Nukes, Documents and FFRDCs
The elements of the story were irresistable. A top secret nuclear weapons lab. A drug investigation. And classified documents discovered in a trailer, after police responded to a domestic disturbance.
It was all there in articles last week about a security breach at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Energy recommended a record $3 million fine against the University of California, the contractor that ran the place. The energy department's National Nuclear Security Administration found the university's security procedures were riddled with gaps.
GovernmentExecutive.com ran a story that said the proposed fine followed the discovery of more than 1,000 pages of classified documents and "several computer storage devices in a trailer" occupied by an employee of a subcontractor who once worked as an archivist at the lab.
Apart from the too-strange-to-be-true details of the discovery, I'm interested because some of the government's most important laboratories are run by academic contractors and entities known as Federally Funded Research and Development Centers.
These entities have been doing enormous amounts of work over the years. They get paid a lot of money. A rough tally by Eagle Eye Publishers said that more than three dozen of the FFRDCs received about $14 billion in contracts.
The security breach -- billed by officials at Los Alamos as troubling, but under control -- made me wonder: What exactly are FFRDCs and universities doing? Why do FFRDCs exist? Are taxpayers getting what they pay for? How can we know?
I'll be trying to answer those questions along the way. If anyone wants to offer help, please drop me at note at firstname.lastname@example.org
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