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LANL, Sandia operators each get more than $40M for 2018

SANTA FE – The contractors in charge of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory for the 2018 fiscal year were awarded almost all available annual fees from the federal government after evaluations for their work.

But there wasn’t much risk involved at either lab. Under terms of Department of Energy evaluation plans for both Sandia and LANL, the fees were mostly “fixed” and only relatively small amounts were based on leadership performance.

Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS), a private consortium which lost the LANL contract after series of high-profile safety problems, was awarded a total of $47.9 million — $41.3 million in fixed fees and $6.6 million of a possible $8.8 million for leadership. Overall, LANS got a middling ranking of “good.”

Sandia contractor National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, LLC (NTESS) received $41.7 million out of possible $42.4 million. The contractor “achieved positive results in all seven performance elements” and earned an overall “excellent” rating, the Sandia evaluation says.

The Los Alamos lab used to operate under a much different fee structure, where most of the fee was based on performance. In 2014, for instance, LANS was awarded just $6.25 million out of a possible $63 million after a drum of radioactive waste improperly packed at Los Alamos breached during storage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, causing a long shutdown there.

The fee plan has changed for the past two years, as LANS’s tenure at Los Alamos was winding down. The total amount was lowered, but most of the fee became fixed. For fiscal 2017, though, LANS still took a fairly big hit, because of $3.1 million deduction for improperly sending three shipments of plutonium cross-country using a commercial air cargo service.

A new contractor, Triad National Security, LLC took over at LANL on Nov. 1. Triad consists of the University of California, Texas A&M and Ohio-based science non-profit Battelle Memorial Institute. UC was also part of the more corporate LANS, along with the Bechtel corporation and two other companies.

LANS fiscal 2018 evaluation gave good marks for operations related to weapons, global security and science, technology and engineering. The Los Alamos lab “made significant improvements” in its safety culture, “but challenges in uniform workforce adoption of these practices remain,” the evaluation says, noting a significant increase in events “warranting extensive investigations” by the lab or federal agencies. An explosion occurred during “pressing operations” that was “foreseen but not planned for,” the report states.

At Sandia, NTESS “strategically partnered” with federal agencies “and demonstrated outstanding leadership, achieving many significant accomplishments that significantly outweigh performance issues,” its evaluation says.