Energy will seek bids to manage Los Alamos

The Energy Department announced today that, for the first time in 60 years, it would seek competitive bids to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory when the University of California's contract runs out in September 2005.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's decision to compete the contract follows a long string of management problems and security breaches, including missing computers and hard drives, that have come to light over the past few years and especially since January.

Abraham praised the university for taking steps to clean up the lab's management, including firing several top lab officials and appointing an oversight board. But the university also "bears responsibility for the systemic management failures that came to light in 2002," he wrote.

"Under the university's stewardship, the science at Los Alamos has consistently been of the highest caliber," Abraham said. "But it is important that business services be as good as the science."

Putting the contract out to bid is one of the recommendations in an April 26 report on Los Alamos by deputy Energy secretary Kyle McSlarrow and Linton F. Brooks, acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. They wrote that an immediate contract termination would create "extraordinary disruption" that would not serve national security interests.

Abraham will require the competitive bids to include provisions to keep the present Los Alamos work force. The university will be allowed to bid on the next management contract.

The University of California has managed the Los Alamos, N.M., weapons laboratory since its founding in 1943.

In a statement, UC president Richard C. Atkinson thanked Abraham for recognizing the university's recent actions to improve the lab's management.

The university system's board of regents will ultimately decide whether to compete for future lab management contracts, he said.

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