Saturday, March 05, 2005

UC rival pulls out of nuke lab bid

UC rival pulls out of nuke lab bid

Los Alamos victory could come at cost to Lawrence Livermore
By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area

The sole firm experienced in running large, federal research labs has dropped out of the competition to operate Los Alamos National Laboratory, improving the odds that the University of California will keep running the birthplace of the bomb.

As a matter of political logic, however, what's good for the university at Los Alamos could make for tougher going at Los Alamos' sister nuclear-weapons lab, Lawrence Livermore, in UC's back yard.

For months, some officials at those and other federal labs have wondered whether Congress and the Energy Department, having thrown all three of the university's contracts for running federal labs open to challenge, could tolerate the university winning more than two of them.

That scenario is becoming more likely, with the university facing no competition at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and, now, with the recent decision by Battelle Memorial Institute not to seek the Los Alamos contract.

Battelle, a nonprofit research, development and management firm, has swept up one U.S. Department of Energy lab after another in recent years and now with teams runs five of them, from Brookhaven lab in Long Island, N.Y., to Oak Ridge in Tennessee to Idaho National Lab and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Battelle Executive Vice President Bill Madia said running Los Alamos could take management attention away from those labs.

"Our focus is to make sure we manage those laboratories with distinction," Madia said. "It would take significant resources for Battelle to play a major management role at Los Alamos, and I have great concerns whether that would jeopardize the great performance we have at our other laboratories."

Los Alamos is a $2.2 billion-a-year enterprise covering almost 40 square miles of New Mexico mesa top and canyonlands.

Its primary mission is maintaining most of the nuclear explosives in the roughly 10,600 H-bombs and warheads of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The University of California has operated Los Alamos since 1943 without competition. But a series of security, safety and financial problems in recent years led Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to put the lab management contract up for bid.

Congress later ordered other lab contracts bid out as well, including Lawrence Berkeley lab and Lawrence Livermore lab.

Battelle is only the latest potential lab contractor to look askance at the Los Alamos bid. Lockheed Martin, the nation's largest defense contractor and operator of Sandia National Laboratories, dropped out first, followed by the University of Texas.

What remains are about a dozen smaller defense, engineering and management firms.

The question is which of them is prepared to bet an estimated $5 million to $10 million in consulting fees and other bid preparation costs to challenge the incumbent University of California.

If the university's team wins the Los Alamos contract, the fate of university management of Livermore could turn on whether UC can reverse years of bad impressions in Congress and the Energy Department over its operation of Los Alamos.

Contact Ian Hoffman at

"If UC ends up operating Los Alamos and fixing all the problems, they'll have a very easy time of successfully competing for Livermore," said one knowledgeable national lab official. "The converse is equally true."

Ever play "Hot Potato"? It seems to me that any happening at Los Alamos is big news. (The packrat nest in a government vehicle engine compartment went national...) These potential contractors are realizing that- sooner or later- some personnel, environmental, or security related accident will happen again and they will be slimed. They don't want the NYT headlines 'Company XYZ Fails at LANL' - A bulb burns out in a Nuclear Facility.

So they are backing away. But, unfortunately, in the mean time DOE is 'leveling the playing field' on our operating contract- and leaving LANL employees in limbo.
My vote for new contractor might be the Tri-Valley CAREs group (Communities
Against a Radioactive Environment). If the Lab is in a death spiral,
as it appears to be, then it would at least be fun watching DOE have
to deal with a messy problem that is largely of their own making.

For kicks, you should read some of their Jan '05 RFP comments over at:

For example:
Tri-Valley CAREs asks that the Draft RFP be rewritten to place a "cap"
on the amount of federal money the M & O contractor can be reimbursed
for fighting whistleblower claims. For example, the M & O contractor
should not be able to pile appeal upon appeal in instances where there
is little likelihood the M & O contractor will prevail on the merits
and the intent is to simply wear out the individual -- as happens too
often under the current contract.

The people over in DX-3 starting to do legal battle over their firings
might like that one.

Come to think of it, maybe this is DOE's hidden game plan. They'll let
the anti-nuke people take over Los Alamos and shut us down for them.
It's brilliant! And you know a group like this would never hire a
former military guy to be our next Director. Say, how about using
Martha Stewart? I understand she's now available, and this place
is in desperate need of a complete fashion make-over.
These bidders typically know a losing proposition when they see one.
At this rate, I do not know why UC would want to bid either.. it would make for a great exit plan from being on CBS news and the NY Times hit parade every couple of weeks.

If that occurs (and it just might).. DOE probably has a nice plan already in place. It goes something like this:

Look at what are the mission critical projects at the lab. Move them to Sandia for cost savings issues.

Stop funding all non critical projects. Move that money into cleanup. Use extra money to deal with 'nuisance' lawsuits from ex-employees.

If North Korea or Iran prove they have a bomb with a test, then Congress will approve pit building and such. Move that to the former LANL area so that it is close to Sandia where the X and related scientists will be.
Why do they need to build pits?

Just use stuff out of the current stockpile to get rid of them once and for all?

Geez, why do you need bunker busters when you have a load of weapons just begging to be used?
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