Pete Nanos, the interim director of the embattled Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been asked to be its permanent chief, promising to “show the country what we can do.”

University of California President Richard Atkinson told regents Thursday that Nanos’ performance in recent months makes conducting a national search for a permanent director unnecessary.

“Under the most trying of circumstances, Pete has provided bold, innovative and compassionate leadership to the hardworking men and women of the Los Alamos laboratory,” Atkinson said.

Nanos has held the post on an interim basis since Jan. 6 when he took over from former Director John Browne, who resigned amid a management and business operations scandal.

Since then, Nanos has helped lead an overhaul at the Dept. of Energy-owned and university-run lab that has replaced top managers and instituted new purchasing and inventory rules.

For his efforts, Nanos has received high marks by lab employees, the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Bill Richardson. But Nanos acknowledges that a major challenge still lies ahead: keeping the university’s control of the lab.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, citing a string of management breakdowns at the lab, announced April 30 there would be competitive bidding for the contract to run Los Alamos when the current contract expires in September 2005. He said that despite the university’s aggressive efforts to fix the problems, the school must bear some blame.

“We now have our team together and we’re ready to take our show on the road and show the country what we can do,” Nanos said. “I think the more we can show the importance of the lab to the country and quality of performance to the country, then UC as the overall manager of the lab gets the credit for that.”

Nanos joined Los Alamos in August 2002. A retired Navy vice admiral, Nanos was the former commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command and of the Navy’s strategic nuclear program.