Monday, April 25, 2005

Northrop Joins List of LANL Bidders

Albuquerque Journal North
Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Northrop Joins List of LANL Bidders

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer

Northrop Grumman, the country's third largest defense contractor behind Lockheed Martin and Boeing, announced Monday that it will bid on the $2 billion annual contract to run Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"We think it is a great fit for Northrop Grumman," said company spokeswoman Juli Ballesteros, citing the company's expertise in engineering nuclear reactors for U.S. aircraft carriers and submarines.

She said the company, which employs 125,000 people worldwide, has made a significant investment over the years in advanced research and development, including work on lasers, ceramics and metals.

"Our ability to manage large-scale operations will allow the lab staff to concentrate on their primary mission— science," James R. O'Neill, Northrop's vice president and head of the company's information technology sector, said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

LANL has been operated by the University of California for the government since 1943.

Then-Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced in 2003 that LANL's contract would be put up for competitive bids for the first time, following a series of management and security problems at the lab.

UC's contract to manage LANL expires at the end of September. Its board of regents has not decided whether it will compete to keep the LANL contract. The regents will take up the issue at its next meeting at the end of May, by which time the final management criteria for the competition are expected to have been released.

The federal Department of Energy is expected to select a new manager by this summer.

University of California spokesman Chris Harrington said the school is in ongoing discussions with potential partners, including the University of Texas, which is reconsidering a bid on the contract after initially bowing out in February. He said that a partnership agreement is close.

Until recently, no companies had announced a firm interest in winning the contract to operate the nation's first nuclear weapons research facility, provoking federal officials to sweeten the proposed LANL management contract. Among other things, the changes doubled the potential management fee to $60 million.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Monday that Northrop's announcement "is just further evidence that there is going to be competition," though he reiterated that his preference is for the University of California to continue managing the laboratory.

Northrop is now the second major defense contractor to announce its intention to seek the LANL contract.

Lockheed, which had dropped out of the competition last summer, announced late last month that it was restarting its effort to win the LANL contract after DOE officials re-crafted the management terms to make the lab contract more appealing.

Lockheed, which manages Sandia National Laboratories for DOE in Albuquerque, will be aided in its bid for LANL by Sandia director C. Paul Robinson, who spent 18 years at LANL. Robinson is stepping down from his position at Sandia on Friday to join Lockheed's effort to win the Los Alamos contract.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a statement that he wants to ensure the LANL contract competition doesn't damage the laboratory's scientific mission.

"The important thing in this competition is not how many bidders there are, but whether the long-term scientific strength of the laboratory is going to be maintained and enhanced under a new contract," he said.

Northrop, Lockheed and the University of California will have to develop strong proposals to meet that objective, he said.

In 2003, Northrop paid $60 million to the Department of Defense as part of a settlement agreement over mischarged and improperly claimed costs at its Newport News Shipbuilding facility.

Hopefully all who read this will admit there is little, if any exists, difference in U of SC,and Northrop-Grumman except for their names.

Bidding by Northop is a guarantee that USC will reap the contract for many more years.

Better that Lockheed-Martin get the new bid for any real changes.
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