UC/Bechtel to manage Los Alamos

The Energy Department has awarded a seven-year contract worth as much as $558 million to a team led by the University of California and Bechtel National to manage the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. UC's role in managing the facility began when the lab was formed in 1943 to develop the atomic bomb.

DOE did not provide details on why it chose the UC/Bechtel team, formally know as Los Alamos National Security (LANS), over its competition, the Los Alamos Alliance, led by Lockheed Martin and the University of Texas.

But the agency did say it used a source evaluation board composed of career civil servants from throughout the nuclear weapons complex, which began the contract competition process in May 2004, preparing a formal request for proposals “that included an unprecedented public feedback process.“

Tyler Przybylek, former general counsel for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the three U.S. nuclear weapons labs, leads the board. The group spent five months evaluating proposals and preparing a report for Thomas D’Agostino, the administration’s acting deputy administrator for defense programs. D’Agostino made the decision as the selecting official for the contract competition.

DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman said the new contract with UC/Bechtel “marks a new approach to management at Los Alamos, one that will benefit the national security of the United States through superb science.” He added that the arrangement “will guarantee the lab will continue its role as an anchor of America’s scientific and national defense efforts.”

The Lockheed Martin/University of Texas partnership said in a statement that "we wish the University of California/Bechtel team every success with its new contract to manage one of the nation's most important scientific institutions."

Besides serving as a design facility for nuclear weapons, Los Alamos conducts research in several fields, including advanced materiel design and bioscience. Those efforts are backed by the power of the lab’s computational division, which includes advanced supercomputers. Last month, for example, lab scientists started work on developing a Google-like search capability for using distributed computing assets to search genome sequences.

DOE decided to put management of the lab up for competition in 2003 after a series of security and management scandals.

The problems continued into the summer of 2004, when all classified work at the lab was shut down for weeks to locate two supposedly missing computer hard drives that contained classified information. A subsequent investigation determined that the drives never existed.

“Los Alamos has the tradition for over 60 years of pushing scientific frontiers for the benefit of our nation through its unique and outstanding workforce,” said LANS President Michael Anastasio, currently director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the designated director for Los Alamos. “LANS is committed to ensuring that this tradition continues well into the future.”

The other LANS partners are Washington Group International and the BWX Technologies division of McDermott International.

The BWX Technologies operates the Pantex nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility in Texas and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, which fuels naval reactors. It also conducts nuclear operations at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Washington Group International has worked for DOE and its predecessor agencies since the days of the Manhattan Project in World War II and has contracts at a wide range of DOE facilities and labs.

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