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Los Alamos Firm Receives "Strong" Marks in Performance Review

The private contractor that operates the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico received 83 percent of its possible bonus from the U.S. government for operations during the last budget year, the Washington Post reported on Monday (see GSN, Dec. 22, 2009).

Los Alamos National Security took in $50.1 million in "at risk fees" out of a possible pot of $60.7million from the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department assigned to oversee the U.S. nuclear arms complex. The fees were in addition to the company's set $26 million contract for operating the nuclear weapons site and were accompanied by a 12-month extension in the management contract.

The laboratory management firm is a partnership of URS Energy and Construction, the University of California, Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel. This is the first year the National Nuclear Security Administration has made available to the public performance assessments of the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories.

While the laboratory management firm received an overall performance assessment of "strong" for fiscal 2011, its success in some areas was mixed, particularly in advancing work on a replacement plutonium research complex at Los Alamos.

The company received $389,000 out of a possible $703,000 for design activities for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement site. The Energy Department has decided to delay by five years construction of the replacement facility on account of budget constraints (see GSN, Feb. 21).

The company only received $176,000 -- from a possible total fee of $700,000 -- for finishing the new Radiological Laboratory building on time, due to issues with "settlement costs" and "deficiencies" related to select components, according to the review.

The nuclear agency awarded Los Alamos National Security $1.1 million for keeping on-track a program to increase the shelf-life of the W-76 warhead, which is carried by Trident ballistic missiles. A total of 2,000 warheads are being updated under a plan set by the Bush administration. The Obama administration for fiscal 2013 is seeking $80 million less for the program than it had previously anticipated.

Los Alamos National Security was awarded a bonus of $1 million for finishing a life-extension analysis for the B-61. The corporate management firm was also awarded an "at-risk" fee of $117,639 for finishing the initial part of a shelf-life continuation analysis for the W-78 warhead, which is used in Minuteman 3 ICBMs (Walter Pincus, Washington Post, April 9).

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