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LANL receives ‘good’ annual evaluation

Los Alamos National Laboratory will receive $38.8 million of the $43.5 million available from award and fixed fees based on its performance in the 2019 fiscal year. (The Albuquerque Journal via AP, File)

SANTA FE – Los Alamos National Laboratory received an overall “good” evaluation from its federal managers and will receive 82% of the available annual fees it could have received based on its performance during fiscal year 2019.

Of the $43.5 million available from award and fixed fees, LANL will receive $38.8 million.

The fiscal year, which ran from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2019, is the first full year the lab was under the management of Triad National Security LLC, a consortium made up of Battelle Memorial Institute, the University of California System and the Texas A&M University System.

LANL also received a “good” rating from the National Nuclear Security Administration last year when the lab was managed by Los Alamos National Security.

“Overall, the evaluation is consistent to where we believe we are,” Thomas Mason, a former executive at Battelle Memorial Institute who took over as lab director when Triad began managing the lab in June 2018, said in a phone interview Thursday. “I’m pleased with the fact we’re on the same page as NNSA in terms of where we are.”

Mason added that there is still much work to be done at the lab, but it continued on a growth trajectory as it expands operations, including stepping up the production of plutonium pits, the radioactive core of a nuclear warhead.

Mason said he anticipates a 20% increase in funding for its Plutonium Facility-4 when the federal budget is released, likely next week.

LANL received a “very good” rating in meeting Goal 1, the management of its nuclear weapons mission, and will receive 90% of the award available to it in that area, which amounts to $7.2 million.

It also received a “very good” rating in leadership.

The lab received “excellent” ratings for strategic partnership projects mission objectives and science, technology and engineering.

But LANL received “satisfactory” ratings for reduction of nuclear security threats and operations and infrastructure, thus earning 25% and 50%, respectively, of available awards and fees in those areas.

Mason said a breach of a sealed source executed by a subcontractor, International Isotopes, at the University of Washington was responsible for the ratings in those two areas.

Critics of the lab were quick to jump on the lab’s evaluation.

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group noted that of the six sites NNSA evaluated, LANL was the only one to get satisfactory ratings, and it got two of them.

“Triad had the worst rating of any NNSA site, both in terms of the percent of possible award fees received and in the adjectivals used to described performance,” he said. “All the others were ‘very good’ or ‘excellent.’ ”

Mello said the low score in operations and infrastructure showed LANL was “not on top of their safety programs.”

The rating for reducing nuclear security threats is also a major concern, he said.

“We know the details on some of these but we don’t know everything we should know in terms of accountability in this process because this is only a summary,” he said.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico called LANL’s evaluation “alarming.”

“The federal evaluation points to Triad’s repeated breakdowns in oversight and safety issues while declaring that the contractor’s so-called accomplishments only slightly outweighed these chronic issues. A rating of ‘good’ is simply not good enough as the Lab aggressively expands the production of radioactive plutonium pit bomb cores for the new nuclear arms race,” Jay Coghlan, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

He added that Nuclear Watch New Mexico would continue to seek information through the Freedom of Information Act because the summary is legally insufficient when the public has a right to know the good and bad about how taxpayer money is spent.

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