Federal investigators will send a team to evaluate security at a nuclear weapons lab and consider whether the federal government should take over, after a report that it took six weeks before top managers were told about the loss of an access badge.
National Nuclear Security Administrator Linton Brooks said Friday that he would send a team of senior managers to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory next week.
The investigation was more bad news for the University of California, which has managed Lawrence Livermore since 1952. The university has already come under withering criticism for problems at the other nuclear weapons facility it manages, the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico.
After security lapses and allegations of financial fraud by some employees, the government decided to put the Los Alamos management contract out for bid when it expires in 2005, breaking a 60-year tradition.
The security team, which will start work at Livermore on Monday, is charged with investigating the loss of a security officer’s access badge. The badge was lost weeks ago, but the loss was not reported to senior management until Thursday, and then it was described as the loss of a set of security keys.
The administrator is asking the team to decide if the agency should take over direct responsibility for lab security.
Lab officials acknowledged in mid-May that keys were missing, although they said security had not been compromised. However, Brooks disclosed Friday that the missing item had been lost for three weeks before top managers found out.
Brooks has also asked the team to look into reported claims by a member of the lab security force that the special response team is not prepared to defend against a terrorist attack.
Last month, Brooks appeared before the UC Board of Regents, urging it to compete for the Los Alamos contract. Brooks said then that he did not think problems at Livermore were as serious as those at Los Alamos.
However, in a statement Friday, Brooks indicated he was concerned that the lapses were not being reported up the management chain quickly enough.
“Senior management at Lawrence Livermore and the University of California have responded aggressively to revelations about security problems, but I am disturbed by evidence that other managers in the chain of command have been lax in identifying and reporting potentially serious security problems,” Brooks said.