U. of California, Bechtel to Manage Los Alamos Lab

The University of California and defense contractor Bechtel will be the new managers of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The University of California had run the weapons lab for more than 60 years. After a recent series of management lapses, the Department of Energy put the contract up for bid.

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The Los Alamos National Laboratory will soon be under new management. The weapons lab has been run by the University of California for over 60 years, since the days of the Manhattan Project, when scientists at Los Alamos built the first atomic bomb. Well, after a series of recent management lapses, the Department of Energy put the contract up for bid. The new management team announced today includes the defense contractor Bechtel and the old manager, the University of California. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.

DAVID KESTENBAUM reporting:

It's not as if groups were lining up for the job of running Los Alamos. The University of California said that for years it did it as a public service and didn't make any money from it. And incidents at the lab, including two lost classified computer drives, made the lab a favorite target for critics in Congress. In the end, there were just two bidders: one entirely new group Lockheed Martin and including the University of Texas; and another group, the University of California, now teamed up with defense giant Bechtel and others. That teams was known as LANS. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman made the announcement.

Secretary SAMUEL BODMAN (Department of Energy): So it gives me great pleasure today to kick off, if you will, the next chapter in the storied history of the Los Alamos National Laboratory by announcing that the contract to run this facility has been awarded to Los Alamos National Security LLC, or, as we've come to call it, LANS, L-A-N-S.

KESTENBAUM: When Bodman listed the LANS partners, he listed Bechtel first and then the University of California.

Sec. BODMAN: This is a new contract with a new team marking a new approach to the management of Los Alamos. It is not a continuation of the previous contract.

KESTENBAUM: For legal reasons, the Department of Energy could not give specifics about who will do what at the lab. But one big thing has changed: The team that manages the lab will now be paid to do it. And here, there were some specifics. Tyler Przybylek chaired the team that totaled up what the government will pay.

Mr. TYLER PRZYBYLEK: The total evaluated cost, most probable cost, is $512,305,538. We did it down almost to the penny.

KESTENBAUM: That would be over seven years and include some transition costs. Some observers wonder if that's money well spent, though.

Mr. BURTON RICHTER (Stanford University): My first reaction was surprise that UC got it again.

KESTENBAUM: Burton Richter, a Nobel laureate at Stanford University, says the winning team will have a lot of work to do.

Mr. RICHTER: It was one of the worst-run laboratories in the system. It is not well structured, it is not well organized as far as I can see. It's a collection of warring fiefdoms, each struggling to get its maximum money into its own program with little coherent vision of where the laboratory as an entire entity is going.

KESTENBAUM: The University of California acknowledges that it had its problems, but university President Robert Dynes says the new team is a new team.

Mr. ROBERT DYNES (President, University of California): We did the science and technology well. Where clearly we had flaws was is in the security issues and the financial management and things like that. And so we went to Bechtel and said, `Will you partner with us? Will you help us fill in those parts that a university doesn't particularly have any unique expertise?'

KESTENBAUM: When he heard his team had won the contract, he said, `Hooray.'

Opinion at the lab itself before the announcement had been split. Some wanted a new team to make a fresh start; others were wary of losing the University of California, which had run things for so long. David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

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