Accuracy in Media

The University of California has agreed to pay Glenn Walp $930,000 to avoid a public trial that could do further damage to the reputations of the University and Los Alamos National Lab. Walp and Steven Doran were fired in November 2002 after they had uncovered fraud, mismanagement and lax security at the scandal-plagued New Mexico lab. Doran had reached an earlier agreement with the University and now oversees security at three labs run by the University.

Critics of the lab said that the settlement represents a “solid victory for all Americans.” The Energy Department’s national labs, which include Los Alamos, are federally funded. Los Alamos’ budget last year was $1.7 billion. The university holds the management contract for two other labs, adding one billion dollars to its annual take. These labs are notorious for their treatment of whistleblowers and the university is reported to have several additional whistleblower cases pending.

The settlement is the largest ever granted to a whistleblower from inside the Energy Department’s national lab complex. One of Walp’s attorneys said the settlement confirms allegations made by Walp and others of a “culture of retaliation at these labs against anyone who stands up against management.” Last winter, Walp and Doran charged that lab managers had obstructed their investigation of alleged fraud and mismanagement at Los Alamos. When they persisted, the lab first reassigned them and later abruptly fired them.

The Walp/Doran firings were only the latest in a string of scandals afflicting the nation’s premier nuclear warhead design lab. Los Alamos has never fully recovered from the public revelations about its shoddy and haphazard security practices in the wake of the Wen Ho Lee case and the mystery of the missing computer hard drives. Walp and Doran uncovered nearly three million dollars worth of missing computers during their investigation. Many had processed classified information inside highly restricted lab facilities. A later Energy Department inspection confirmed that lab controls over computers are inadequate and do not meet basic security requirements.

Cynics suspect that the large settlement is an attempt by the university to fend off more criticism of its management of the lab. In the aftermath of the Walp/Doran scandal, the Energy Department announced that it would invite bids for the lab-operating contract for the first time in history. The University has held the contract unchallenged since 1943 when Los Alamos was first established. University officials say that all of the management problems at Los Alamos have been solved. But Walp countered that these problems would not be eradicated until the labs came under new management.

Walp and Doran owe a debt of gratitude to the media. Adam Rankin of the Albuquerque Tribune kept the story alive locally. The big break came when Sharyl Attkisson of CBS Evening News broke the story nationally. Her reports led to congressional hearings that further exposed lab misdeeds and corruption.

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