Tarter looks to the future
After serving for eight years and two months (including seven months
in an acting capacity), today will be my last as Laboratory Director.
It’s a good time to sum up the major events of the past decade and
assess the state of the Lab. I’ll do this for four areas: programs,
science and technology, administration and operations, and human resources.
Programmatically, there have been two major themes, along with one brief excursion and some involvement in a still embryonic field. By far the dominant change has been the transformation of the nuclear weapons program from a design, test and build effort to one of stockpile stewardship. The Lab has major achievements in every aspect of stewardship: greatly enhanced surveillance of the stockpile, a successful life extension of the W87 warhead, extraordinary advances in the science needed for stewardship without nuclear testing, the construction of major new capabilities with NIF and the ASCI machines, and the development of a methodology that provides a basis for evaluating both existing warheads and future modifications that may be required.
A source of special pride has been our ability to meet the challenge of annual certification for Livermore’s weapons for the first six years of this process. Nationally, stewardship has had many successes, but progress is uneven across the program, and the challenge is to accelerate the total effort without weakening the strong components. Nonetheless, it has been a remarkably successful transformation that very few would have expected given the chaos and uncertainty at the beginning of the ’90s.
The second major programmatic evolution has been in nonproliferation and counterterrorism. Beginning from a relatively small intelligence base combined with verification and other monitoring technologies, there has been rapid expansion in many areas. We now have an array of projects directed at increasing the security of Russian nuclear material; some specialized and important projects on cybersecurity; the most advanced biodefense work in the country; and sensors aimed at virtually every aspect of terrorism. This collection of projects and the systems thinking that went into assembling it is an important reason why we have been so prominently identified in discussions about the new Homeland Security Department.
Analogously, our application of these technologies in the field after Sept. 11 was a significant achievement for our Laboratory. The ultimate charter and composition of this new department will significantly impact our long-term role in these areas, but it is an opportunity to further apply our skills to a very important national need.
Several other programmatic areas deserve special mention. First, in the early ’90s, we saw the rapid growth (and equally rapid decline) of technology transfer. Two lessons emerged from this: we learned that we were already tightly tied to industry in much of our work, and that occasionally we had special expertise that could be very useful commercially (as in EUV lithography, environmental cleanup and medical technologies). And, we quickly realized that the notion of national labs as the primary research and development engine for American industry was palpably silly.
Finally, there was the astonishing tour de force of the sequencing of the human genome. That advance and its impact on fields such as biodefense is just beginning to be realized, and the Lab’s ultimate role in bioscience and biotechnology is still a work in progress. In my view, we need a strong embedding in bioscience because of its potential for astonishing growth in the coming decade. Most other programmatic areas at the Lab, particularly in energy and environment, remained at roughly constant levels of effort during the last decade.
The Laboratory’s science and technology base continued to make remarkable gains in many fields. The most spectacular was in scientific computing, where the ASCI program not only led to much more powerful computers but stimulated the development of software, graphics and numerical methods to exploit the bigger computers. This led to major achievements in weapons simulation, but we also used institutional resources to provide computing capability to a much broader array of Lab scientists.
The last years of Nova experiments, and the potential of NIF as a scientific laboratory, was the other area in which major advances took place. Fusion science, material properties and astrophysics represent just a few of the fields in which Nova/NIF have and will push the future state of the art.
Finally, even listing the prizes and recognized achievements in other areas (things like the discovery of metallic hydrogen, of new heavy elements, and of dark matter in the MACHO project.) would take up an entire issue of Newsline. Those achievements are a testimony to both the talents of Lab scientists and the flexibility of the Lab to invest in good ideas. However, as many of you have observed, the increasing environmental and security requirements (often ill-matched to a basic research and development environment) coupled with other bureaucratic constraints on our work, are all barriers to innovation, particularly in experimental fields. A major task of Lab managers is to work even harder to ensure that a climate for scientific exploration is nurtured at the Laboratory. This is also a place where the University of California can and should play a very strong role.
Operationally, the Lab has had an increasingly excellent record over the past decade. Our financial and business functions are first class and have led to significant gains in productivity. Our environmental record is sound, and we have done a good job of informing and listening to the community about its concerns. We have successfully responded to the recent security mandates, although few of us believe we are yet able to distribute our security resources in an optimum fashion. The University of California, along with Los Alamos and ourselves, are currently working to redefine our contract measures in a way that reflects the real priorities at our institutions, and this effort could help reduce the substantial bureaucracy that has accrued over the years. An important test for any operational rule or prescription is whether it reflects best practices in its broad community and, if not, it needs to be challenged to do so at all levels.
Finally, let me turn to human resources. Here the story is more complicated. There is plenty of good news. We are still attracting and retaining first-class scientists and engineers, and the Lab is broadly viewed as a good place to work. And, the diversity of our leaders and managers has grown considerably over the decade, including positions in the most senior leadership jobs at the Lab. And, by any measure, the training and education programs have been greatly expanded at all levels of supervision. But there is substantial dissatisfaction with the performance evaluation system, and in many instances with the perceived opportunities for growth, particularly into management jobs. And, minority groups feel like "minorities" in far too many situations.
There are no easy solutions. Our science and engineering demographics will inevitably reflect that of the educational system, not the general population, so that we will not "look like" our neighborhood. And, the Lab is strongly committed to an evaluation system that is grounded in accomplishment and based on judgment as well as tangible measures. The employee survey of a year ago has laid the foundation for significant improvements in these and other human resource issues. It is very important that the survey recommendations be implemented and then tested and refined so that the vast majority of employees perceive the Lab as a place where their aspirations can be realized.
Now for a few closing thoughts. As you all know, we will celebrate our 50th anniversary this September, and it has been a half-century filled with excitement, achievements and important contributions to the nation. We have taken Lawrence’s model "to-the-max" and we were an instrumental force in ending the Cold War. We have helped build a national science base in computers, lasers and materials that could not have even been imagined in 1952.
But it is time to move on, to a new century, to a new set of national security challenges and to a new Laboratory. There are many valuable insights from the people and events of these past 50 years, but they can no longer serve as either a guide or a blueprint for the future.
The new generations that will head our country were not Cold Warriors and their challenges are very different. The Laboratory must respond to this new world with innovative and fresh ideas, and you have an outstanding individual in Mike Anastasio to lead you in that endeavor. I look forward to his leadership and to helping where I can, and I thank all of you for your efforts on behalf of the Laboratory during the time when I have been Director.