Los Alamos National Laboratory, once home to the Manhattan Project and birthplace of the atomic bomb, celebrated its 60th birthday on Tuesday under the most solemn of circumstances.

The United States Dept.of Energy Inspector General’s office released the findings of its audit of the Los Alamos National Laboratory on Monday. According to the report, the lab, which is administered by the University of California, purchased $3.7 million worth of meals and $7.4 million in travel costs not allowed under the UC’s contract with the Dept. of Energy. An additional $3.5 million in expenses from the lab’s internal audits were also not covered by the contract.

The D.O.E. audit in its entirety analyzed $5.2 billion in lab expenditures between the 2000-02 fiscal years. In its recommendations, the audit report suggests that the UC reimburse the federal government for the $15 million in unallowable charges as well as any additional penalties the lab may have incurred due to mismanagement.

Los Alamos’ interim director, former Navy Adm.George Nanos objected to the report’s findings, saying that the lab’s food and travel expenditures were well within the bounds of the UC’s contract with the D.O.E.

The audit report comes on the heels of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Friday report, which cited the lab for several violations of nuclear safety regulations and slapped the UC with a fine of $385,000. The UC is not required to pay the fine because it is considered a nonprofit institution and therefore exempt from public liability.

Also on Monday, the University released a review by an independent contractor of the lab’s business operations. The 107-page report suggests a variety of changes to laboratory programs and accounting procedures.

In the wake of a string of spending and mismanagement scandals, Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham are expected to decide on April 30 whether or not to open the Los Alamos’ management contract for bidding. The UC has held the contract unopposed since the lab’s inception in 1943.

In recent months, the UC has engaged in a wholesale restructuring of the laboratory management in an attempt to keep the contract. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold its third hearing concerning mismanagement at Los Alamos on May 1. UC President Richard Atkinson, National Nuclear Security Administrator Linton Brooks and McSlarrow are all slated to testify.

The UC’s current management contract for Los Alamos ends in 2006.