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Triad takes the helm

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Turnover > New management contractor takes over at LANL; promises safety first

By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos National Laboratory marked a new era Thursday as Triad National Security, LLC, took the helm as its new management and operations contractor, as the new leadership team touted its goal of putting safety and performance first.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration awarded Triad the management and operations on June 8.

The lab’s former contractor, Los Alamos National Security struggled in recent years with safety and operational issues, prompting the turnover.

“The new leadership team at Los Alamos is determined to strike the right balance between mission delivery for the nation and safe, operational excellence across the entire Laboratory,” said Laboratory Director and Triad CEO Thom Mason said in a release Thursday. “We are committed to partnering with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) as an integral part of the National Security Enterprise.”

Los Alamos County Manager Steven Lynn welcomed Triad to the community through a written statement.
“Los Alamos National Laboratory is a key employer for our community and Northern New Mexico. We look forward to working with Director Mason and his Triad team, and we wish them every success in operating the Lab,” Lynn said.

Before becoming the lab’s new director, Mason was the lab director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for 10 years.

In an August interview with The Los Alamos Monitor, Mason said the new management team was based on merit and not on political or business connections.

“I’m probably a little biased, but I think we have a great team,” he said. “This was a set of individuals that we picked based on the best available athlete for that job. We didn’t try to restrict it in terms of what your corporate affiliation was or anything else, we just said, ‘What’s the task for this job and who’s the best person for it?’ So you’ll see we’ve got a mix of people who know the lab well and some people who’ll bring some fresh ideas.”

Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, an environmental and nuclear safety organization, said time would tell if the new team would improve the safety environment at the lab.

“We have to wait and see how things develop. New managers come to Los Alamos and are sometimes frustrated. They are not always able to implement their aspirations. We will have to see,” Mello said.

Mello further stated that a good sign to him would be Triad taking a look at its operational costs, saying many of the people that still work there are used to the lab being “an enormous gravy train.”

“That’s the basic problem Triad faces. The work there has expanded to fill the political possibilities, Mello said. “If Triad wants to be accountable, they are going to have to cut their budgets. They are too big.”

The new contract, which took effect Thursday, includes a five-year base with five one-year options, for a total of 10 years if all options are exercised.

The laboratory is one of the largest science and technology institutes in the world and it conducts multidisciplinary research in fields such as national security, space exploration, renewable energy, medicine, nanotechnology and supercomputing.

“The Triad team has the right combination of nuclear science, research and development, and management expertise to protect and enhance the critical national security operations of Los Alamos National Laboratory far into the future,” said Ellen Tauscher, chair of the Board of Directors for Triad National Security, LLC. “Together, we are proud to provide this crucial public service to the nation.”

NNSA awarded the $2.5 billion, annual contract to Triad National Security LLC, a group that included the University of California, Texas A&M University System and the Battelle Memorial Institute.

With a potential 10 years of operation and management, the contract could be worth $25 billion over the next 10 years.

The lab’s last contractor, Los Alamos National Security, held the contract for 12 years. In 2015, the Department of Energy announced the management and operations contract would go out to bid for a new contract, after LANS failed to meet performance and safety goals set by the DOE.

While the lab had been plagued by a series of safety incidents since LANS’ take over, the decision to award the contract to another contractor reportedly came when the lab shipped an improperly packed drum of radiological waste to Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in February 2014.

The drum eventually burst, spewing waste throughout WIPP’s underground storage area. WIPP was consequently shut down for three years for cleanup and repairs.

Mason said the new strategy of keeping safety and operational incidents to a minimum is going to require communication and individual responsibility.

“I am honored and excited to lead Los Alamos National Laboratory, and to work with its talented and dedicated men and women to transform our culture and position the Laboratory for success well into the future,” said Mason. “Each and every employee is critical to the success of Los Alamos National Laboratory. The employees and the surrounding communities play an important part in the success of our mission.”