Weapons Lab Head Search Put on Hold

The search for a new director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California took a surprising turn today, when the rumored leading candidate withdrew his name from consideration. The withdrawal follows hard upon last week's last-minute delay of the appointment of a director. Sources say the stall was caused by tensions between the lab and its two overseers, the University of California (UC) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Furthermore, it seems that a long-running rivalry between Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico played a role, as well as the fact that the candidate in question once oversaw a scientist accused but later absolved of spying.

UC runs both Livermore and Los Alamos labs for DOE. Typically, the university's Board of Regents rubber-stamps the UC president's choice for director, and DOE in turn approves the selection. But recent lab controversies have forced DOE to pay more attention to such appointments. New candidates were to have been presented 26 April for action by the board.

The leading candidate was believed to be Los Alamos's Raymond Juzaitis. But choosing a Los Alamos manager would be "a strong rebuke to Livermore," says Hugh Gusterson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology anthropologist who has written extensively on both labs. "Livermore has a tradition of weak management oversight," he adds, "while Los Alamos has always been thought to run a tighter ship."

In a letter to UC president Richard Atkinson, Juzaitis, currently associate director of weapons physics at Los Alamos, withdrew himself from consideration because "events of last week, including the unwarranted linking of my name to the Wen Ho Lee affair in an attempt to cast a cloud on the appropriateness of my appointment, suggest that the unfounded controversy may hinder my effectiveness in leading the Laboratory." Juzaitis once ran the division that employed Wen Ho Lee, the former computer scientist at Los Alamos who was caught up in allegations of spying but never charged with espionage (ScienceNOW, 11 September 2000). Sources say that the relationship could have revived questions about how DOE handled the case.

Candidates left standing are believed to be Jeff Wadsworth, Livermore's deputy director for science and technology; Michael Anastasio, deputy director for strategic operations; and Steven Koonin, a nuclear physicist and provost at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.