Accountability exists more in rhetoric than in fact at Los Alamos National Laboratory [news story, June 20].

The U.S. Department of Energy, under the stewardship of Bill Richardson, seeks to blame everyone while at the same time pinning responsibility on no one. The secretary does not explain why significant problems at the lab go unresolved for years if not decades. He ignores the fact that for years the General Accounting Office and the Office of Inspector General audit reports have raised serious concerns regarding the stewardship of the lab. Public officials such as himself are the reason such reports are all but ignored.

When employees try to bring serious problems to the attention of management, they are no longer considered "team players." The internal audit and assessment process at the Los Alamos National Laboratory is tightly controlled, and practices that reflect badly on senior management rarely surface.

The Department of Energy is a paper tiger when it comes to providing meaningful oversight at the lab. Sen. Pete Domenici's influence over the Energy Department's budget is one reason why. His political base is strengthened by ensuring the contract for the lab's management oversight remains with the University of California; the contract has never been subject to competitive bidding in nearly 60 years.

Oversight provided by the University of California, an institution 1,000 miles distant from the lab, is marginal, and the political protection provided by the university is a major reason why the lab's corporate culture can ignore public mandates with impunity -- including those dealing with health, safety and security.

MANUEL TRUJILLO

CHUCK MONTANO

Los Alamos, N.M.

Mr. Trujillo works at the Los Alamos National Laboratory as an electrical engineer. Mr. Montano, an auditor, works in the lab director's office.