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Photo courtesy Los Alamos National Laboratory 

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation confirmed Saturday that the private consortium that operates Los Alamos National Laboratory will not have its contract renewed after it expires on Sept. 30, 2017.

The New Mexican reported in a story published Saturday that the National Nuclear Safety Administration, the arm of the Department of Energy that oversees the lab’s contract, has decided to put the contract worth about $2.2 billion annually up for competitive bidding. The decision follows a series of federal investigations and performance evaluations involving the lab’s safety record before and after a drum from the lab burst and leaked radiation at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in February 2014 near Carlsbad, shutting down the nation’s only underground nuclear repository indefinitely.

The lab has been run since 2006 by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, which took over operations after years of accounting scandals, security lapses and other management issues. The company is made up of a partnership between the University of California, Bechtel Corp., Babcock & Wilcox Co., URS Corp. and AECOM. The lab’s latest review for 2015 was better than its 2013 and 2014 evaluations but not good enough to earn the consortium an automatic extension of an additional year to the contract, the lab’s director, Charles F. McMillan, wrote in an email to lab employees on Thursday.

In a joint statement issued Saturday, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján said:

“We have been informed of NNSA’s performance review of LANS and NNSA’s decision not to extend the LANS contract. Among the reasons cited by NNSA were a serious safety incident involving a worker and waste-handling mistakes that have had an expensive and severe impact on LANL, WIPP and DOE’s nuclear waste cleanup.

“We have high expectations of the Department of Energy and its contractors that they will go above and beyond to ensure our communities are not endangered. DOE must hold all of its contractors accountable and be responsible stewards of federal funds. It also must take the appropriate actions under the LANL contract that are in the best long-term interests of this essential national asset and that ensure the safety of workers, the community, and the environment.

“Los Alamos National Laboratory employs some of the best and brightest minds in the country whose contributions are indispensable to our national security. The lab also strengthens our economy by providing quality jobs, and we will always fight to protect its mission. As DOE prepares a new contract proposal, assuring continuity for the employees at LANL and the high-quality scientific, energy, and security contributions they make to our nation will be paramount. We are confident that Los Alamos will continue to have a critical role in national and international security, research and science. We expect to receive further details and regular briefings from NNSA as the process moves forward in the new year.”

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(4) comments

John Bass

Just because Chris got backhanded for being a bad employee (read disgruntled if you want to be PC), I wouldn't be quick to buy his press release. Because too many (New Mexicans) want a piece of LANL's action and the government can't function without an egregious levels of oversight the Lab's always going to be a clear candidate for failure. I can say I was at the Lab longer than Chris Mechels and knew better than to naively think I could change anything. Not that I was in a position to even try. The saying is "you asked for work when you came here." Do your job and don't think so much of yourself that you're smarter than the other guy. You want to see an apologist, watch Obama's press guy.
Get over the Lab Chris, and yourself. It's not worth it. The fault lies, as I was trying to say, with DOE and always will be. If there's a place to cut fat, start in Washington. The people at the Lab just want to do their job. I say get out of their way.

Khal Spencer

Here we go with "round up the usual suspects". Well, let's get all of them. I see the problem less as what has happens to LANL but what becomes of the US Government and many industries. The motto these days seems to be "The answer is more regulation and more bureaucracy. Now, what was the question?"

Harold Agnew said it best.

"The ever increasing bureaucracy composed of managers who require more and more detail, justification, and guaranteed schedules, will in the not too distant future completely eradicate our Nation's world position in research and
technology. Bureaucratic regulations and re­quirements for conformity will stifle basic research. Bureaucracy will eradicate creative endeavor and innovation in the long run. Bureaucracy eventually loses sight of what the real original objective was and becomes only concerned in its own management and control functions. Unless this trend toward centralization is somehow reversed I predict the U.S. will rapidly lose its lead in science and technology. "

"Science at the Bicentennial: A Report from the Research Community", pg. 72

https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/publications/1976/0476.pdf

TQM and other management improvement ideas will never replace scientific competence and freedom to be inventive. Harold Agnew must be turning over in his grave. Maybe that's what Mr. Bass is getting at.

Chris Mechels

John Bass is yet another Lab apologist, and there are far too many of them.

I retired from LANL in 1994, after spending years trying to improve the place. For this I was, of course, beaten up by management. I was a very enthusiastic "champion" for Total Quality Management (TQM), before the Lab management "embraced" TQM in 1992, and crushed the life out of it, and those of us who believed in it. The great LANL re-organization of 1993 cost them 2 years of chaos and little output. The great 1995 RIF, layoff, to "reduce overhead" led to a 5 year lawsuit. The great "Property Theft" scandal, involving Glenn Walp, finally led to the John Browne's removal in 2003, and the decision to compete the contract.

No one "forced" any of this on the Lab, they were all LANL failures of management, and UC supported them at every turn. Our Senators, especially Domenici, protected them from DOE oversight, when they tried to do some.

LANL is a "train wreck". They are "un-managed" and unmanageable, as many have found out. Spoiled children, who are paid, not to succeed, but to fail.

Disappointing to see our Legislators saying; LANL is "indispensable to our national security". That mind set is a trap, and prevents needed reform. LANL is "indispensable" and NNSA/DOE isn't. A trap.

LANL as run is a threat to our national security.

John Bass

So, possibly (more likely) another consortium takes the helm and massive internal reorganization occurs (again) that upsets everything when they take over. As when LANS took over (mostly Bechtel) a new management model gets imposed and the cost and time to do anything goes through a higher roof. Hopefully the LANL staff won't be insulted and denigrated by the new "master Managers" like Bechtel did when they came in.
Project deadlines get extended, stand downs for re-education and contemplation occur when the new bosses try to force their method of operation, and the Lab becomes another black hole the government has to throw money into to get it right.
How about the entire DOE structure change to let the Lab do what it does best without the conflicting oversight that drags it down time, after time, after time. Oh, and actually give it the money, and leave it there, for cleanup without suddenly finding another project to divert the funds to elsewhere that it had in mind all along.
LANL management is constantly on this tightrope of having to suck up to everyone and their dog to be the nice guys when the Lab should just be left alone.
The NM Senators have proved to be fair-weather friends who, for the sake of National Security, pursue an image of "behind you 100%, boy," but get behind the Lab's detractors where their true roots lie.
How about just leaving the Lab alone to just do their job and dump the ridiculous deadlines/

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