Energy Department opens competition for Los Alamos

By David McGlinchey

December 1, 2004

The National Nuclear Security Administration launched the formal process Wednesday to find a contractor for Los Alamos National Laboratory, ending a six decade run by the University of California as the uncontested operator of the elite facility.

The school has run the nuclear weapons laboratory for the Energy Department and its predecessor since 1943. The NNSA's request for proposals marks the first open competition ever held for the contract. The move comes after a series of embarrassing lapses at the facility, including missing computers and disks and purchase card abuse by employees.

In June, the Energy Department separated the Los Alamos contract from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which also was run on a noncompetitive basis by the University of California.

"The original contract was awarded in the 1940s and was extended periodically," said Tyler Przybylek, chairman of the Source Evaluation Board for the Los Alamos National Laboratory contract competition. "Our goal is to pick the best firm that can manage world-class sciences, balanced and integrated with excellence both in operations and business management."

Przybylek said interested contractors would have an opportunity to meet with NNSA officials in December. The comment period for contractors closes on Jan. 7, 2005. The University of California's current contract for Los Alamos expires on Sept. 30, 2005.

NNSA officials expect the new contract to include a five-year base period, followed by annual period reviews. If the contractor receives positive reviews each year, the contract could extend to a total of 20 years, according to Przybylek. He said NNSA officials would consider revising the contractor's fee, which stands at 1.5 percent of the laboratory budget for a highly qualified private company. Los Alamos currently operates on a $2 billion budget.

NNSA officials emphasized that Los Alamos employees would not see lower pay levels or lose benefits.

Officials added that the heaviest emphasis in the competition will focus on the contractor's ability to provide the best possible scientific environment.

"We want world-class science, or better," Przybylek said.

By David McGlinchey

December 1, 2004