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THOUSANDS OF LOS ALAMOS COMPUTERS M.I.A.

Los Alamos National Laboratory hasn't kept track of thousands of its computers -- including ones containing classified information. The lab's own guards stole four of the machines. And employees didn't have to pay the government back when their laptops suddenly went missing.Those are just a few of the conclusions of a disturbing report from the Department of Energy's Inspector General, who has been examining how the world's best-known nuclear lab handles its inventory of laptop and desktop PCs. The University of California operates Los Alamos on the Energy Department's behalf.As Defense Tech readers know, Los Alamos has been involved for months in a series of scandals involving nod-off management and droopy-eyed security. This latest report offers more evidence for just how narcoleptic lab officials have been.Many laptop computers that couldn't be found were simply "written-off," without a formal inquiry. One was used for classified work, without proper approval. And 762 computers bought with government credit cards didn't receive "property numbers," which are required to track all "sensitive items" at the lab.To Project on Government Oversight's Peter Stockton, a longtime lab critic, this report gives further evidence that "these characters running the lab are out of control."Stockton's watchdog group today sent a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, asking him to put the $2 billion-per-year Los Alamos up for bid now, instead of waiting until 2005, when the agreement runs out.On Thursday, the House Energy Committee will hold the last of three hearings into the lab's management. Witnesses will include Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman and University of California president Richard Atkinson.

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