Departing Los Alamos Employees Didn't Follow Procedures

Employees who quit their jobs at Los Alamos National Laboratory (search) regularly failed to turn in security badges and complete other measures to ensure they no longer had access to classified information or nuclear material, according to a report released Friday.

The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the northern New Mexico nuclear weapons lab, began investigating last year after concerns that computer disks and other lab property containing secret information might have been going home with departing employees.

Ten percent of the 1,668 employees who left between Jan. 1, 2002, and Feb. 25, 2004, did not turn in their badges, according to the report. Forty-four of those had badges that allowed access to secret information and nuclear material, and some of the badges allowed access to other DOE sites, the report said.

The investigation also found that the lab did not follow correct procedures, such as terminating security clearances, for more than 40 percent of 305 former employees sampled.

The report, however, said no nuclear material, lab equipment or sensitive information has gone unaccounted for because of retired employees.

While the investigation was going on, the lab was already reviewing its personnel policies, lab spokesman James Rickman said Friday.

Last December, the lab changed the way people leave their jobs, which Rickman said has resulted in nearly complete compliance with security policies. The report said the new policies have not been around long enough to evaluate.

Los Alamos has been managed by the University of California (search) since it was created as part of the World War II Manhattan Project (search) that launched the age of nuclear weapons. But a series of management failures and security lapses have led the Energy Department to call for an open bidding process for management of the facility for the first time.

In another federal report made public Friday, the National Nuclear Security Administration said Sandia National Laboratories has not adequately assessed risks to the public if an accident involving one of its reactors occurs.

The evaluation found no unsafe operations, but said there were deficiencies in safety procedures and documents.

"The problem is that if there is indeed an accident, they have a serious problem" because the lab underestimated possible radiation doses or how far and fast a hazardous plume could travel, said Pete Stockton of the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, which released the report.

Sandia spokesman John German said the lab has been aware of the concerns for months and that "corrective actions are being completed now." He said the report, dated Dec. 10, was a draft.