An entrance to the Los Alamos National Laboratory during a 2012 snowstorm.

An entrance to the municipality of Los Alamos, New Mexico during a 2012 snowstorm.

LANL

DOE watchdog to look into why Los Alamos scientist was fired

An independent watchdog at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will investigate whether political scientist James Doyle was booted out of Los Alamos National Laboratory this summer after writing about the futility of nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

In a letter today to Doyle’s attorney, Mark Zaid, DOE officials rejected Doyle’s petition to reverse or modify his dismissal this summer. Doyle had argued that the lab’s decision to classify the scholarly article—“Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons?”—after it had appeared in the February-March 2013 issue of Survival: Global Politics and Strategy violated federal guidelines and that he was wrongly punished. Los Alamos officials have said that Doyle was laid off for budgetary reasons.

It’s no surprise that DOE stands by that decision. But what has raised eyebrows is that the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, has asked the department’s inspector general to determine “whether Mr. Doyle’s termination resulted, in whole or in part, from the publication of his article … or the views expressed in it.”

The letter, from the director of DOE’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, explains the rationale: “The Department’s senior leadership takes the issue you raise seriously, and will not tolerate retaliation or dismissals of employees or contractors for the views expressed in scholarly publications.” Zaid calls DOE’s decision “a smart move on their part.”

Gregory Friedman, DOE’s longtime inspector general, has been outspoken over the years in criticizing what he sees as lax security, wasteful spending, or inappropriate conduct by DOE lab officials. So outsiders are eager to see what conclusions Friedman might draw from the Doyle case.

Correction: 9/16/2014, 12:05pm: The caption on the photo has been corrected; the sign marks the entrance to the municipality of Los Alamos, not the laboratory.