Sandia LabNews

Annual Lab News State of the Labs interview

Annual Lab News State of the Labs interview with Paul Robinson and Joan Woodard

Impending war with Iraq was much on the minds of Sandia President and Labs Director C. Paul Robinson and Executive VP and Deputy Director Joan Woodard at the start of the annual Lab News State of the Labs interview with them on March 6. But the discussion ranged over many other topics from nuclear policy to the invigoration of the Lab’s staff with 1,300 new employees in the past two years. They were interviewed by Lab News editorial staff members Ken Frazier, Bill Murphy, and Chris Burroughs.

Lab News: Paul, at your State of the Labs talk to employees (Lab News, March 7) you paused to think about our military forces set for possible military action against Iraq, and you said, "A number of Sandians are in harm’s way providing support to the military that we should remember as well." Can you say anything more about that and what roles they are or might be playing?

Paul: Today we have a Sandian who’s a part of the UN inspection team, Dave Kitterman [1639]. He is an expert in nuclear matters. He flew into Iraq just over a week ago. [Editor’s note: Dave and his team subsequently left Baghdad on March 9, and he returned to work at Sandia the next week.] We cannot talk about other folks who are supporting the military, but we do have some of our experimental technology prototypes now in theater and there are some Sandians and Sandia contractors supporting that particular effort. But at the moment there is not much we can say about the technologies.

Joan: And that’s natural. There have been a lot of articles, including one in Aviation Week not too long ago, about all the new technologies that were being brought to bear in the planning. So it shouldn’t be a big surprise that some of the technologies we are involved in and working, whether a part of the advanced concepts demonstrations or whatever, are being considered and being inserted into the planning right now.

Paul: One step our board of directors took is to make a special insurance policy beyond normal Lab insurance for people who go into hostile zones, battle areas. In fact, Joan is the gatekeeper on who will be covered by that. After introducing that and gaining approval in a special phone meeting of the board last week, I got a very nice e-mail from a Sandian, Richard Hay [15406]. He recalled when he had been involved in Vietnam with some of the early sensors that we were deploying over there, and at one point lying on his back as the Chinese communist airplanes dove down close over them. He told me, "Of course we didn’t have anything like that [insurance policy], and I am glad nobody had to explain to my widow such a thing." But he said, "I think it’s just terrific you guys have done that now." It’s nice to get positive feedback about the things we do around here. That was a notable one.

LN: Can you say how many Sandians are being covered by that policy now?

Joan: The policy extends the insurance we previously had that covered our ARG [accident response group] and NEST [nuclear emergency search team] people to include those who are a part of things like what Richard Hay did in the past. You are covered if your name is on a list that I maintain in my office that requires that the VP submit the name and information beforehand. Right now we have David and our ARG/NEST teams on the list. The question is, if we send people to a country that is somewhat of a hotspot even though it’s not really a war zone-related country, should they be covered? Or should management be a little bit more careful about our decision-making about whether they should go? I think it’s going to cause us as management to step up to a new level of thinking about the judgments we make when we send people into various parts of the world when the tension is particularly high.

LN: What other thoughts might you want to share with employees about the possibility or probability of war?

Paul: I believe this is a very realistic time to face up to the questions, What if there are nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, or biological weapons? The responses we might be called upon to deal with include, god forbid, somebody actually using them in battle against our troops, which is clearly a real worry. The next is if they decide as Iraq did after the Gulf war to go out with a blaze, setting oil rigs on fire all around. Might they do that with their weapons stores if they haven’t used them? We expect in the best case there would be an awful mess to have to deal with very carefully. The Pentagon is calling for our advice and help in preparing to deal with whatever arises.

Joan: NNSA is clearly the resource in the country for dealing with that.

Paul: The situation internationally has probably never been quite as confused as this morning. I believe — and it’s probably a good thing among humans — that the very thought of war brings up such feelings, deep feelings among people on a number of continents. I sometimes worry that the feelings are clouding the brain, particularly in this case. The war is clearly not about oil. The US has never fought a war in which it extracted a penalty. Usually war gives us the opportunity to pay to rebuild the nation. That would be the likely outcome here as well. It certainly is the case if you read the dossier that the British put together about conditions in Iraq. I found that one of the more compelling open-source documents that I’ve read in years. I highly recommend it to Sandians. The weapons of mass destruction document included an appendix on human rights violations and the torturing tactics that have been used, with good documentation. I think the Brits have been masters at putting that information together.

Joan: In addition to advanced technology that we’ve been working on with DoD, one of the things I see coming from this is a further consideration and expansion of things like the Cooperative Monitoring Center extension in Jordan. That started but has slowed down a little bit with all these activities and travel curtailments. But one can see that receiving a lot more interest and perhaps expansion.

LN: What has been the most rewarding part of the past year for each of you? The most frustrating?

Joan: For me the most rewarding has been the list of visitors that we’ve had to the Lab over the past year coming from various parts of Homeland Security and national response teams, first responders, and the top officials who are establishing NORTHCOM [the new North American Command]. Their feedback in closeout sessions — listening to them and their assessments of the relevance and the value of Sandia technology — has been exciting to hear. Every time they go through the Bldg. 810 display area, for example, they’ll make comments [A selection of homeland security and counterterrorism technologies is on display in Bldg. 810.] They are in awe at what we have and the kind of potential that technology promises for helping work some of the most difficult problems, whether it be the shipping containers issue, or trying to track material moving across borders, or dealing with mitigation and cleanup — chem/bio or nuclear. It’s very exciting. That to me has been one of the most rewarding things, to see the relevance and see it in the eyes and words of these visitors.

Paul: This has been a year where I thought we concentrated on the fundamentals — which has been good, to not have the disruptions of some of the previous years. I think we’re still delighted with the Sandia pension proposal and how it turned out, but it sure is good to have that behind us as an issue. We can now focus more of our time on the important things we do here. For the annual Labs Accomplishments issue, we ask for a paragraph and we get quite a harvest of suggestions from people who would like to have folks know about what they’ve done. As I’ve looked throughout it this year trying to find the dominating theme, I came on "components." These small breakthroughs on which building systems eventually hinges showed a wealth of development across the board, in sensors, in mechanical and materials processes. A lot of very basic things were achieved that small teams had been concentrating on. You can just imagine where they are likely to go. When you stack them all up as we did in the final publication, they are a very impressive list.

The problems at Los Alamos

LN: And the most frustrating?

Paul: I think this one will be easy. Maybe we’ll both have the same one. Watching at a distance — though nonetheless affected — the serious problems that Los Alamos has had to deal with has been painful. I don’t know any other word than that.

Joan: Yes, that has been frustrating.

Paul: Among the obligations regardless how good the science and technology is, is that you do have to spend time making sure the trains run on time, and I believe that’s the biggest problem at Los Alamos, not that the science and technology is not as well done as before. It’s taken the management’s attention and required them to put all their time into answering criticisms. I perhaps over-use this statement, but over my whole career I’ve felt the most limited resource in any organization is the time of its senior management. If you are putting your time in on other things, you won’t be putting it into more strategic things, which is the real purpose of your existence.

LN: How have these problems, if at all, affected us, Sandia?

Joan: Instantly! As soon as an issue comes to light our first reaction is the question "Do we have the same sort of problem here?" Perhaps not the same magnitude, but we have many of the same challenges. What can we learn from what they’re finding at Los Alamos as they are exploring these issues? We have a lot in common being national labs, so it would be very arrogant, very misguided for us to assume that we are clean-free with regards to each and every one of the issues that have come up.

Paul: One of the things we changed, and I believe we wouldn’t have been so quick otherwise to make this change had the problems not occurred there, is in our purchase cards. In the P-card environment managers and above did not have to have someone reviewing and approving the use of those cards. We changed that and said nobody is above having someone approve their actions. Because perhaps the most serious case at Los Alamos was a more senior person who had violated their trust.

LN: Are relationships between the scientists of Los Alamos and Sandia good?

Joan: Oh, yes, very good. In fact, there is a lot of empathy and concern from our folks. I hear report after report in which engineers and scientists will be involved in some sort of collaborative meeting — it might be on some totally different subject having nothing to do with lab operations and governance — and the topic comes up. And so it is clearly on these folks’ minds, every single one of them. They are laboring through it. And the response from our folks has been very positive.

LN: Do you think what has gone on at Los Alamos has gotten in the way of their science? I know you’ve said the science there is great.

Paul: The science is great. But I believe the problems have affected morale. That is probably the most serious loss. It is on everyone’s mind. The other distinction is that we have had a very supportive community. As you know there are people who work full time as an independent oversight group of antinuclear activists who focus on Los Alamos. Now, giving those people a little bit of ammunition as has been done by the present events leads to very bad consequences. I was in Moscow the second week in January and opened up the Moscow Daily News, and there was a story about the problems in Los Alamos.

LN: You have been quoted as saying you advised Lockheed Martin that if the Los Alamos contract came up for bid not to pursue that bid because of the differences between Los Alamos and Sandia in management. Why did you say that?

Paul: What I said is, "Don’t rush to do that. The cultures are very, very different." The university culture has focused much more on basic research and less on major projects, and the mismatch with Lockheed Martin’s skills and experience I think could be a significant problem.

Budgets and future uncertainties

LN: Back to Sandia. Sometimes it sounds as if we here at Sandia almost have more work than we can do, more than we have the people and time to do. Is that a correct perception?

Joan: For every project that comes into the Laboratory there are people in this Lab who have worked very hard in establishing credibility and strong relations and good performance with the customer we serve. To imply that money is just sort of rolling in is really an incorrect impression. Right now, frankly, we are bracing ourselves. We are not sure exactly how projects will come in for the budget for this year. That’s why at the State of the Labs address for the community I was somewhat cautious in saying that we were approaching the $2 billion level. I have seen over the last six or eight months or so our estimates becoming unclear — though now having the Energy & Water appropriations is helpful. Some of the customers are starting to feel the pinch, a pull-back for supporting the war efforts or expectations of what’s going to happen with the ’04 budget given the overall economic picture. So I feel very comfortable about maintaining some level of stability, but can’t be sure we’ll continue to have growth of great magnitude. I think we, like a lot of parts of the government and the country, are going to have to realize that our appetite or the nation’s appetite is going to have to be managed while we deal with the country’s economic problems.

Paul: One of my beliefs is that for a lab like ours we can always find money — if that’s all we’re looking for. But we have had an opportunity to be a lot more strategic and focus on missions, and if there is alignment with our missions, then we’ve said for sure, don’t turn down sponsors who come to you for help; if there is not an alignment, we’ve suggested that we should help them to find someone who could do the work. And that’s not a bad position since we don’t have a way to store money for the future bad times. Maintaining good relations with all the potential customers is probably the best storehouse we can develop.

Political support, proving value

LN: That leads into the next question. We’ve had tremendous political support for a long time, but there might be a time down the road some years when some of that goes away, if say, Senator Domenici retires and other things like that. What kind of planning can we do for that kind of long-term eventuality?

Paul: We’ve had wonderful support from Pete Domenici, first of the list. I think without his hard work we would be far worse off. Similarly Jeff Bingaman, when we’ve called on him, has been there. He does not quite have the same role that Pete does in appropriations, but nonetheless he has always been there to support us when it was needed. One of the things we’ve talked about for at least 15 years is never appearing to be pork — that is, receiving your money only because of legislative support. We really do have to look at the value proposition, and what we deliver to customers. I said before that our focus on customers is what kept us healthier than others through the bad times. I believe that’s the most potent advantage for Sandia — continuing to focus on our customers, which are still 98 percent government customers.

Joan: I think it is very encouraging when I look at the magnitude of our non-DOE work, because for those customers they truly have a choice, a full choice. Now some DOE customers may feel that because we are a DOE lab there’s some pressure there [to use us]. But the work from the DoD and other-agency customers that come to us is approaching $500 million, and so that’s a huge statement about our ability to demonstrate value.

Paul: And similarly the industrial folks who’ve put more than $200 million into the EUVL [extreme ultraviolet lithography] have just signed a new agreement with us to extend our participation as advisors for the next generation of electronic chips. And they had full choice in how they would spend their money.

Homeland Security, NNSA

LN: Has DOE expressed any concern about our taking on work from DoD and now the Department of Homeland Security?

Joan: Last Friday [Feb. 28] the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Homeland Security signed a Memorandum of Agreement that directed that the DOE labs and all their assets be provided on an equal basis, giving DHS an equal ability to task. Previously our Work for Others work was cast in a noninterference architecture. This is an equal footing in terms of tasking. That is a statement at the highest levels of the importance of our being true national labs, which is something we’ve been trying to encourage others to think about for some time. We are hopeful that others will look at this agreement and that we’ll see similar sorts of things develop with other key departments.

Paul: One thing I can definitely cite as an advantage we have accrued from the new NNSA, which has a different status within the Department of Energy, is that they are much more open to partnering across the government, not only Homeland Security but the Department of Defense, the intelligence community. The intelligence community has never had better relationships than we enjoy today. Similarly, with Commerce and the State Department we are not finding the parochial attitudes of the past. In that sense, I believe homeland security, which was a wake-up call to everybody, has softened the boundaries within government and told everybody it is one government, we have to start acting more like it. And so we have had greater support from NNSA for working with the other agencies than we’ve ever had within my memory.

LN: Is NNSA working out in the way hoped?

Paul: It is taking longer, but I would have to say yes.

Joan: The vector is in the right direction. I think there is some work that needs to be done to figure out what the creators really had in mind. In fact, one of the things the Foster panel is doing as it closes out its work this month is to do just that, to talk with the key folks who were involved with the creation to see what were their expectations and what they viewed as the desired end state, and then do an assessment of how it’s going.

Nuclear weapons: future needs

LN: Despite our Work for Others and for Homeland Security, the fundamental core mission is nuclear weapons. We’re now 10 to 12 years since the last full-up test. And yet you have to certify the health and safety of the nuclear stockpile. How is science-based stockpile stewardship working out? Can we continue to proceed into the future hinging everything on that, or is a point approaching where there is anxiety about whether testing is needed?

Paul: That same question is being put on the table right now by the Nuclear Weapons Council. One of the reasons I think we have such good relations with NNSA is today they have no doubt, no doubts whatsoever, that Sandia’s primary focus is the nuclear weapons program. That we haven’t abandoned the nuclear weapons program in order to pick up Homeland Security or support for intelligence or DoD munitions. The weapons program remains our guide star. We talk about this frequently with [NNSA Acting Administrator] Linton Brooks and [NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs] Ev Beckner as well, such that they have no doubts but that we take care of that business first. In that sense what we do in nuclear weapons is enriched by the experiences we gain from others. One of the things we’ve tried to do is make sure the large missions we pursue do pay a dividend back to our ability to do the nuclear weapons program. I am convinced that because we are putting our focus as a laboratory in the right place, it is probably the most important factor in why we are being supported to do other things.

LN: But is there a time farther down the road where the aging weapons are going to be more and more difficult to certify?

Paul: We have said by 2010 or 2015, in that time period, we will see the retirement of the majority of folks who have designed weapons in a nuclear test environment. And so it will be a huge question. Are the people who are filling all those positions, the new men and women in the program, capable of doing what was done in the past, since you have no way to give them a report card by way of a past/fail on a test. That is one of the things that nuclear tests did — they graded the designers and the design capabilities. And so we’ve always said for 20 years that there was going to be a crunch point before us, and we are still approaching it, which is why these questions are being asked now by the Weapons Council.

Joan: Equally important to what the Weapons Council is bringing up is the need for having a much stronger, healthier advanced concepts development activity. For us, the singular attention on nuclear testing is not nearly as important as having an accepted role in developing new concepts, producing the designs in hardware, and doing the testing. We are battling limitations in congressional language that says that you can’t go this far — it’s almost a law against new thought. That is a very critical issue. And it relates to the point Paul made about people. If you lose the cadre of folks who know how to develop new technology, and develop advanced concepts around that technology, we will have lost a lot.

Paul: We don’t want to have people whose jobs are simply to serve as "the maintenance mechanics on the doomsday machines." We really want to have people who believe they themselves are the guardians of the nation’s security, whatever it takes, whatever the threats are. Having people who go to bed each evening with that on their minds, waking up with ideas of what might be going on in some corner of the world, what might we do to counter it, what should we be doing to develop new strengths for the country — that ought to be a perpetual activity of labs such as ours. In large measure that kind of activity and thinking was cut back over the decade of the ’90s, and we are working hard and asking for strong support from both the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch to give a rebirth to that.

Future nuclear needs: improved weapons?

LN: Are you implying that the current nuclear weapons are antiquated, that we need new designs for the new kinds of wars we will facing?

Joan: The Nuclear Posture Review puts that on the table, as something that needs to be debated. Absolutely.

Paul: I’ve gone farther in some of the things that I’ve written — that the arsenal built for the Cold War is not the arsenal that would work for regional conflicts. In particular, very high-yield, multiple-independently targeted re-entry vehicles, "MIRVed warheads," make little sense in trying to convince a country like North Korea to stop aggressive activities. Using such weapons becomes incredible to us. When they become incredible to us, that’s when deterrence really fails. And so we believe you should always have the capability to credibly hold at risk what a nation values. I think that’s becoming less and less the case. So there will have to be development of new systems. Whether new systems would require test of a warhead is not at all known yet, because the robust parts within a warhead can be repackaged in a number of ways. But we [Sandia] are responsible for all the electronics as well as the mechanical functions within warheads, and electronics change so constantly that there is no warhead out there for which you can go out and procure the components you need. They are just not available anymore. They are long-since "sunsetted" out of production. You can’t just say I’ll take new ones off the shelf and redesign, because you have to rethink all the intricacies of how they connected up. That’s what we’re doing with a number of the warheads in the stockpile life extension program — or service life extension program, the term I’ve seen recently in testimony. One of them is the Trident warhead, which will be the first one. I think it is a system that we will want to maintain. It has a more moderate yield compared with some of the extremely high-yield things we have, it’s the most secure warhead we have because of its submarine basing. And so we are retrofitting that completely — the electronics, the arming, fuzing, and firing systems. We have been convinced that what’s happening today is going to mean that the Trident will be the best warhead ever fielded by this country. That is the other thing that should happen. Each generation should have their opportunity to improve things, not just to be the caretaker of something done 20 years ago, or in this case 30 years ago.

New employees, new energy

LN: Related to that, I was very struck by the fact that, Joan, you emphasized in the State of the Labs talks that we have brought on 1,300 new Sandians in the past two years. That’s almost a sixth of our workforce. What is the feedback from them? Are they happy? How do they get imbued with the Sandia culture that Paul was talking about? We haven’t had this many new people for quite a long time.

Joan: We actually have a pretty strong new-hire orientation program now that offers to all new-hires the opportunity to hear about the core mission of the laboratory and get a sense of what we are as a lab regardless of where their job lies within the organization. And the best connection in understanding the lab comes from working with the person who’s in the office next to you, who’s been here 20 years. The person who understands what the lab is and has had experiences of working on projects, a particular warhead design or a new sensor system, and seeing all the laboratory’s resources come to bear to deliver this product for the customer. It is exciting to me to hear from folks around the Labs welcoming these new people into the organization and recognizing that the new-hires are bringing a whole new energy level to the Lab. And in fact people who are thinking about retiring now are saying, ‘Gee, I think I’m going to stay a little longer, because there’s a new energy, it’s more exciting working here, there are new ideas coming from this infusion of new people as well as fresh skills out of school." But, are we doing as good a job as we should in bringing folks in? No. In fact, one thing on the drawing boards right now is to see if we can tap into some of the folks who are retiring to capture, not nuclear weapons knowledge like the Knowledge Preservation Program, but some of the stories of the Lab that tell about the character of this institution. We are trying to work with the Video Services folks to see how we can capture these stories in a way that we can transfer some of that gut feeling and emotional understanding of the lab.

Paul: Joan and I had a chance when we did the State of the Labs out at California to spend part of an afternoon with a room full of new-hires, to just talk about things in general. They asked, "What do you think we should be doing to improve our careers within Sandia? What would you like us to do?" And I said in my job I get the opportunity to go to retirement celebrations to thank people for their service here and the things they’ve done. Over the years I’ve become an expert at retirement speeches. I’ve heard them all. They go like this: "I came to Sandia with a certain interest in a technology or a particular project that was starting up. I had a great time doing that, but then something else came up, either a national crisis or somebody in the other lab asked, can you send someone who knows something about this technology? So I went over and got involved in that, and, wow!, did we really thrive. And over the years it seemed every four to seven years there was a new focus, a different project. To be able to do so many different things over a career and still work at the same place — Sandia Labs — has been the most remarkable part of it." That’s what they say. So I told the new-hires, "Start preparing yourself right now and open up to the rest of the laboratory. That’s what works. Make the biggest contributions you can across the place instead of just being stove-piped into one area."

Keeping it exciting

Joan: I think a lot of the new-hires are coming with that kind of desire. We’ve heard a lot about Generation X and the notion that people work for four or five years and then move on. They’ll work for 10 different companies in their lifetime. Well, that’s not what we’re hearing from these folks. Inadvertently, we could drive them to that by not having an exciting place to work. On the other hand, the opportunity — if we keep our course — of their having five careers under one roof is great. And many new-hires see that. Perhaps there’s a self-selection. Maybe the folks who are choosing to come to Sandia tend to think that way, but the vice presidents who do a lot of the same things Paul and I just did tell us the same thing repeatedly — that these new folks are not a whole lot different from the thinking we had when we came.

LN: Paul talked about the Sandia culture and about a sense among Sandians of being stewards of the nation’s security. Are you getting that from the new-hires or does that take a while to cultivate?

Paul: I think we are. The folks coming in the door since Sept. 11 say, "What can I do? How can I help our country?"

Joan: You really hear a sense of service and focus on national security.

Paul: One person at that session commented about the retirement plan, something like, "Yes, I was pleased to see that you have a good retirement plan. Clearly I’m not thinking about that or devoting much time to it, because it’s so far off, but I want to work at a place where somebody else is going to worry about that so I can focus my energies on the work to be done here." And that’s how I think we all felt when we joined on.

LN: When new-hires come in the door, are they able to make valuable contributions right away, or does it take five years or whatever? Are they key contributors right out of the chute?

Paul: I think it takes five years before you’re ready to lead a project.

Joan: In terms of valuable contribution, I think the biggest thing is just getting over the hurdle of the security clearance, which is a continuing problem. It’s taking way too long. NNSA is trying to battle this hard, perhaps trying to see if they can get responsibility for doing the background checks transferred out of the FBI into OPM — the Office of Personnel Management — and tracking and prioritizing clearance requests.

LN: Didn’t that function used to be in OPM?

Paul: It was for a while, then after the Wen Ho Lee case it all went back to the FBI for the special personnel assurance programs, and now the FBI is overloaded, particularly so since Sept. 11 [2001].

Joan: I take it as an encouraging sign that our folks who manage the new-hire orientation and actually maintain some space out in Research Park for new-hires to sit are frustrated — but maybe this is a positive frustration — that line organizations don’t want their folks sitting out there. So they’re more inclined to put that extra effort in to escort them inside, to have them be part of the work team as early as they possibly can, even though there are limitations to what they can do.

The biotech connection

LN: We’ve recently done a series of Lab News stories about biotechnology research here at Sandia. Where do you see the Labs going with biotech? Is it going to continue to be a part of the Labs’ focus?

Paul: One concept I think is so marvelous. Richard Smalley, a Nobel laureate who gave a Truman lecture here, was talking about nanotechnology. That’s an area Sandia is specializing in. We won one of the major Center grants that have been created by DOE. We’re working at the atomic level; some of the things we’re building are just a few atoms across. Smalley said, "As I look at it, this is the great coming together of the sciences." He said he considers biology just to be "wet nano-technology." Is that a marvelous concept? So, all of the instruments that we’ve been developing, the force micrometers that can measure the force of individual atoms, for example, are crucial for people looking at biology problems and the synthesis of proteins. I read on the plane last night coming back from the APS [American Physical Society] meeting an article by a research group at the University of Illinois-Chicago with some Sandia support that is looking at a great parallelism between the spectrum of particles that are allowed and the mathematical rules that come into play. It made a complete analogy to biology and which proteins would be allowed by some similar scaling rules. Those are exciting, exciting concepts. I believe we’re already there; it’s not a question of will we be there. A lot of the drug companies have come to our doors because of the laboratory on a chip. We went into that as a Grand Challenge for dealing with chemical warfare and bioterrorism, but it looks like one of the best approaches, if not the very best, to looking at how cells pass protein messages. Evidently proteins are the message traffic as cells communicate with each other. The researchers have had no way to do a quick identification and understand the language of cells, and they believe the Sandia lab on a chip may be the best approach for that. So, I think it’s very exciting. I believe it’s here to stay.

Joan: We’ve been very successful in a new program in the DOE Office of Science called "Genomes to Life." We’ve had successful projects chosen [to be part of the program], and there have been some pretty good collaborations developing with universities and other research institutes. Our California site is continuing to focus quite a bit on the whole area of the cell — cell-to-cell interaction, cell membrane understanding — and folks here in New Mexico are supporting them. And further, we’re working in the area of bio-informatics and computational biology, which is a good marriage with our core capabilities in advanced computing. There is a clear impact in the chem/bio area, clear relevancy to very specific missions. Across the board — because of the notion of this really being "wet nanoscience"– it’s not that far off in the future where we will see biological-based processes for coatings and the like. So we’ve got to be on top of this; we’ve got to be connected to this area of development.

Paul: We actually have a researcher [George Bachand, Org. 1141] at the laboratory who has integrated some proteins into micromachines. He showed us an example. He said, "This would be the equivalent of you or I going out, lifting up a large telephone pole and rotating it around our head," but that’s what you see under the microscope, these tiny little blobs of protein grabbing long levers and rotating them.

Leaving a legacy

LN: We’ve covered a lot of ground here; we wanted to ask a personal question or two if we may. Paul, a lot of people have asked about your future plans. You’ve been here a while and we’ve had great years at the Labs and we hope they continue, but do you have any retirement plans? Is it far down the road?

Paul: I don’t have any definite retirement plans, but I will clearly disclose I am giving more and more thought to the question of "leaving a legacy." Watching Roger Hagengruber, who I first worked for when I came to Sandia and who now is retiring, is like seeing one of the real Titans hanging up his active Sandia career. Now, as you’ve seen, he’s found lots of other interests to occupy him [Lab News, March 7], and he also will be leading a program he’s put together for us — to be a Sandia Emeritus — to continue to be available to support us, to give advice, and to serve on some reviews for us. But, I’ve been asking a very fundamental question. It’s something that does keep me up nights, and that is: "What kind of laboratory should the nation that is the freest nation of the earth have? And are we that laboratory, or what would it take for us to be the laboratory the nation deserves?" So, I’m working maybe harder than ever to try and see if we can put into place and maybe start to write down a more thoughtful version of something Bob Kestenbaum [11000] and I and Bill Wiley, who was the former director at PNNL [Pacific Northwest National Laboratory], put together on the GOCO model — government-owned, contractor-operated laboratories. We wrote it for the Galvin commission in 1992 under duress and with only a few weekends to put it together. I believe one of the problems we’ve seen over the last decade or so was the number of new people who had no concept of the scope of the GOCO, what it was all about. They came into jobs, particularly in Washington, and applied something they learned in some other part of government or something out of another book, but without understanding what the balance is. So we’re trying to capture that, put it down for others to see, "What are some of the secrets of success of a strong laboratory?" In a talk I gave this week at the APS, I lamented the fact that while Sandia was very much created in the image of Bell Labs, that model is no longer available at Bell. And so we need to capture the essence of what is important to advance science on behalf of the country. We need to make sure we align the science and technology work with the missions and all the basic housekeeping chores to make a strong lab. I would like to get my arms around all that and get it written down so that hopefully none of us will forget these lessons over time.

LN: That would be a wonderful contribution. You’re right — the GOCO concept isn’t well understood at all.

Paul: We’re having a chance right now – it’s something I believe is very important, and maybe this is the answer to your NNSA question. There is a major reorganization of the Department of Energy folks who are in NNSA and how they will operate with the laboratories. We now have a new [NNSA] organization called the Sandia Site Office. They will have primary contract responsibility for us — no longer off site in Albuquerque, but here on site. They are also the primary oversight, and we’re in strong discussion as to what is the essence of that partnering. What should it be and how can we improve it? That’s just what [acting NNSA administrator] Linton Brooks is asking for — a new way of doing business that allows this strength from the GOCO model to come through. So there really is the best opportunity we’ve had for perpetuating the model of the GOCO so we can keep making our labs even stronger.

Rewards, joys, and inspirations

LN: Let me ask you this — I suspect from the way you’ve answered earlier questions the answer must be yes — but let me ask: Do you enjoy your jobs? I know there must be tremendous burdens and responsibilities, but I get the sense there must be some excellent rewards.

Joan: Oh, absolutely.

Paul: I had the privilege of receiving the [George E.] Pake Prize [presented by the APS to recognize and encourage achievement in physics and in research-related management, Lab News, Oct. 18, 2002] this week — that’s where I’ve been, at the APS meeting. I said that the third part of my life and career, which was coming to Sandia, has in itself been a dream come true. It’s been the best part, by far. I told that international audience some of the reasons why. I’ll put it [the Pake Prize speech] up on the Web.

LN: And you, Joan?

Joan: I’ve been here almost 30 years and have seen the Lab in a lot of different eras — the energy era, the strategic defense initiative era — and at no time more than now have I felt the relevancy and the impact of this laboratory. Just the excitement of talking to people, reading notes from folks about the work they’re doing, the opportunities they’ve had, and the impact that we’re having, hearing from our customers. It’s the best that it’s ever been, in my mind. In this job, you get to take pride in, applaud, and smile for and with everybody in this lab, and you couldn’t ask for more.

Paul: We had a discussion last week about what will be an enduring fact of life in a classified laboratory such as ours — some of the very best work this lab has done in its history has been done recently in compartmented programs and will not likely ever be known. But we can’t help but say congratulations and thanks to those people who are doing those projects on behalf of the people of the country, on behalf of the laboratory. We have an access to know about more than anybody else, and it inspires me to see what people have done and are doing. Their rewards have to come through self-satisfaction or Joan and I telling them how much we appreciate what they do.

Joan: Which is a fun job to have!

LN: That’s a good way to end. Thank you.