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Fired Whistleblower at Los Alamos Wins $930,000 Settlement From UC

Glenn Walp and a fellow investigator say the financial abuses they exposed appear too deep for the university itself to properly clean up.

August 21, 2003|Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

The University of California has paid a $930,000 settlement to an investigator who was fired after uncovering financial abuses at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The investigator, Glenn Walp, on Wednesday called the award "a solid victory for all Americans whose hard-earned monies were egregiously wasted and misused by leaders and managers at the Los Alamos lab."

Walp, 61, is a veteran law enforcement official hired by the lab last year to lead its internal security force. But in November, after he and fellow investigator Steven Doran turned up financial misdeeds at the facility, they were fired.

Speaking from his home in Santa Fe, N.M., on Wednesday, Walp called on University of California officials and managers of other federal laboratories to evaluate their procedures to ensure "prudent stewardship of tax dollars ... and then appropriately deal with crime and corruption and mismanagement."

After revelations of equipment theft, credit card abuse and other financial mismanagement at Los Alamos came to light, federal authorities launched their own investigations. The case also led to the departure of 18 lab officials, including the two top administrators.

Walp, soon after arriving at the New Mexico facility, wrote a report estimating that $3 million in equipment had been stolen since 1999. Among the missing items were more than 260 computers, including some from the most sensitive areas of the lab, where nuclear weapons are designed.

The revelations eventually prompted a decision by the Bush administration this spring to hold an open competition for the contract to run the lab when the University of California's current management deal expires in 2005. It is to be the first competitive bidding for the contract since the university started managing the facility for the federal government 60 years ago, when it was home to the Manhattan Project, the nation's first nuclear weapons program. UC officials have not decided whether they will participate in the bidding.

Chris Harrington, a UC spokesman, said university officials acknowledge that Walp and fellow whistleblower Doran were wrongfully fired by the lab's former top management. Both investigators were reinstated in January, and Doran, 39, is continuing to work for the university system at its Oakland headquarters, as director of public safety and systems security. Walp, after reinstatement, was a consultant to UC but has now left.

"We're happy to have the settlement behind us," Harrington said. "This allows us to continue to focus on ensuring that our strong, solid business practices are in place at the laboratory, and that the laboratory continues to be focused on its mission and perform the strong sciences that it always has."

But Walp and Doran, who previously had reached a smaller, private financial settlement with UC, on Wednesday both questioned whether the university could clean up the financial practices at Los Alamos. "I believe that the leadership of UC is attempting to correct their deficiencies, but it's too late," Walp said. "The deficiencies go so deep."

"The only way [federal authorities] are going to make any inroads to change the culture that has been ingrained at Los Alamos for decades is to bring in a new contractor," he said.

Doran said UC has still failed to remove many managers with financial responsibilities who were aware of abuses. These managers "are still in charge of the cookie jar," Doran said. "Why the university didn't terminate them is beyond me."

Harrington disputed the criticism, saying that "we continue to feel that we can provide adequate, strong security."

According to Walp and the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group that has worked with the two former investigators, the settlement with UC consists of a $900,000 payment for the wrongful firing and roughly $30,000 to cover 3 1/2 months of salary and benefits.

Harrington said the out-of-court settlement will come from the fees that the federal government pays UC for managing the lab, and will not affect the university's educational finances.

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