DOE Authorizes Restructuring of Lab Contracts

Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson accepted on October 17 the recommendations of General John Gordon, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, for improving security at the two nuclear weapons laboratories managed by the University of California. According to a press release from the Department of Energy (DOE), Richardson authorized Gordon to "immediately restructure" contracts with the university to address "security and management issues." Richardson also indicated that the department will begin negotiations to extend the university's contract for three years, through September 2005. A senior DOE official confirmed that "the contract will be extended."

On June 30, the secretary tasked Gordon with preparing recommendations to restructure the university's contract, under which it manages both Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. At that time, Gordon said he would attempt to improve security and management of the labs "without compromising the strength of their cutting-edge science and research." The labs have faced protracted criticism over security lapses, including, most recently, the disappearance of hard drives containing classified data from the X Division, Los Alamos' nuclear weapons design group. (See ACT, July/August 2000.)

Gordon's suggested improvements include the establishment of a new University of California vice president position to oversee the labs, the hiring of security and management "subcontractor experts," and the establishment of a "Laboratory Senior Management Council" that will report directly to the university president on "key management and security issues."

Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Madelyn Creedon, who oversees the nuclear weapons infrastructure for DOE, said in an October 17 press briefing that "the fundamental conclusion was that [the University of California] has to be responsible…for the operations of these facilities." Creedon emphasized that DOE officials intend to keep the university "on the hook," rather than relieving it of responsibility by assigning security to a separate subcontractor.

In an October 18 statement, Representative John Dingell (D-MI), the ranking member of the House Commerce Committee and the university's most vocal critic during recent congressional hearings into alleged security lapses, criticized extension of the university's contract as "business as usual" and decried DOE's "coddling of its contractor."