By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
May 8, 2007, 8:34 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A team co-led by the University of California is getting the management contract for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory despite past problems at the lab under the university's management, the Energy Department announced Tuesday.
The decision comes after a series of financial and security gaffes at the nation's premier nuclear weapons labs -- Lawrence Livermore in northern California and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico -- led the federal government to require competitive bidding for the management contracts for the first time.
The University of California had managed both labs since their inception.
''The University of California knows how to do research and development. It's the largest research institution at least in the country if not in the world,'' Tyler Przybylek, senior adviser at the National Nuclear Security Administration, said in announcing the decision.
At the same time Przybylek emphasized that UC will be partnering with Bechtel National Inc. to provide the management know-how that has sometimes been lacking at Lawrence Livermore.
A UC-Bechtel team won the Los Alamos contract in 2005.
Los Alamos has struggled with security lapses, credit card abuses, theft of equipment and other instances of mismanagement that subjected it to withering criticism from Congress, and led to the 2003 decision to bid out the contracts. Problems at Livermore were less dramatic but included the disappearance of an electronic key card and the loss of keys to perimeter gates and office doors.
California officials welcomed the decision to keep UC involved at both Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said it ''reaffirms the high standards of our public university system and the high quality of the talented and insightful employees at our research institutions.''
The UC-Bechtel team also includes BWX Technologies Inc.; Texas A&M University; Washington Group International; and Battelle Memorial Institute. The group beat out a team led by Northrop Grumman Corp.
The seven-year contract allows a maximum payment of $45.5 million per year depending on performance, with possible extensions for 13 more years. The annual budget of the lab is $1.6 billion.
In March, the Bush administration selected Lawrence Livermore for a controversial new weapons program that could lead to a new generation of nuclear warheads. Congress has reacted skeptically.
Lawrence Livermore, an 8,000-employee lab that opened its doors about 50 miles east of San Francisco in 1952, also works on stewardship of existing nuclear weapon stockpiles and conducts a variety of scientific research.
The Energy Department's decision to stick with UC drew criticism from a government watchdog group.
''It is ridiculous that after years of security breaches and safety debacles DOE would decide that the best way to fix these problems is by hiring the same incompetent contractors,'' said Peter Stockton, senior investigator for the Project On Government Oversight.