Watchdogs react to 'waiver'

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NNSA > Override of recommendation raises questions

By John Severance

Reaction has been a bit slow but watchdog groups are weighing in on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s decision that gave the Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a one-year contract extension through a one-time waiver.

According to documents obtained by the Los Alamos Monitor, the lab originally was not awarded a one-year contract extension. But acting NNSA administrator Neile Miller reversed the recommendation.

Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch NM Program director commented, “By getting these performance evaluations released publically, Nuclear Watch expects that outraged taxpayers will demand more NNSA oversight and an end to the federal government paying the usual nuclear weapons contractors millions without enforcing performance accountability. Nuke Watch is going back to Congress to demand that it require measurable performance benchmarks before enriching the nuclear weapons contractors. In these tough economic times Americans should expect nothing less.”

Los Alamos National Security met two of the three criteria but earned less than 80 percent overall at-risk fees in its performance evaluation.

The NMSSUP project was intended as an upgrade to the existing fences, cameras, sensors, and other detection and denial systems around facilities at TA-55, which houses the Plutonium Facility. The project was suspended Oct. 23.

Originally, the system was targeted to cost $213 million, but cost overruns increased the project to $254 million, according to a memo written by McMillan to employees on Dec. 21. That total was later revised down to $240 million after LANS agreed to make a $10 million payment to the government in non-reimbursable, non-taxpayer funds to settle project costs.

In a letter from NNSA, Miller “has nevertheless expressed a desire to award LANS the award in recognition of LANS’ acceptance of full responsibility and accountability for problems that have arisen under the Nuclear Materials Safeguards and Security Upgrades Phase II Project and for moving aggressively to correct the issues.”

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Groups made the following points.
• The fact that the contract provision was overridden by Miller is itself evidence that LANS is not being asked to accept full responsibility. $10 million is very far from “full responsibility and accountability” for a problem whose estimated cost was $41 million. 
• How can LANS accept “full responsibility and accountability” for something, the cost of which is not yet known?
• Which LANS managers have been disciplined for this significant error, and how? 
• In the PER, NNSA ties the NMSSUP issue to the CMRR-NF issue — delivery of large construction projects. 
• Apparently a LANS performance level which would have ended the contract a year early, were it not for that “one-time waiver,” did not get in the way of a new $22.8 billion contract for another Bechtel-led consortium, this one to manage NNSA’s work at Pantex, Y-12, and quite likely SRS. Neither did Bechtel’s poor performance at the Hanford Vitrification Plant.  With the new contract, Bechtel will be leading the management teams at 5 out of 8 NNSA sites.  That might be “too big to fail.”  Maybe this memo is telling us that LANS is too big to fail right now.

NNSA spokesperson Josh McConaha said, “we’ll let the text of the document stand as explanation.”