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Ex-Top Security Officials to Leave Los Alamos Lab

Their departure is announced amid allegations they were involved in fraud and retaliatory practices at the troubled facility.

March 12, 2003|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

The former top two security officers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have agreed to leave the troubled facility amid continuing allegations that they were involved in fraud and retaliation against whistle-blowers there, University of California officials said Tuesday.

The announcement that Stanley Busboom, the lab's former security division director, and his onetime deputy, Gene Tucker, would leave Los Alamos in April came on the eve of a congressional subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., at which the two men are scheduled to testify.

Meanwhile, Los Alamos officials told a state Senate committee in Sacramento on Tuesday that they have been unable to account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs.

At a hearing held by the committee in charge of overseeing the Los Alamos lab and two others in Northern California, university officials updated California and New Mexico lawmakers on their effort to overhaul the lab's management.

"The university has taken more of a direct role than ever before in the day-to-day operations of the laboratory," said university President Richard Atkinson.

Senior Vice President Bruce Darling said that a recent external audit has found about $320,000 in "questionable costs," but that the university would repay the money to the Department of Energy.

He said an external inventory of missing equipment is underway and is set to be released in April.

Darling also said that 17 employees and senior managers had been terminated or reassigned. Some of those cases have been referred to authorities for possible criminal charges.

Darling spoke by phone from Washington, D.C., where he is set to testify today before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is looking into allegations of financial irregularities and mismanagement at the nuclear weapons lab, which is run by the UC for the Department of Energy. Today's is the second of three such hearings over the next several weeks.

In a separate briefing Tuesday, Darling said that Busboom and Tucker, who were demoted in January to non-management roles at Los Alamos, had refused permanent reassignment to the lower-paying jobs. Each will receive about a year's salary as part of a severance package, Darling said. Along with other officials, the two have been accused by two former investigators at the lab of hindering probes into the use of government money by employees to buy personal items ranging from hunting equipment to televisions.

In an internal lab memo that was obtained by The Times on Tuesday, Busboom appeared to criticize employees in the security division who "place value on [Energy Department] direction and process" instead of the lab's own priorities.

In the October 2000 memo, Busboom said the division needed "new blood" to get past such "morale issues."

In his briefing, Darling also said the university is investigating possible disciplinary action against an employee who allegedly tried to use her lab purchase card to buy a souped-up Ford Mustang.

He said it has referred two other cases for possible criminal prosecution.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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