Some at Los Alamos unhappy with UC contract

Current and former employees of the Los Alamos National Laboratory are unhappy that the Energy Department selected the University of California and a group of private companies to manage and operate the lab.

DOE officials announced yesterday that they had awarded a seven-year contract worth up to $558 million to a group called Los Alamos National Security –- a limited liability corporation consisting of the university, Bechtel National, BWX Technologies and Washington Group International. The group, whose new contract will start June 1, 2006, beat out a team led by Lockheed Martin and the University of Texas.

Under the terms of the contract, an additional 13 years can be added depending on contract performance.

But the university, which has managed and operated the lab since the facility was established in 1943, has come under fire in recent years for security lapses and mismanagement.

In July 2004, former lab director G. Peter Nanos shut down operations to investigate computer security and safety problems that resulted in low morale among employees, who were further enraged when they couldn’t get their opinions published in the lab’s electronic news bulletin.

Doug Roberts, who started a Web log about management problems at the lab before he retired July 1, said he was deeply disappointed by the decision.

“I felt Lockheed and their group was by far the better choice,” he said. “Personally, I feel the events of the last year and a half should have demonstrated that a complete change of management was required to straighten out the problems. I don’t consider the University of California and Bechtel as a change.”

Yesterday, the number of hits to his blog, “LANL: The Real Story,” exceeded the 27,000 it got the day before, he said, adding that comments are running six to one against the award.

“One or two comments were mildly supportive of the new management organization, but all the rest were quite opposite,” he said.

For example, one anonymous poster –- “Disappointed in DOE” –- wrote: “Given a choice between two competitors, you have, in true DOE fashion, chosen the worst solution. First, by your decision to select them as the new contractor, you have richly rewarded the University of California for their failures at LANL in recent years.”

Officials from the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group, also expressed dismay about the decision. They said they were disappointed that the university was able to retain the contract despite numerous security, safety and financial scandals in the past decade.

“What does it take for UC to suffer the consequences of screwing up?” asked Danielle Brian, the group’s executive director, in a prepared statement. “Lockheed wasn’t a great alternative, but it is hard to see how UC could possibly have been given a vote of confidence. We expect a continuation of the era of chaos at Los Alamos.”

It’s the first time in the 63-year history of the lab that its management and operations have been open to competition. It is one of three National Nuclear Security Administration labs that still perform sensitive national security missions.

A source evaluation board composed of career civil servants from across the nuclear weapons complex evaluated proposals. The process began in May 2004.

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