life insurance benefit — this is a legacy of the AT&T days that AT&T has since abandoned — it’s equivalent to the notoriety of having a government building named after you: you have to wait ’til you die to have that honor. So most people haven’t regarded the large life insurance policy, post-retirement, as such a big benefit. So we’ve put together this roadmap and have begun an accelerated schedule to put it forward and have already begun the discussions with Lockheed Martin, which will then take us to discussions with the Department of Energy.
Joan: Given that a lot of people are probably wondering and waiting and hanging on, it has been Sandia’s policy that any changes in benefits be retroactive to the date when the discussions started,and for this particular cycle, that started approximately mid-December. So for anybody looking for-ward — if we’re successful, whatever we’re successful with — it is our policy and our intention that the changes be retroactive.
LN: In other words, folks don’t have to hang on waiting for the change; they can go ahead and retire?
Paul: We’ve always felt that any system that causes one to be a winner or loser by whether or not they plan their future would not be a good system, so we’ve got to harmonize those as we move forward.
What about vacation time?
LN: Are any of the benefit changes involving the possibility of increasing the vacation time for the newer employees?
Joan: That’s being cued up. It’s part of the look that Don [Blanton] and the folks in HR are giving to all aspects of rewards and recognition.
Paul: Our total rewards.
Joan: And what they’re doing is they’re looking at all rewards, piece by piece, and determining what kind of shortfall issue there is and what our strategy might be to work that. Child care is a piece of that. Vacation is a piece of that. Currently, our vacation program is the same as the UC labs. That’s important. I think some folks are still under the impression that we have less, that they have better vacation than we do.
Paul: In our focus group, a number of people came forward and said if we could get that equivalency, it’d be great. We said, “Wait, we are equivalent [in vacation days], and you won’t like it.”
Joan: We are trying many strategies, such as ways to introduce some mechanisms by which people can expand the amount of time they have off, but probably at some sort of a cost. Our vacation as a piece when compared to national benchmarks is not at the very top, but it’s pretty close to the top across the board until you get to much higher years of service, 35 years or so,where some companies have more than 24 days. It’s interesting to me that in this lunch I had with new employees, one of the things they said was,“Sandia’s really a good place to work. They have a lot of vacation. And there’s a lot of flexibility that 9/80 and flextime gives them.”
Sandia’s great technical work
LN: What technical accomplishments in the last year in particular are you most proud of, most want to take note of?
Joan: Well, we’re on the verge of a revolutionary new technology for lighting. We’ve developed and gone through competitive testing of the decontamination foam that has just wiped out the com-petition in both chem and bio. There’re a ton of accomplishments. The lighting is an exciting one.
Paul: It’s not often that research that was not directed at that application gives you the possibility to replace the Edison light bulb. That doesn’t happen every day. So that is very exciting.
LN: Is that the VCSEL [vertical-cavity surface-emit-ting laser] technology?
Paul: The blue VCSEL. Ultraviolet light is down-converted in phosphors that are built in. It shows the possibility to give a greater fidelity of sunlight, which is what we’d all like to have in our room light. Sunlight is how our eyesight is centered. So, if we could get that in our lighting, I think we’d all enjoy it a lot more. At the same time, being able to save hundreds of gigawatts — that’s the projection — could be a nice contribution from a Department of Energy laboratory. The VCSELs have been an exciting theme around here. A lot of the new starts have been VCSELs for new communications purposes, where you’re working at a trillion hertz. A companion group working in the Com-pound Semiconductor Lab developed a VCSEL at 1.3 microns. That’s in the infrared, farther than you can see with your eye, but the ideal for transmission through optical fibers. To say there’s been an out-pouring of interest from commercial firms would be a real understatement. Optimizing lasers for fiber optics has been one of those holy grails we’ve been trying to do for five years.
LN: Does that have implications for Sandia’s royalties?
Paul: Our royalty incomes continue to grow at exponential rates. We gave employees $400,000 [in royalty incomes this year] and that was just part of the more than $2 million we received as income to the Laboratories. The rest has gone to research programs. I believe that is going to keep on a steep rise from here on. The intellectual property goals we’ve been setting continue to do that — both in increased number of patent disclosures and patents granted. That affects not only the royalty incomes but CRADAs [cooperative research and development agreements] Sandia has with other companies. Companies want to partner with us because we have something to offer in unique intellectual properties. As a result, that work is continuing to grow.
Joan: In fact in that area we brought the notion of a higher level strategy for intellectual property. This will allow us to ensure that patent disclosures and patent filing applications efforts for those technologies are just right so that their impact would contribute to more potential licenses. Recent data show that in the areas of license and initial disclosure, we are doing a lot better. We can already see that.
EUVL a ‘very sweet technology’
Paul: There are two areas I really want to mention in technical highlights. The first one — as reporters you will not appreciate; I’ll apologize in advance, but I wanted to be on the record — is in our highly classified programs, where we made some enormous breakthroughs that you have not heard about nor will you hear about. In the highest levels of government Sandia has been praised as never before. Some of the more important work we’ve done in a decade happened this past year. Second, this is the culmination period of what has been a very exceptional and important relationship. The CRADA with the major chip builders —Intel, Motorola, AMD, Micron, and now ASML. These companies formed an Extreme UV lithography [EUVL] CRADA under a limited liability corporation. They put up $250 million. That’s real money, private money. It followed Sandia’s first success in creating a 100nanometer (which is 1/10 micron feature size)microcircuit. They put up the money to see if we could accelerate the time scale for bringing that into an industrially feasible manufacturing device. We just completed the assembly of the engineering test stand, which we delivered. We built the first circuit on Jan. 26. And we are preparing to hand it over to the industrial consortium on April11. What is even more — and I could brag about the great work — is that it was not just making an industrial version. But there were multiple trade studies, engineering design studies — is this the right design? This has been a very sweet technology. As we’ve made adjustments, the performance has improved. It will be a much higher performance device. It will produce chips faster. In addition we found ways to extend this technology for at least another order of magnitude and maybe a factor of 20 shorter [smaller] spacing. We’ll be approaching 5 to 7 nanometers before this technology sees fundamental limits. More important than the limit, it keeps Moore’s law, which is the engine driving the microelectronics industry, going for another 15 years. That’s a very major accomplishment. In April when we roll this out for industry, it will be recognized as some of the best work we’ve ever done in an industrial partnership.More important than the device are some of the technologies that had to be developed to make this all possible. Folks both in California and New Mexico worked together to develop a design tool that allows 500 engineers to work on the same design within a computer-based design system. The people at Intel — we had a statement made for a video Intel was producing — claimed that was the most remarkable development in the program. I believe the application of that technology is going to find a home in all of the major programs starting with the weapons pro-gram here. So it has been a very exciting project. I sent the folks a message of congratulations on the wonderful accomplishment they made.Many late hours and a lot of creative ideas brought it into being. So it’s a very important occasion for the Laboratories.This is important not just for those companies.This is very important for the nation in semiconductors. I think it will be the kind of success that the creation of SEMATECH added to the electronics industry.
LN: Can this technology be adapted to nanotechnology?
Paul: You will start to recognize a lot of what we put forward as the reason to build MESA. We will be drawing all the advanced technologies and related technologies in one facility that will be hereon the site. It will bring our state of the art up to the latest of industry.
Genomics, bioinformatics, and Sandia
LN: You were in Washington for the signing of the agreement with Celera and Compaq on the next major advances toward superdupercomputers, as we called them in the Lab News(Jan. 26 issue).
Paul: This job has some wonderful perks. Being able to take a red-eye flight from California to that event was a real perk. It was the last day in office for Bill Richardson and the president’s science advisor, who were both part of the event. As its role in the CRADA, Sandia will supply its expertise and massively parallel computers and software and algorithms to the biological applications of Celera, agenomics company. We will get a return of learning about technology that a lot of people have been licking their chops to understand. That’s biological science, a new field called bioinformatics. But what gave me so much pride was participating in a distributed press conference with press from around the country, including a number of financial advisors. One reporter asked a critical question of Celera— why Sandia? Why not one of the other labs that has a lot more biology? Craig Venter, Celera CEO, gave a dynamite answer. He said this was easy for them. If you want to look at who is the very best in advanced supercomputing, you come to Sandia.
“We’re on the verge of a revolutionary new technology for lighting. We’ve developed and gone through competitive testing of the decontamination foam that has just wiped out the competition in both chem and bio. There’re a ton of accomplishments.” —Joan Woodard
LN: Where’s the world’s fastest supercomputer?
Paul: It’s at Lawrence, once it goes into operation. It’s not into yet into production operation.
LN: Does it have any Sandia algorithms?
Paul: They are moving closer to our techniques. It is still unique. IBM had been developing it. Celera likes our technique, which makes use of commercial off-the-shelf processors, not special processors or architectures. The regime we’ll be working in with Celera follows closely on the line of our C-Plant [computational plant, a cluster of several thousand small computers]. It will initially use the Compaq Alpha chip as the building block. These are very inexpensive chips. You get a lot of supercomputer for a very small amount of money. I also am proud to say Sandia doesn’t mind saving money in the process of building supercomputers.
Labs’ R&D hitting the marketplace
LN: It’s a pleasure to talk to you after half a year, at least, of so many good things happening, in contrast to the year or so before that.
Paul: Good things in research and development continued to happen throughout that period. I am convinced that insights in science and engineering and advances in technology occur completely uncorrelated with the times we live in. Your recent issue of the Lab Newswith the achievements of the last year, the accomplishments issue [Jan.26], should beliving proof. That’s as solid a set of accomplishments as you’ve ever published. And it was during what was one of our hardest years, where people all over the Laboratories were scratching to get through the year.
LN: Sandia is losing leading people, like Paul McWhorter, to start new companies. How do you feel about that?
Paul: One of the national reporters came through here to talk about the Laboratory helping new companies start up based on its technologies. He talked to a number of people. When he wrote the story he began with the following opening,“Imagine that one of the largest, best companies made an announcement of a new program where they would encourage their very best employees to leave.” Well, it was a shock. We hadn’t quite looked at it in such a stark detail. Technology transfer is a contact sport. I think if people only stayed in the Laboratory it would take longer to get the technology in use. And in that sense, Tom Brennan [who took entrepreneurial leave to found his own company, now a part of Emcore] was one of the first, the trailblazer with technology. I think it’s a necessity to get some people moving outside the Laboratory. Tom has now founded a new venture to work more closely with the Laboratory to help create other ventures in the future. I think we should all look at this as a success. I believe over time successful entrepreneurs will still say, “Gee, this has been great. I’m going to turn over the running of the company to someone else and come back to the Laboratory because that’s who I am and that’s what I want to do.”
LN: That has happened, hasn’t it?
Joan: Yes, it has. The other thing I wanted to point out is that Emcore is one of our largest CRADA partners. MEMX [the new company founded recently by Paul McWhorter and other former Sandians to commercialize Sandia’s micro-electromechanical systems technology] will be there some day. We are looking at different models for business for the Laboratory where employees don’t have to move totally out of the Labs, taking a full leave of absence. There will be mechanisms where they can still retain relationships with the Laboratories, working with companies, and maintaining the right distance in terms conflict of interest. So, stay tuned. We will have more on that.
Paul: I think we are still experimenting with what are the best ways to blend technology developed by tax payer money within the government for government missions out into the commercial world. I think we’ll try a bunch of models. Maybe we’ll never finish experimenting to find the best way.