Edward Siskin

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ORAL HISTORIES
Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
Washington, D.C.
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Interview of Ed Siskin by Michael Riordan on June 2, 2000,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/48321

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Abstract

This interview with Superconducting Super Collider General Manager Edward Siskin is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the SSC. Siskin discusses his experience working under Adm. Hyman Rickover in Naval Reactors, as well as his subsequent work at the company Stone and Webster, including management of multi-billion-dollar construction projects. He recalls his recruitment to the SSC project by Energy Secretary Adm. James Watkins, sources of opposition to his appointment, and a dinner conversation resulting in the project having distinct general manager and project manager positions. He reflects on tensions in his generally positive relationship with SSC Laboratory Director Roy Schwitters and difficulties in working with accelerator construction head Helen Edwards that ultimately led to her departure. He discusses the slow implementation of a cost-and-schedule-control system and argues that the Government Accountability Office identified non-existent cost overruns, serving as a tool of the SSC’s opponents in Congress. He states that the 1991 baseline cost estimate for the SSC was conservative and that the project was on track at the time of its cancellation, with all new cost increases stemming from the Clinton administration’s proposal to stretch its schedule. Siskin recalls a meeting with Rep. Tom Bevill, a key House appropriator, at which Bevill received a note from the White House indicating President Clinton’s willingness to sacrifice the project. Siskin also reflects more broadly on the political dynamics in Congress surrounding the SSC and on the difficulties in balancing scientific and engineering cultures on a large-scale project. 

Transcript

Riordan:

Let me get some background. As I understand it you came from the Nuclear Navy.

Siskin:

Originally, the Nuclear Navy. I was there from 1963 to 1977.

Riordan:

Did you report directly to Rickover? [Editor’s note: From 1949 to 1982, Adm. Hyman Rickover led the Naval Reactors branch of the Atomic Energy Commission / Department of Energy, which developed and procured reactors for the “Nuclear Navy.”]

Siskin:

For eleven years of those, yes.

Riordan:

Can you characterize the nature of the work that you did there?

Siskin:

From the end of 1965 until 1967, I was the project manager for building the natural circulation reactor prototype, the S5G [ed., a prototype naval nuclear reactor plant] in Idaho. From 1967 to 1970, I was in the Bureau of Ships technical contracting office for Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, designing and buying the reactor vessels, components that went into the ships.

Riordan:

You were with Westinghouse?

Siskin:

No, I was the government’s contracting officer for Westinghouse. Westinghouse had a contract to design and produce the reactor vessel, steam generators, control rod drive mechanisms, large valves, things like that, and I was the government’s technical contracting officer for that, working directly for the Admiral.

Riordan:

Was this entirely a technical job or did you have responsibility for interactions with Congress and things like that?

Siskin:

In the Naval Reactors program, Adm. Rickover interacted with Congress and nobody else. So, I did not have any responsibility there, except as the Admiral directed. I did have contracting as well as technical responsibilities. From 1970 to 1977, I was the manager of the field office at Groton, which dealt with the Electric Boat Division [of General Dynamics] and the various squadrons associated with the submarine base. And I functioned as Rickover’s representative there and so on. I left the government in 1977 and went to work for Stone and Webster [ed., an engineering and construction firm that has a strong focus on electric utilities, including in nuclear power.]

Riordan:

What was the nature of your responsibilities at Stone and Webster?

Siskin:

Various. My first job was as a project manager for the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant.

Riordan:

Was this building the plant from the ground up?

Siskin:

Stone and Webster built it from the ground up. It was well along when I became project manager. I had a variety of other jobs. I was assistant engineering manager, chief engineer, engineering manager, manager of the New York office, manager of the Cherry Hill office. My final job for the last two years at Stone and Webster was executive vice president and chief nuclear officer.

Riordan:

In those capacities, were you ever in charge of a multibillion-dollar project?

Siskin:

Many times. For example, Stone and Webster had a contract to save Comanche Peak. Comanche Peak was two nuclear plants that they had started to build and when they were ready to license it, there were so many problems that the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] turned down a license.

Riordan:

When you say “they,” you mean the utility?

Siskin:

The utility and its contractors. And so we were hired to rebuild the plant. This was in Grand View, Texas. That was a multibillion-dollar job for four years to get the plant licensed, which we did successfully and that was my responsibility. Beaver Valley was a multibillion-dollar job. When I was manager in New York, we had at least three billion-dollar jobs there that were my responsibility.

Riordan:

It seems like what you are describing is coming in and taking over troubled contracts. Is that a fair way to characterize it?

Siskin:

In almost every case, that was the case.

Riordan:

None of these were things that you took from the drawing board and built from the ground up?

Siskin:

I can give you examples of projects that I took from the drawing boards all the way up, most of which were not billion-dollar projects, but they were in the hundreds-of-millions-of-dollar projects simply on the basis of the time frame that’s involved. For example, in the early 1980s Getty came to Stone and Webster and needed to get a methanol plant using Lurgi technology (a German technology firm), and that was a $225 million dollar project from start to finish in two years. Other examples I can come up with, too. In many respects it is a lot easier when you do it from the ground up than it is when you have to inherit other people’s problems.

Riordan:

It’s like renovating a house. It’s often easier to knock it down and start over.

Siskin:

Yes.

Riordan:

How did you come to be invited to join the SSC project?

Siskin:

Adm. Watkins, then Secretary of Energy, whom I had dealt with in the past, asked me to do it.

Riordan:

Personally?

Siskin:

Yes.

Riordan:

As I recall, and I was not there yet, this came about the time when they were looking for a new project manager, right?

Siskin:

Right, and what happened was this: they [i.e., Universities Research Association, or URA] had settled on Paul Reardon as the proposed project manager, and DOE had a lot of trouble with Paul as the lead guy. And during the various discussions, apparently — and I wasn’t there so this is second hand — he did not engender a lot of confidence in people that he could satisfactorily do it. And so that is when Adm. Watkins asked me if I would be willing to do it, and I said yes. His comment was at the time, as long as there is a Republican administration, there is a chance to get this thing [the SSC] through. Once you no longer have a Republican administration, chances are pretty remote that it will be finished, but he wanted to make sure that the project, if it died, died for political reasons and not because we weren’t doing it well. So, he put Joe Cipriano in to manage the DOE office. He had known Joe from his Navy days.

Riordan:

In what capacity had you known him?

Siskin:

I had not known him [Cipriano].

Riordan:

No, in what capacity had you known the Admiral?

Siskin:

Oh, he worked for Rickover. I’d worked with him pretty closely on a number of occasions.

Riordan:

So, as I understand it, this general manager position…

Siskin:

This general manager position came about.

Riordan:

How did that actually get sculpted?

Siskin:

Once Watkins told URA that Reardon wasn’t acceptable and that he suggested me, it became a matter of academic pride and principle to refuse to do it. So, initially there was an impasse.

Riordan:

This was about October of 1990, right?

Siskin:

Either September… September, I think. I could look it up exactly when, but it was earlier than October. I didn’t think any more of it. I didn’t hear anything further for a couple of days after I had talked with Adm. Watkins. I got a call from Jack Marburger, who was at that point chairman of the URA board, I think. He said he wanted to talk and so we agreed that that Saturday I’d make reservations at the Admirals Club in Kennedy Airport, and I’d drive up from Southern New Jersey and meet him there. And he drove in from Long Island and we met and talked for a couple of hours in the Admirals’ club. It’s clear that he had some sort of rundown on me. Just looking over his shoulder, there was a handwritten page of notes. But he never volunteered to show it to me, and I never did get an answer. I never did ask what it was.

Riordan:

I think I’ve seen a CV of yours in some of the files. Or maybe that was later.

Siskin:

Could be. I have a CV in my desk if you want one.

Riordan:

No.

Siskin:

Anyway, that conversation went on for a couple of hours. One of the messages that I was clearly receiving was if I got involved in this, how would I presume to direct knowledgeable scientists as to what to do? And without that authority, I didn’t think I’d have a chance to manage a project. And so it was strictly handshake, we left, and nothing more was said. A few days later, I got another call and I’m not sure exactly who it was from, but it was, “Would I go out to California and meet with Panofsky and then go down to Texas and meet with Roy Schwitters?” So, I flew out to SLAC and talked with Pief [Panofsky] and also there at the time was [SSC Assistant Director Raphael “Rafe”] Kasper, and we talked for… oh, it went on for three or four hours, I guess. He clearly had the same notes that Marburger had. Clearly he was trying to get me to say that I would acquiesce to scientific wisdom in making technical decisions, and the best that I could do was say, “Trust the fact that I am an honorable person, and I will listen to all of the scientific input, but this job is part science and part hardware, and I’ve dealt with scientists long enough to know that the scientific boundary can be very flexible, particularly when you want to push to make a decision. And so basically, if you are interested in having me do the job, I need the authority to do the job and I wouldn’t go into it without it.” And so it was a friendly-enough banter, but I left and went to Texas with Rafe, and we talked with Roy and ended up having a dinner with Roy, — Rafe, Reardon, and I.

Riordan:

We’re still at this point talking about…

Siskin:

Project manager.

Riordan:

They haven’t yet created the new position.

Siskin:

Right. At that dinner we got into the discussion, and Reardon said, “Let’s go for a walk.” So, I left Roy with a bottle of wine, and Reardon and I went for a walk. Now, I was never sure whether that was a put up or Paul really did come up with the idea of general manager / project manager at that point [ed., the idea that Siskin would serve as general manager with Reardon as project manager reporting to him]. But, while we were walking around the restaurant outside, he broached the question: would I accept a general rather than project-manager [role] and he would be the project manager? I told him I had no hard spot with that, as long as the authority was defined properly.

Riordan:

He was talking about the general manager being over him?

Siskin:

That’s right. And if the general manager is a show position with no authority on technical matters, then it wasn’t acceptable. If it was over him, with all the responsibility that that entails, then I’d be very happy with then. I didn’t know Paul from Adam. I had met him that day for the first time. So, we went back. Paul told Roy his idea, and Roy said he liked it and would proceed. I got the impression that Paul and Roy had talked about it before, but nothing was said to that account. A day or two went by and the question came up: what about Texas? They’re putting up a billion dollars. They have a say in the organization, too. So, I got a call from a fellow named Morton Meyerson who was at that point chairman of the Texas National Research Laboratory Commission [TNRLC], and he said he wanted to talk with me. So, I got on a plane and flew down to Dallas. We met at the Admirals Club at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for a couple hours. At this point, Mort came on very aggressively, and my response was: “You’re reading from that damned piece of paper. I’ve seen Marburger with it, I’ve seen Pief with it. I’m not going to answer any more questions until you show it to me.” So, he gave me a copy of that piece of paper. Apparently, they had talked to a number of people that I had been at odds with at Stone and Webster, and it was a pretty derogatory document. I still have it if you want to see it sometime for its humor value. But that was the one issue that was highlighted. Never built anything from scratch. He’s always gone in and been a troubleshooter and fixed other people’s problems. In fact, I talked to Adm. Watkins about that, and he said, “That’s exactly what you’ve got to do, you’ve got to go fix other people’s problems.”

Riordan:

I would be interested in seeing that, if you have a copy of that and are willing to share it. I could see how it would be pretty sensitive.

Siskin:

I’ll give you a copy. Ten years ago. Who cares at this point?

Riordan:

You were at the time looking to move on at Stone and Webster?

Siskin:

The reason why Watkins found a willing audience, and Watkins knew, and this has to be off the record a little bit. [Break in recording] That’s the background.

Riordan:

The background director. When you first got down to the SSC…

Siskin:

Let me add one more tidbit of information here. I was very concerned, even more so after the various interviews than I was before, that I would not end up with the authority I needed to make some changes, to do what I needed to do to make the project successful. So, we ended up down in Watkins’ conference room, when Roy wrote out longhand that he delegated to me, not to be revoked, the right to hire and fire, except for laboratory people. Budgets, schedules. And he signed it, and Watkins initialed it.

Riordan:

Do you have that document?

Siskin:

No, I don’t, and Roy didn’t abide by it either. It was one of the infuriating things. It was tacked on my wall for a while and then it disappeared.

Riordan:

Control of budget, schedule?

Siskin:

Personnel outside of Kasper’s area.

Riordan:

So basically, outside of the director’s staff.

Siskin:

[Outside] the laboratory.

Riordan:

Could you have fired Fred Gilman [the physicist who headed the Physics Division]?

Siskin:

No, that was the one person I couldn’t fire, because that was lab staff and that was also in the collider agreements, but any other associate director except for Gilman and Kasper I could have [fired].

Riordan:

Tom Bush for example?

Siskin:

Yes. I never would have fired Tom. I might have killed him, but not fired him.

Riordan:

It sounds like there was a division of responsibility that says, “Okay Roy, I’m going to let you take care of building a scientific institution — detectors, interfacing with all the physicists — and you [Siskin] are going to take over responsibility for building this machine.” Is that…

Siskin:

That is a very accurate assessment of what we tried to do. It didn’t always work that way, but it’s what we theoretically arranged to do.

Riordan:

That was the impression that I was getting, that Roy had significant control of the physicists’ end of things and yours was the engineering…

Siskin:

Construction…

Riordan:

Project management, building the machine.

Siskin:

Yep.

Riordan:

Which once built, then that withers away.

Siskin:

Yep. And that was the written understanding as well.

Riordan:

Would you say that in reality…

Siskin:

In reality, Roy and I had a considerable amount of different responsibilities. We got along reasonably well, and I like Roy a lot, but he was trying to make some decisions for, quote, “scientific reasons” that would dramatically impact the cost and schedule, and he and I were at loggerheads on more than one occasion.

Riordan:

Can you give me one example?

Siskin:

It’s a fairly complex example, but it was the first one that we wrestled with, the question of aperture size. I didn’t know what the right answer was. I do now, but I didn’t know then.

Riordan:

I’d be interested in anything you want to say on that. That’s one of the really big issues of cost drivers.

Siskin:

Right. The issue we had was when to make the final decision of going 40 to 50 mm, and so on and so forth, and what decisions and what follow-up had to be made, and my position was, I need to know when, by such and such a date. I’m not going to tell you how to make the final decision, but I need to know what the answer is. And if you don’t have everything you need to make a decision, then go ahead and mess [around?] there and make a conservative decision, but make it because I can’t have everybody tied up in this mess. Roy was in a fairly awkward situation because he had made some commitments to Helen [Edwards, then head of accelerator physics at the SSC], and because he had flaunted Helen’s winning that presidential medal [ed., the 1989 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, for building the Fermilab Tevatron], for very political reasons. I didn’t particularly care about the fluff that he was using. I just need to get a decision made, and if you look back at the first set of briefings I got when I got there, all I got was unmade decisions, a list of unmade decisions, and no commitments as to when, and no detailed thought process on how you were going to come to closure.

Riordan:

I thought they had really decided on 50 mm apertures by that summer [of 1990] and had re-costed the whole machine.

Siskin:

They had, but you couldn’t get Helen to agree to it, to firm it up and go ahead and act on that 50 mm beam tube.

Riordan:

I thought she was the one who was pushing for it the hardest.

Siskin:

No, she was the one that was pushing for all these parallel studies and efforts. The problem at that point was Helen wanted to do [Siskin makes noise], and you couldn’t proceed and say, “Okay, never again are we going to talk 40 against 50, now and ever let’s get on with it.”

Riordan:

Wasn’t there initially a question hanging about the quadrupole magnets? They were still at 40 mm and she was pushing for them to go to 50, too.

Siskin:

Yep, that was part of it, but she wanted to do studies. It was a whole morass of things. It wasn’t just the quadrupoles. There were about a dozen different things that were tied up, and there were all plans for studies to go on indefinitely. I can consider managing something with a few uncertainties, but with everything being an open-ended study, it is untenable. Roy and I ended going around on that one a number of times. He eventually came around to the point where he was ready to strangle Helen, too, and finally one night he told me, “Okay, I realize that until Helen decides to go elsewhere, we can’t get anywhere.” And so we were in complete accord with Helen’s departure. And Helen left. We didn’t fire her per se.

Riordan:

And as I recall it was over the quadrupole aperture more than anything else.

Siskin:

It was over a lot of different things.

Riordan:

So, these…

Siskin:

But there were a number of discussions before that point. I felt at the time that he was going beyond what he had agreed to do, and what made it so hard was it was an agreement we had just signed.

Riordan:

So, what you are saying is that he was in this area that was your responsibility?

Siskin:

Immediately, and making decisions and in some cases without even telling me about them. I really loved to hear about the fact that he’s gone and made a decision in an area that he has said is mine. And I hear about from the people, two weeks later, who were directed to do it. So, it was that sort of thing.

Riordan:

You mean it would be something like Helen going to him trying to get him to agree to 50 mm quadrupoles and you hear about it [afterward]?

Siskin:

It was not that specific, but it was that sort of thing. The funny part about it was some of the tip-offs on some of the things that Helen and Roy were cooking up. Thank god for Helen’s husband [Don Edwards]. He was really a good man. He was trying to help Helen and me succeed, telling me what I need to know, what he was hearing, and so on. There was no scheduling system that was defendable. There was no real estimate when I got there, of how much we had spent and the actual progress he had gotten for it.

Riordan:

This is the cost-and-schedule-control system?

Siskin:

Yes. And no history of how we got from point A to point B.

Riordan:

This was all before you came there. Why do you think the cost-and-schedule system was in such a state of disarray when you got there? It’s clear to me that it was.

Siskin:

Oh, absolutely. I think the people were just used to doing their own cost and scheduling, and everybody was doing their own thing, and then people were trying to synthesize vastly disparate results. They were also making decisions on the fly and not documenting them. You know, that $640 million really galls me to this today. I don’t know how much you’ve been looking into that detail.

Riordan:

This was the final budget amount?

Siskin:

No, if you believe the [ABC television news anchor] Sam Donaldsons of the world and the congressmen of the world, we had overspent the conventional construction budget $640 million.

Riordan:

By when?

Siskin:

Well, it was said in 1993, and one of the arguments that was used in the [Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John] Dingell hearing and the other hearings was that we were overspent $640 million. There are numerous quotes on that.

Riordan:

That sounds rather hard to believe, because that’s about one-third of the total amount that was spent.

Siskin:

It’s nonsense, and also the conventional construction budget wasn’t a number. Let me tell you where it came from, because it was so crucial in the GAO [General Accounting Office] report and the various hearings before Congress and the pitches that were made. First, GAO had a charter to find a way to prove that the project was being mismanaged, and if you talk to the people on the job that was clearly the direction they had received.

Riordan:

From?

Siskin:

Mainly it came from [New York congressman and House Science Committee member] Sherry Boehlert — [inaudible], and Boehlert in New York, and a number of other people who were trying to kill the project, but he was the driving force. He’s the one who had apparently given GAO their marching orders. Now, one of the things the project did very smartly — and I think it was Roy’s idea — very nearly at the first access area, we had budgeted money for the magnet development laboratory, a service building, an office building, and a warehouse. The aggregate total of those four buildings was about $18 million. The magnet development lab was originally budgeted about $8.5 million. Roy said, or somebody and I think it was Roy said, “Why don’t we combine them all in one building? That way we can cancel three buildings, and it’s got to be cheaper; also it would be more efficient to have the offices in the same building with the magnet development laboratory and so on.” It resulted in the magnet development lab costing about $12.5 million, but even though the cost rose for the building, the magnet-development building by $4 million, the total impact on the area was down. But when GAO came out in 1991 and said, “Hey, the magnet development lab was scheduled to cost $8 million; it cost $12 million; the total conventional construction budget of the project is $1.25 billion; and therefore I am going to do a simple ratio om that and say that the conventional construction budget will go up by $640 million. And that was a projection based on work that was done in 1990-1991. By the time the report was released almost two years later, we had a substantial amount of work done. And in fact when Boehlert and Sam Donaldson got on television and said they have already overspent $640 million on the conventional construction budget…

Riordan:

That was only a projection?

Siskin:

That was a projection that was three years out of date, and at that point about $800 million of the $1.25 billion was under fixed-price contract at under $600 million. So, we were projecting at that point an underrun of more than $200 million. But further, since we had only spent about $350 million on the conventional construction work at that point, it is not possible that we had overspent $650 million. When Donaldson’s people came down and gave us that allegation, we showed them the numbers. We just went and got the computer runs and explained what had been spent, what was under firm-fixed-price contracts, and where this $640 million had come from, based on a projection at 1% completion years earlier. And on television it was still reported that we’d overspent $640 million. However, that’s a matter of pride more than practicality. Let me tell you why the project died.

Riordan:

Okay, but I do want to get back to this cost-and schedule-control system, because I think it was one thing that they managed to tag you with.

Siskin:

It was nonsense. It really was nonsense but…

Riordan:

But go ahead.

Siskin:

I’ll tell you exactly why the project died. When we were getting ready for the budget hearings in 1993, and we had a letter signed by President Clinton in compliance with his agreements with [then Texas Governor] Ann Richards, saying that he’d support the project. . .

Riordan:

This was a letter that went to Congress?

Siskin:

The letter that was addressed to the Appropriations Committee of the House, delivered to Mr. [Alabama Congressman Tom] Bevill, who was the chairman of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. I’m sitting in Mr. Bevill’s office, and he’s got the letter on his desk and two young gentlemen from the White House staff, probably about twenty-five years old, came in. And they got my attention because they called Mr. Bevill “Tom,” and nobody except a few significant intimates called Mr. Bevill anything but “Mr. Bevill” or “Chairman.” They said, “Tom, the President wants it clearly understood that when you kill this project, the SSC, that he gets credit for it towards the $10 billion promise." Now, it turns out that when Clinton pushed his tax bill through a last-minute agreement, [he said] that he would cut $10 billion from discretionary domestic spending in return for some people’s support for that bill. And he wanted it clearly understood that when the collider was killed, he would get credit for it towards that $10 billion commitment. And Mr. Bevill, who was a gentleman of the old school, a very competent man, took Mr. Clinton’s letter off his desk and flipped it in the air. So, you can hear whatever you want or know whatever you want — the project died that minute.

Riordan:

This was about when?

Siskin:

June, July, something like that. You can get a copy of the letter. It was read into the record eventually saying Clinton supported it. You have to understand that that visit from those White House staffers was the day after that letter was dated.

Riordan:

Okay. I mean, he said, “Tom, when you kill the…” But Tom was a supporter of the SSC.

Siskin:

Tom was a supporter. When the project was killed. I’m not sure… I think he said when you kill the collider, I think he was probably referring to “you” meaning the Congress, not “you” meaning Mr. Bevill.

Riordan:

So, he wanted that as credit toward a $10 billion to reduce…

Siskin:

Discretionary domestic funding.

Riordan:

So basically, what you are saying is no longer did the President stand behind the project as he had during the Bush administration.

Siskin:

As far as I’m concerned, that’s what actually shot it in the head. A project like this requires a lot of active support across the board but you can’t get that kind of active support without the active support of the President. Plus, it’s clear the President was not supporting it, despite what promises he made to Ann Richards. It had no chance.

Riordan:

So, you would say that Ann Richards actively lobbied on behalf of it?

Siskin:

Absolutely.

Riordan:

And even got some kind of commitment from Clinton?

Siskin:

I know she did.

Riordan:

You know it from her?

Siskin:

I know that she said that she had gotten a commitment from the President to support the project.

Riordan:

And the result was this letter, which you are now saying didn’t really carry any weight.

Siskin:

It was almost an insult.

Riordan:

Okay. I’ve always felt that the letter was one thing. Presidents can write letters. But that he just didn’t jawbone on behalf of…

Siskin:

Oh no, he actively sabotaged it.

Riordan:

This is new knowledge as far as I’m concerned. How did you happen to be talking to Tom Bevill at that moment?

Siskin:

Trying to make sure what we were going to get in the budget, and I wanted to make sure he had the letter and so on and so forth.

Riordan:

Had you had a long-running relationship with the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee that goes back to before the SSC?

Siskin:

Oh yeah. Well, more with Hunter Spillan [ed., staff director for the subcommittee] than anybody else. Hunter was a close personal friend. In fact, did you know Mel Greer?

Riordan:

I’ve heard the name. I talked to Aaron Edmundson, and he mentioned him.

Siskin:

Aaron was one of Greer’s protégés years and years ago.

Riordan:

And Greer goes back to Naval Reactors?

Siskin:

Yes. Remember, I mentioned that I was the contracting officer for Westinghouse? I relieved Mel Greer.

Riordan:

You were the contracting officer working with Westinghouse?

Siskin:

Yes.

Riordan:

It seems like there was a strong relationship between the Naval Reactors, Stone and Webster, and the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

Siskin:

I don’t think it was that, as much as it was that we were friends for many years. I was the trustee for Hunter, [inaudible] and I were the trustees for Mel Greer’s will.

Riordan:

It goes way back.

Siskin:

We would kid about it. Greer left Rickover and came over to the staff. Later the first two employees at the DOE were Jim Schlesinger as Secretary and Mel Greer as [DOE] Controller. He went from there over to the House staff and worked with Hunter there. In fact, I can remember getting a call about maybe 1981-82, Hunter and Mel calling me up, and they were both snockered to the gills. They had just finished an all-night markup. So, I offered them both jobs and they both took it, and they chickened out the next morning, but I was going to hire them then for Stone and Webster. As long as you had Hunter and Proctor [Jones, staff director of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee], you’d get an awful lot done. Those were two of the old masters, Hunter more than anybody.

Riordan:

But you really needed the President.

Siskin:

If the President wasn’t behind the project, there was no chance. Zero chance.

Riordan:

I remember you saying a number of times that the support for the Super Collider was a mile wide and an inch deep. Could you explain more what you meant by that for the record?

Siskin:

There were a few people who seriously supported the collider.

Riordan:

[California congressman and House Science Committee Chair] George Brown?

Siskin:

Yeah, George Brown did.

[End of side of tape]

Siskin:

Anyway, probably the person who was most influential and really believed in it was [Louisiana senator and Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chair] Bennett Johnston. Tom Bevill liked it, but he never understood it, to be honest with you.

Riordan:

I think it was also a case of — at the time — a certain amount of anarchy going on in the House. [Washington congressman] Tom Foley was not the strongest of leaders, for example.

Siskin:

I don’t think that that was a consideration at all, because the SSC would go into the category of one of conscience and judgment, not one of party discipline. You’d never do the SSC on the basis of “You’re going to be a Democrat, you are going to support this,” or something like that. I probably talked to forty or fifty congressmen, more than that over the years, primping them on why the SSC was important, and all its ramifications, and why we wanted your support, ranging from both real supporters to real opponents. “It was nice, but I mean it’s nice.” “We have a lot of serious problems. As long as we can afford it, as long as the President really wants to do it, okay, we’ll go along with it. But I’m not going to walk across the street to support it.” I would guess that 80% of the votes we got supporting it were in that category. So, as long as there was no price to pay for it, we could get the support. As long as the President and the Secretary of Energy would go out on a limb for it, they’d get it.

Riordan:

But there was a real difference between the Senate and the House that I’m trying to understand. Was it the fact that Bennett Johnston simply had better control of the situation than Tom Bevill?

Siskin:

Oh yeah. Well, there was another factor, too. Bennett Johnston understood it and had tremendous respect of people that even once didn’t vote for him, but people really respected Bennett Johnston. They really liked Tom Bevill, and they respected him, but not to the technical or overall extent that they respected Bennett Johnston. At least that was my impression. Johnston was a believer. He was a proselytizer for it. He was also very, very influential.

Riordan:

Very, very powerful.

Siskin:

Yeah, influential even more than powerful. Powerful is: “I’m going to get your favorite project if you don’t support this.” Influential is: “If Bennett really feels this strongly about it, then maybe I really ought to think it’s a good idea, because he wouldn’t come across this way unless he did.” There was that kind of difference.

Riordan:

It wasn’t the fact that he had the magnet factory in his state?

Siskin:

At the peak, that was going to be 200 people. It was not a big deal.

Riordan:

To make 5,000 magnets?

Siskin:

It was going to be stretched out over a period of time. It was largely automated. It was not that big a facility. Have you been down to Lafayette? [ed., the facility was to be cited in Hammond, Louisiana, about 100 miles east of Lafayette.]

Riordan:

Never got there.

Siskin:

It wasn’t that big a building. It really wasn’t. You couldn’t have jabbed in that many people. When I was down there the last time, they had maybe 75 or 100 people.

Riordan:

That’s amazing. Okay, so what you are saying is that it was really the intellectual force of Bennett Johnston more than the sheer power that he wielded as chairman.

Siskin:

At least that was my perception. It really was. People believe Bennett Johnston. I think they still do. I think that’s the reason he’s such a successful lobbyist.

Riordan:

I’ve been over to those offices, and there’s no mistaking it; he’s a snowball’s throw from the Treasury [building].

Siskin:

The last thing I told Bennett Johnston when I left — and I recognize that I’m a fairly liberal person; not necessarily a Southern conservative regardless of party — I told Sen. Johnston that if he ever decided to run for President, I’d like the honor to work on his campaign. I felt that highly about him, and I didn’t know him. I knew Proctor [Jones] before the collider, but I didn’t know Sen. Johnston before that.

Riordan:

An impressive guy. I’d like to go back, if you have the time, again, to the problems with the cost-and-schedule-control system. They were serious, and they were mentioned many times by the GAO, and it struck me that, because of the problems in that system, you couldn’t make a solid claim, a believable claim, that you were on budget.

Siskin:

And that’s just not true. Let me explain what the issues were. The GAO report is all based on evidence and information that existed prior to the summer of 1991. The system wasn’t in effect until the summer of 1991 — in fact, a little later than that. So, clearly all of the concerns and issues raised predate a situation before implementation of a full cost-and-schedule program.

Riordan:

When do you say it was really operational?

Siskin:

It was operational by the end of 1991. It took a year to get it ready. [Break in audio.] It took a year to get all the pieces put together.

Riordan:

Is that something you put a lot of effort into that first year?

Siskin:

Absolutely, and that’s something Joe Cipriano did. We wanted to make sure that we would have something that we could use. Now, one of the mistakes we made, one of the problems with that system — and it took another year to fully get it functional — [is] what is called a “crosswalk.”

Riordan:

What?

Siskin:

Now, one of the problems when we put a system in place in the end of 1991, fully in place in 1991, is that it didn’t go back. We put the system in place as the program existed then. If you look at a lot of the earlier things compared to what existed in 1991, it compared apples and oranges. For example, that magnet development laboratory. We never had — at least, not until GAO raised a big stink during the 1992 timeframe about some of these things — a clear documentary trail that said: here was the magnet development lab at $8.5 million, here was the office building, here was the utility service building, here was the warehouse. They all flowed into this one building. All you had was a report in 1990 which said the estimated cost of the lab was going to be $8.5 million and a report in 1991 which said the lab was costing $12.25 million, or something like that. And so, you could do that sort of thing. You never had a change, a formal baseline change implemented, and what we finally ended up doing in 1992 was a full, formal crosswalk so that if you went from any point to any other point, the things that fed into that or the things that came out of it all had a documentary record. You needed that in case of having to prove that your estimates and so on were exactly right and you were following them. But when you looked at the numbers in 1992, you could get a variance down to an individual WBS [Work Breakdown Structure estimated cost] at the seventh level that will tell you exactly what happened.

Riordan:

By the end of 1992?

Siskin:

By the middle of 1992. By the end of 1991, the system was in place. It took a couple of months to populate it with all the information that you needed. So, I think even… We had private discussions with GAO that said they were getting everything needed from the system. I mean, it’s there. I don’t know if you talked to Cindy Howe.

Riordan:

No, the only person I’ve talked to at GAO was Victor Rezendes, who is their mouthpiece in Washington.

Siskin:

Oh yeah, but he never understood the project anyway. He had that 30-year-old girl who was doing the auditing with her charter, and she was going to make her name on it. And Rezendes, used to get briefed before the hearings and that was all his knowledge of the thing was. And I talked to the guy, and I said, “You realize, of course, Victor, you’re lying. You’re absolutely lying,” and I told him outside the hearing room. And [he] says, “These are the facts that we have.” And I said, “I have absolutely no question in my mind you are not honestly portraying the facts that you are giving.”

Riordan:

How do I verify that?

Siskin:

You can’t. He’ll never admit it.

Riordan:

No, he said we keep the chairman [John Dingell] at arm’s length . . .

Siskin:

Oh bullshit. [Dingell staffer] Bob Roach was playing all sorts of games there. As a matter of fact, once [Texas congressman] Joe Barton got wind of some of the stunts that Bob Roach pulled, he was the first guy from the staff that went.

Riordan:

Bob Roach?

Siskin:

Roach.

Riordan:

I thought he was there to the end. No, he was with Dingell.

Siskin:

He wasn’t… I mean, he got him off this committee, off of what’s his name?

Riordan:

Off of Boehlert’s [Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Science Committee]. Okay.

Siskin:

Roach told me, and that’s one of the things that screwed things up, he says the best way I know to kill this project is to put you or one of your people in jail. Literally. You can verify that, because I said that under oath in front of the Dingell committee. Anyway, that’s the kind of games people were playing, but all of this, with a cost-and-schedule system where… If you go look at the GAO report, which is in the public record, look at the data. It’s 1990-91 data. There is no data correlating after that.

Riordan:

So, they were making a trend analysis based on 1% of the project in 1990-91?

Siskin:

That’s right. And they were ignoring the fact that in 1993 these things were under firm-fixed-price contracts for less than the budget. You can get that out of the Dingell hearing.

Riordan:

Actually, I have not been able to dig up the — I don’t know whether they published it — record of the Dingell hearing. If you have any way to get access to it, I’d appreciate it.

Siskin:

I junked everything when I left Texas.

Riordan:

Okay. There are cubic yards down in the records center [the NARA Records Center in Fort Worth], but finding it in those cubic yards is next to impossible.

Siskin:

You know who might have it is Joe Barton. Have you talked to him?

Riordan:

One of our people did.

Siskin:

[Barton staffer] Michelle Chin had it on her desk, I know.

Riordan:

I talked to her.

Siskin:

Is she still there?

Riordan:

Last I went through there. Actually, no. I think she’s gone back to school at Texas A&M. Well, that’s very much a different perspective. But when you came in, the cost-and-schedule control system was…

Siskin:

It was zero. It was just a collection of…

Riordan:

Why do you think that was?

Siskin:

Because people were doing it the way they had always done it. I’ve worked on this section of the project where I did a pencil sketch of what my schedule looked like, and I kept track, and I knew how many people I had on my job, so I did the estimate by multiplying the number of people by the number of weeks, and that’s how I got my estimate.

Riordan:

It was basically seat of the pants, done on paper.

Siskin:

That’s right. You were trying to do a billion-dollar project with a hundred-thousand-dollar project criterion.

Riordan:

Was there active resistance to this?

Siskin:

Oh yeah. I won’t tell you how many different people told me, “Do you want me to do my job, or do you want me to crank out all this paper?” “Well, you got a choice. I need to know how much it is going to cost to do this particular phase. We have two possibilities. You can tell me what is involved and come up with an estimate of how many man-hours it’s going to take and how long it’s going to do. We can talk about that, or I can do it for you and hold you to it. Okay?” I mean, that’s all you have, and I had that kind of conversation going down right to the working-level people.

Riordan:

So, they were expecting you to integrate ten different ways of projecting each piece, or a hundred different ways.

Siskin:

That’s right. And you can’t. You’ve got to have some common structure and fit the data to that.

Riordan:

There is some evidence that there was an attempt early on by Doug Pewitt to set up such a system.

Siskin:

Right. One man doing it himself. I talked to Doug several times, and he said, “As long as I was willing to do it all myself and people would send me the data, I could sit there and try to put it together.” And that might be fine if you have several hundred people working on very small, defined packages. But you can’t do it when you are talking about thousands of people working on a WBS with 20,000 packages.

Riordan:

You really have to get everybody to sign on and embrace this way of doing things.

Siskin:

That’s right, and everything you know goes into it. And if you’re going to change it, you can’t do it in a vacuum. We’ve got to know about it, we’ve got to know why, we’ve got to document it, we’ve got to change it in the system.

Riordan:

I think you’d be impressed with what I saw at CERN. It’s all up on computer.

Siskin:

It’s got to be on the computer. You can’t keep track of it otherwise.

Riordan:

No, but it’s on the screen. It’s on the web now. If something is changed, or somebody wants to change something, the message goes out to everybody who might have some interaction with that. Do you sign on to this?

Siskin:

How do I get it for these projects here? I got the same thing here.

Riordan:

Forget paper. It’s all on the screen.

Siskin:

I don’t care if it is on the screen or on paper, as long as it is one solid, consistent structure. And if something is changing, you hit it as a variance. You know, I can’t tell you how many times I had this situation where I would go down… Helen [Edwards] was the worst one. Step A, Step B, Step C, all in series. Step A doubles, her automatic answer is to halve the time here, halve the time here, and the end points hold. It goes further out, these two get smaller. The number of man-hours here goes up, the number of man-hours here goes down. And if you don’t get into the details and look at each one, you never saw what was happening. Those estimates were on Helen’s wall, and she’d walk over and change it, and not tell anybody, and then get up in the associate director meeting and say, “I’m on schedule.”

Riordan:

Let me just wrap it up at this point. I may want to come back after I’ve had a chance to digest it, but one theme that’s emerging in our study is that for a project like this to succeed, you needed both a strong physicist culture and a strong engineering culture. That’s what I saw at CERN. There is a very strong engineering culture of people that have been working with each other for forty years. It was built by [CERN accelerator builder and eventually Director General] John Adams, who was an engineer. Another case was the Manhattan Project. To build Hanford Labs, they brought in DuPont which had…

Siskin:

A strong engineering culture.

Riordan:

But somehow, one of those difficulties was building that up in the middle. But also, it strikes me that there were clashes at the SSC Lab between the engineers, who really needed to tie things down and build [the facility], and the physicists who are more interested in discovering things and publishing papers. Is that a legitimate…

Siskin:

It’s not only legitimate, it is very, very crucial. The concept at the collider when I went down there, and probably when I left as well, was that an engineer was a second-class citizen. This was a physicists’ operation. Engineers were very much like lab assistants or secretaries or anything else. They performed a function. As long as they were subordinate and didn’t try to get above themselves, it was okay. They were tolerated, but they never were viewed as part of the team. Now talk to John Peoples [Fermilab Director, 1989–1999, who also oversaw the SSC shutdown in 1993-94]. One of the things that John said was that was one lesson he learned out of the collider and the experience at the collider was to make sure at Fermilab that we had a much more balanced culture, and I don’t know if he’d been successful. I certainly hope he was, but he said he was going to work on that very hard. John’s a first-class manager, he really is. But if you don’t have that kind of equilibrium, you can’t get there from here.

Riordan:

So, a culture where they treat each other as equals and absolutely necessary to the job?

Siskin:

Yeah, but that’s much less important than having a national consensus that we’re going to do it, and the national consensus has to come from the President. If you don’t have the President and the consensus below the President, it is only a matter of time before you’re not going to have it.

Riordan:

In fact, somebody told me, and maybe it was [Bevill's staff member] Aaron Edmundson, that you had said that — even though you were a staunch Democrat — that if Clinton wins, this project is over.

Siskin:

Yeah, well I got that from Bennett Johnston.

Riordan:

Oh.

Siskin:

I got that also from [Energy Secretary] Jim Watkins, but he might have had an axe to grind. Bennett Johnston was very explicit [about that].

Riordan:

The House went against the project during the Bush administration. Was it the fact that the President [Bush] was still staunchly behind it that allowed Bennett to rescue it?

Siskin:

Absolutely.

Riordan:

Do you think he was standing behind it with a potential veto, for example, in October 1992, a month before the election?

Siskin:

He would never have had that problem. I really don’t think so. But I think by 1993 the numbers were starting to look sufficiently good that we would have had less of a problem if the White House would say, “Look, these guys are not only doing something important, but they are meeting their commitments and so on.” If you’ll remember, Dingell got [Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary] to do an independent assessment of how far the collider was behind, but he was actually forced to conclude what you said with that meeting, it must have been on the 1st of August 1993, that it was roughly on schedule. Roughly on schedule meant that it was greater than 20% done and we had spent less than 20% of the money.

Riordan:

Wasn’t there a report that came out about that time? I forget the name of it. It was published in August 1993, where the DOE sent a whole bunch of people down there to look things over. [ed., the “Scango Report,” which was led by John Scango of the DOE Field Management Division.]

Siskin:

Seventy people.

Riordan:

And they came out with a report saying it was probably going to cost an extra billion or something.

Siskin:

But if you look at the fine print, that’s because the funding stream was going to delay things. [Break in audio] The point is that the increases that DOE and other people were talking about had nothing to do with the performance. It was the impact of delaying the schedule.

Riordan:

I think a large chunk of it, if I recall, came in as expected increases in the magnet costs, for example.

Siskin:

The expected increases in the magnet cost were based on stretching it out, the longer time, and the fact that half of the cost of the magnets was in the overheads, so if you double the time that it’s going to take to build the magnets, you’re going to double the cost of the magnets almost.

Riordan:

So, you’re saying the three-year stretch-out was the problem.

Siskin:

That was the increase.

Riordan:

That was feeding into that — I’m trying to remember, the Scango report. John Scango, who was from the DOE Office of Energy Research. So, you’re saying that the apparent increase of about $1 billion that they were quoting was…?

Siskin:

That was because they were stretching everything out.

Riordan:

That’s where Dingell caught O’Leary in the crossfire. Who a few days later had to recant her statement that the SSC was on budget and on schedule.

Siskin:

It was on budget and on schedule as it existed then, and even though they had a chart to show that it wasn’t, they couldn’t because it was. But if you start talking about the estimate, you delay it a year or two or three, you increase the price by billions simply because that’s the way you fund things. That’s the way you cost things.

Riordan:

I understand. I remember Joe Cipriano would talk about the burn rate being about $1 million a day and three years is $1 billion.

Siskin:

But that was just the project’s burn rate, that was not the fabricator’s burn rate and things like that. You are talking about $1 billion a year.

Riordan:

So, you’d say that Tom Bush really had things under control on the magnet end of things and it was just the stretch-out that was driving their cost?

Siskin:

I saw nothing that was going to be a problem. The biggest concern I had about the magnets was that the price of the wire wasn’t coming down fast enough, but it was coming down in the right direction and some of the things they were doing were going to drive it down. Remember, we needed 80 million feet of that wire, and the original price quoted was $150 a foot, so we were making some significant inroads into that, but we needed more inroads, and the biggest cost figure in the Scango report was how many dollars a foot decrease for that wire.

Riordan:

What about the need to make sure the General Dynamics and Westinghouse would be able to cost these things sufficiently to cover their own risk? After all, they’ve got to deliver 9,000 magnets accurate to 10-4 and get a decent profit for their efforts. Was that factored in sufficiently in the $8.25 billion price [ed., the baseline figure established by DOE in 1991]?

Siskin:

I think the $8.25 billion price had far more conservatism in it than people really realize. One thing about companies like General Dynamics and Westinghouse, they have a lot of trouble controlling the cost of building one, two, or ten items. When you build thousands of items, things come out of the woodwork to reduce cost and improve efficiency that you can’t even conceive of. We took a conservative view, as we took credit for no cost improvements that we couldn’t define. But there is no question in my mind that there were cost improvements that were possible once we got into a real production mode that would have accrued. Maybe I was being foolish, but I was less worried about the cost of the magnets than I was about the schedule for the magnets. The real cost that was going to eat us up was the overheads if we stretched the thing out.

Riordan:

The other thing that was to me a big unknown was the actual cost of installation and the problems that would occur in installation.

Siskin:

That was the least… That was another one I was really looking forward to. Let me tell you. I don’t know if you looked at the three different studies we did. We ended up specifying that in order to be allowed to bid on the installation contract, the criteria was that you had to participate in a study beforehand for which we paid a nominal price, like $0.5 million dollars each, that would ask what sort of sophisticated new techniques could you bring to the table in this installation process to make it more efficient, and we also specified there that we took title to any of their ideas. So, half of the choosing of the contractor was a function of how good their reports were, but we got benefits from all three. Let me tell you what we were going to do. [Silence] Very simply, how does a production line work? You get a welding machine that is customized to do a particular weld, and you sit there and you bring the device in front of it, it does the weld, it moves on to some other thing. Consider the reverse. Suppose I lay this thing out for fifty-four miles. I put a track in and have my manufacturing facility mounted on that track and I now have a production line automated in construction. And we had this system going to be set up. For example, we had figured installation of the service point. The pricing had been estimated on the classic ACI book, which says, you want to install 16 feet of service pipe, you assign a certain number to the number of feet, then multiply that by 54 feet. We’d had a device sitting on this rail that was going to go around and install 54 miles of service pipe in a couple of days. Days. Because it had the pipe right behind it, the thing automatically rolled into position as it was going in, welding as it went on. And we did it in 32-foot sections. Just on the pipe alone we were going to save tens of millions of dollars. All these things, as far as hooking these magnets together… Remember what we did in the lab in that test facility we had out there at the access area? You know how difficult it was to figure that?

Riordan:

You mean for the string test? [ed., a string of five superconducting dipoles and one quadrupole that were successfully tested in series in 1992]

Siskin:

Yeah, for the string test. You know how difficult, how much time and trouble we went to getting the thing set up? I mean weeks and weeks of just aligning it. We had it figured out so that the alignment equipment was just going to travel right along with it. So, you couldn’t just multiply one by the other. That’s exactly the same sort of thing we were talking with the magnet development laboratory. When you are doing 8,000 items, boy there is an opportunity to optimize.

Riordan:

So, you are saying you were looking for some substantial cost savings over the initial bids.

Siskin:

Absolutely. And one of the things we were insisting on in the initial bids was we were going to recover a good share of the underruns. That was the least of our problems, it really was.

Riordan:

You are talking 8,000 or 10,000 magnets, dropping them down the tubes, putting them on this track, getting them into position, all…

Siskin:

Automatic release, setting it up, welding it, automatically adjusting it — all in an automatic way.

Riordan:

Had those contracts been let?

Siskin:

No, we had the studies back, and each of them had a different way they wanted to do it. When the project was killed, we were in the process of going through and picking out the best of each one. One part of that contractor was, and the contractors… They were teams of some of the best companies in the country, and they were holding seminars for us to show us what the contractors like us had to watch for, so we were getting Bechtel to tell us how to keep Raytheon honest, and Raytheon to tell us how to keep Bechtel honest. And things like that.

Riordan:

Nobody had ever really done a massive 54-mile collider project like this.

Siskin:

That’s right, and so when we priced it… When you needed the estimate, we assumed that what you did was based on a markup of what the string test cost, but we weren’t going to do it that way, and that was my conservatism. We were literally going to save hundreds of millions or more. Had to. I was excited about that, and everything was coming together beautifully on that.

Riordan:

Why do you think it was so hard to communicate that?

Siskin:

Because people didn’t want to hear it. There was $8 billion that they needed for the domestic budget, and we couldn’t point to say, here is what you are going to have. You could tell all the stories in the world, but when [Princeton University Professor] Phil Anderson will get up and face down [University of Texas Professor] Steve Weinberg in front of the committee and say, “I have a Nobel Prize, too, and I think you could get more benefit for the public by spending the money elsewhere.”

Riordan:

It was just the difficulty of communicating such physics as an end result.

Siskin:

Particularly without the strong…

Riordan:

Backing of the President. I think I’ll leave it there. You’ve already spent an hour and a half with me. Let me go through this. I’m sure other questions will come up and maybe we’ll get back for a bit more.

Siskin:

I don’t have any axe to grind at this point. The job I’m in now is the last job I’m ever going to have. I have enough money in the bank, so I never have to work again as long as I live. I’m just going to do things that I can enjoy.

Riordan:

And not have to deal with Congress.

Siskin:

Well, I have to deal with Congress here. It’s a lot easier to convince people that it’s worthwhile to get rid of surplus plutonium.

Riordan:

I think they can understand. All you have to do is say the word “plutonium” and people want to be rid of it.