In an unprecedented arraignment, the University of California Office of the President announced Wednesday that it will partner with an outside business management company to compete for the management contract of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Bechtel National, Inc. (BNI) and two other companies – BMX Technologies, Inc. and Washington Group International – will work with the UC to draft a proposal to the United States Dept of Energy (DOE) that would allow the University to retain its stewardship over the research facilities. Chris Harrington, a UC spokesman, said the University has never sought a co-partnership of the Los Alamos laboratory. However, the UC in previous years has hired subcontractors to oversee only individual facility projects. But before the UC can formally submit a bid, the Board of Regents must approve the action.
Harrington said the UC approached BNI because of the company’s history in effective management of nuclear facilities.
“Clearly Bechtel is a world-class organization with strong project and facilities management,” Harrington said. “They have extensive experience and the partnership that we announced [Wednesday] will further strengthen the business and management practices at the Los Alamos laboratory allowing science and technology to further prosper.”
BNI has managed government laboratories for over 15 years and currently manages the Nevada Test Site and its affiliated facilities for the National Nuclear Security Administration. The company is privately owned, and is headquartered in San Francisco, Calif.
Mike Kidder, Bechtel spokesman, said the company is eager to work with the UC system because of its prestige and capabilities.
“When the UC approached Bechtel last fall, we took a good look at a proven track record of the University of California’s accomplishments in science and technology,” Kidder said.
The University has managed the Los Alamos laboratory, located in New Mexico, for over 60 years. In 2003, Congress required all labs that have been under the same control for more than 50 years to be opened for competitive management bids. All three national laboratories managed by the UC – Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos – are affected by the Congressional action.
The Livermore and Los Alamos facilities conduct classified nuclear and weapons research, while Berkeley’s work is unclassified. The UC’s management of the two nuclear labs was criticized after a series of security lapses at Los Alamos. The DOE announced that it would call for bids when the Los Alamos management contract expires in September of this year.
The UC has since reformed its management policies and will be able to continue the efforts with the aid of BNI, Harrington said.
“We were experiencing some concerns over the University’s financial and management practices,” Harrington said. “We have had some recent security issues but we have taken aggressive action and put in place strong policy procedure. Clearly we have had some problems, but we have done our part to ratify them.”
Although the DOE is currently accepting other bids for the lab, Harrington said he is only aware of one potential competitor – private defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Despite this, he said the UC and BNI are confident their bid will be selected.
“I’m not watching the competitive playing field; I’m more concentrated on what we’re doing,” Harrington said.
Contract competitors will have 90 days to submit bids after the DOE releases its final request for proposals. The DOE has not announced when this final request will be made.