Los Alamos National Laboratory is the outsized economic driver for its area—a leading employer, the kind of community influencer that makes or breaks the municipalities around it.
"It has a reverberating impact," says Andrea Romero, executive director of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. "When the lab hiccups … the rest of the region really gets the flu."
Which is why the coalition has been fighting to stay at the table as the National Nuclear Security Administration hosts site tours to show interested parties what they're getting into if they bid on the management and operations contract for the lab.
Since 2006, Los Alamos National Security LLC—made up of the University of California, Bechtel, BWXT Government Group, Inc., and URS—has run Los Alamos National Laboratory. The contract could have been extended to 2026, had LANS "earned" an additional 13 years on top of its initial seven-year contract worth about $2.2 billion. After failing to score high enough on performance reviews, it didn't. Instead, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the lab along with the Department of Energy, put the management and operations contract up for bid. A draft version of the request for proposal was released in July.
A contingent of members from the coalition, including Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, Española Mayor Alice Lucero, Los Alamos County Councilor Rick Reiss and Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess went to Washington, DC, Sept. 11 to 14, to meet with elected officials and Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration staff to discuss the draft request for proposal (RFP) and their concerns with it. Among those, the posted draft doesn't include a component for community giving. That program has seen as much as $3 million a year poured into the seven counties surrounding and the Northern Pueblos in the form of scholarships, small business incubators and academic programs at area colleges.
Lindsey Geisler, press secretary for the National Nuclear Security Administration, says in an emailed statement that it's true the draft RFP did not contain a community commitment plan, but notes: "For Management and Operating contracts, NNSA typically releases the draft proposals instructions, draft evaluation criteria and the draft Statement of Work. The final RFP will include the requirement for a community commitment plan."
A clause giving local businesses a competitive advantage in contracting work with the lab also isn't in the draft, Romero says, and other measures seem to move nonprofit bidders into a more competitive position, which could eliminate gross receipts tax payments. According to the financial impact report for a bill that would have required a nonprofit to pay that tax if it took over as prime contractor on the lab, in 2015, Los Alamos National Security paid about $77 million. (The bill failed.)
The coalition has also been working to contact interested parties, and Romero reports frustrated efforts there.
"The NNSA had no process for us to try to invite or engage with potential bidders," Romero says. "We've been pretty much an afterthought in their thinking as far as acquisitions go, and yet our communities inherit the bidders."
The coalition put together a community gathering to coincide with interested parties' site visit, but their ability to advertise and explain their purpose was limited to a single flyer. Only two potential bidders showed up: Army veteran Eric Sundin with Virginia-based Internal Computer Services, and Deputy Chancellor David Daniel from University of Texas System, which has allocated $4.5 million to prepare a bid.
The names on an interested parties list compiled by the NNSA sprawl over a range of company sizes and specialties. At its larger end are companies like Huntington Ingalls Industries, which has previously secured contracts with the Department of Energy and NNSA to design, manufacture, and test naval "nuclear assets" and work as a management and operations partner at the Savannah River Site, which reprocesses nuclear materials.
The University of California and Bechtel, the incumbent contract holders, are also still listed. UC has been involved in lab management since LANL opened in the 1940s. The University of New Mexico, which has indicated interest in bidding, is not on the list.
The list, which only includes bidders who agreed to be on the public radar, is also peppered with smaller companies with specialties in corporate management or information technology.
"We're not looking to be the prime contractor," says Rick Dearholt, vice president of business development for Information International Associates, Inc. "We're looking to be on a team, and I think you'll find that, from the majority of people on that list, it's the same way."
The list allows those smaller companies to start networking and talking about forming a team to put together a bid.
Their site tour, Sundin says, took about three hours and attendees filled three buses, each with a speaker reading from the same script so bidders would receive the same information.
A final version of the RFP was expected by the end of September, but as of Sept. 29, the NNSA had yet to release it.