Stressing a new beginning for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) announced that the University of California and its team will continue to manage the facility.

The Los Alamos National Security Limited Liability Company (LANS) – comprised of the University of California, the Bechtel Corporation, BWX Technologies Inc. and the Washington Group International – was awarded the new contract on Dec. 21 by the DOE. The seven-year contract begins on June 1 and is worth $512 million, and also includes the possibility of a 13-year extension.

In a DOE press release, Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman said he is confident in the UC’s ability to continue its stewardship of the lab,

“I cannot stress enough … that this is a new contract with a new team marking a new approach to management at Los Alamos,” Bodman said.

UC has managed LANL since the lab’s opening in 1943. The lab began as a program named “Project Y,” created with the sole purpose of designing and building an atomic bomb.

The DOE, however, placed the LANL contract up for bids in 2003, alleging the UC had mismanaged the lab by misallocating $15 million in government funds and allowing periodic breaches of nuclear security policy. The University of Texas and its corporate sponsor Lockheed Martin were the only other team to bid against UC for the LANL contract.

In a UC press release, President Robert C. Dynes said the UC chose to compete for the lab in order to continue its public service to the nation.

“We believed we could make a vital contribution to the country by applying scientific excellence to national security,” Dynes said.

In the DOE press release, Bodman said a Source Evaluation Board (SEB), consisting of career civil servants, chose the competition winner.

“It was decided that the requisite fact-finding, evaluation and the final selection would be carried out by career – and not political – personnel,” Bodman said. “I strongly endorse that decision; there can be no hint of politics in a decision of such national significance.”

LANS team spokeswoman B. Sue Kuntz said new employees will be hired during the transition phase between contracts, but that the lab will not dismiss any of its current employees.

“Every employee at UC at the lab will be given a job offer,” Kuntz said.

In the UC press release, Dynes said the LANS team will also attempt to minimize disruption during the transition phase between contracts.

“The transition plans of both the new LANS team, as well as the University’s efforts to close out the current contract, are designed to minimize disruption for our employees as well as the important work of the laboratory,” Dynes said.

Kuntz stressed that the UC will no longer bear the sole responsibility of managing the lab.

“[The LANS team] is a brand new management team, it’s an integrated entity,” Kuntz said. “We are going to emphasize safety, security and efficiency.”