The competition for operating Los Alamos National Laboratory is moving ahead with a website posting last week by the Laboratory’s federal sponsor, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is closely connected to Los Alamos.

The competition comes in the face of a series of safety incidents and federal criticism of the northern New Mexico laboratory's operations over the past several years.

NNSA announced at the end of 2015 that the contract would be opened for competition because of dissatisfaction with some parts of the Laboratory’s operation. Extension without competition is a common course when the federal government is pleased with a contractor’s performance.

In a series of NNSA performance reviews that year, Los Alamos received “very good” or “excellent” scores in areas related to science, engineering and national defense, but only “satisfactory” in operations and infrastructure.

Last month, the Center for Public Integrity published a series of articles attacking the safety culture at Los Alamos, as well as an alleged absence of adequate oversight by NNSA.

NNSA then issued a statement acknowledging past performance problems at Los Alamos, but criticized the stories as failing to reflect improvements in recent years.

Shortly afterwards, it posted a description of the contract and Los Alamos responsibilities as the contract competition went underway.

The Laboratory has been managed since 2006 by Los Alamos National Security LLC, a private consortium consisting of Bechtel Corporation, the University of California, BWX Technologies and URS.

As of last week, no information was publicly available on organizations that might bid for the new Los Alamos contract, presently scheduled to begin in September 2018.

In a comparable situation, last year’s bidding for the management contract for Sandia Laboratories generated an intense nationwide competition. That was eventually won by a consortium, led by Honeywell and Northrop Grumman, which has now replaced long-time contractor Lockheed Martin.

The Los Alamos contract competition is of considerable interest to many in the Livermore community for professional reasons – Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) are connected by history, mission and scientific capabilities – and also because of management parallels.

LLNL is managed by a for-profit consortium very much like that at Los Alamos, including participation by the University of California.

While the Livermore contract may be secure for now, local retirees ask, might UC also consider pulling out of the Livermore contract if its historic national security role at Los Alamos is terminated next year?

Under that circumstance, they fear, future industrial contractors focused mainly on management fee might neglect retiree benefits, especially health care programs.

With this future concern in mind, a group of LLNL retirees filed suit in 2010 in an effort to regain access to UC health care.

Their suit continues to be heard in Superior Court in Oakland, with the next case management conference scheduled for September.