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THE NATION

A Pledge to Restore Trust at Lab

Interim director vows to resolve problems at Los Alamos. UC to meet with investigators who claim they were fired as part of cover-up at site.

January 16, 2003|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — University of California officials said Wednesday that they will meet this week with two investigators to assess their claims that they were fired as part of a cover-up of wrongdoing at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab.

The announcement came as the lab's new interim director met here with UC regents and pledged to "drain the swamp" to resolve the problems at Los Alamos and restore public and government confidence in the university's ability to manage the New Mexico facility.

The university is scrambling to hold onto its 60-year-old contract to run Los Alamos and two other national laboratories amid investigations by the FBI, Congress and others into allegations of credit-card abuse, missing equipment and mismanagement. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has warned that the university's long association with Los Alamos has been jeopardized by the allegations.

The lab's interim director, George P. "Pete" Nanos, told the regents, UC's governing board, that he has asked for an urgent review of the facility's business and administrative practices, and he vowed to get to the bottom of the reported problems.

"Unfortunately, we are in a position now of having to reestablish confidence and trust," said Nanos, a retired Navy vice admiral who has been at the lab for only four months.

Nanos also promised a new era of "transparency" at the lab as the numerous investigations move forward. In that spirit, he disclosed Wednesday that a piece of classified equipment cannot be accounted for. The discrepancy turned up in a recent audit of 61,000 pieces of what he described as classified removable electronic media, including hard drives. Nanos said that it's likely the equipment, possibly a disk drive, was destroyed, together with other outdated items, and that it is not actually missing.

However, because that cannot be proved, he said, the discrepancy has been reported to the Energy Department.

He also warned regents that with the investigations ongoing, "we're likely to have more bad news before we have good news."

UC officials said Wednesday that auditors have examined $3.78 million in questionable transactions and so far have explanations for all but $620,000 of them. Allegations of credit-card abuse and theft at the storied nuclear facility surfaced last spring. Matters worsened in November when the two former police officers who had been hired to investigate the reported problems were summarily fired and then went public with claims of a cover-up.

UC President Richard C. Atkinson said Wednesday that the two men, Glenn A. Walp and Steven Doran, had been fired without his knowledge. The two are scheduled to meet with UC administrators Friday to discuss their allegations, officials said.

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