Texas A&M System part of team winning contract to run Los Alamos

A team consisting of the Texas A&M University System, the University of California and Battelle Memorial Institute has won a contract to run Los Alamos National Laboratory, a major part of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, federal officials announced Friday.

The contract for the team, known as Triad National Security LLC, includes a five-year base with five one-year options, for a total of 10 years if all options are exercised. The estimated value of the contract is $2.5 billion annually.

Among the losing bidders was a team led by the University of Texas System, which had at least one industrial partner and perhaps other partners. Purdue University, partnered with Bechtel Corp., had also sought the contract, as did Jacobs Engineering Group allied with BWX Technologies, according to media reports.

RELATED: UT System to spend up to $4.5 million on bid to run Los Alamos

The award was made by the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous arm of the Department of Energy, whose secretary is former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a graduate of A&M.

“The lab will continue to be a critical resource to ensure the future safety and security of the United States as we begin work on new endeavors, like the effort to recapitalize our plutonium pit mission,” Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, under secretary for nuclear security and NNSA administrator, said in a statement. “I’m confident that Los Alamos’ world-class workforce will continue to answer the Nation’s call under the direction of NNSA’s new M&O partner, Triad National Security LLC.”

The government recently announced plans to increase production of plutonium pits at Los Alamos and to begin production of them at its Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The pits are essentially triggers for nuclear warheads.

“The award links Texas with one of the world’s premier R&D institutions, and I am proud of the expanded contributions our state will make towards our nation’s defense,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “I commend Chancellor (John) Sharp and the Texas A&M University System for securing this contract that will provide significant opportunities for skilled workers trained in Texas to make lasting contributions to our national security.”

In a statement released by A&M on behalf of Triad, which is expected to operate as a nonprofit, the company said it was honored to have won the contract.

“We are committed to building on the legacy of world-class research, unparalleled innovation, and service to public good that have been the hallmark of the laboratory since it was founded in 1943,” Triad said.

David Daniel, the UT System’s deputy chancellor, who lead the system’s team, said, “We offer our best wishes to the NNSA’s chosen contractor and thank our Board of Regents and numerous others who supported this endeavor. We are honored to have been among the finalists for the role.”

This was the second time that the UT System sought to have a hand in managing and operating the storied laboratory in the mountains of New Mexico, where physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer led development of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan during World War II. The system played second fiddle to Lockheed Martin Corp. on a failed joint bid in 2005 for the contract but led its team this time, officials said.

Los Alamos is a massive operation, with more than 11,000 workers and 1,000 buildings scattered across 22,000 acres. Its primary mission is to ensure that the country’s nuclear weapons would work as intended, without actually detonating them. It also conducts research involving national security, space exploration, renewable energy, medicine, nanotechnology and supercomputing.

The lab’s current operator is Los Alamos National Security LLC, a private consortium of the University of California and three companies. The University of California has been involved in running the lab since it was established in 1943.

The security administration signaled in late 2015 that the current operator would lose its contract because it failed to earn high enough performance reviews. That contract, which was scheduled to expire at the end of September, will be extended to allow for a four-month transition period to the new lab operator, the security administration said. It added that Triad’s proposal “presented the best value to the government when all factors were considered, and will provide future stability for a period of 10 years if all options are exercised.”

The UT System’s Board of Regents was divided on bidding for the Los Alamos contract, with the go-ahead coming in a 4-3 vote in November. Regent Rad Weaver and Chairwoman Sara Martinez Tucker did not vote. Tucker told the Statesman later that she would have voted for a bid in the case of a tie or if she were not head of the board, citing opportunities for public service, research, student internships and management fees. Then-Chancellor Bill McRaven, a retired admiral and Navy SEAL who led the U.S. Special Operations Command, was a strong supporter of the bid.

A&M regents voted unanimously in October to compete for the contract. A&M’s point person on its bid was M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of engineering.

The A&M-UC alliance was somewhat unexpected given the conservative leanings of A&M’s governing board and the dismissive attitude of many elected officials in Texas toward all things California, especially its decidedly blue politics and other liberal leanings.

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