By ROGER SNODGRASS
Los Alamos Daily Post
Close observers of the nuclear weapons complex might have been surprised last month by the news that Lockheed Martin’s long run as manager of Sandia National Laboratories would come to an end after 23 years at the job.
For Steve Younger, who will become the new SNL director May 1, the change of contractors was not that hard to understand. Sandia will be managed by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia (NTESS), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Honeywell International, which manages the Department of Energy contract for the Kansas City Plant. Honeywell will be the primary contractor at Sandia along with a team of subcontractors that includes Northrop Grumman Technical Services, a partner in National Security Technologies, and a joint venture that manages the Nevada National Security Site.
“There is a fundamental change in how the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) does procurement for these big contracts,” Younger said. “It used to be that bidders would write a very long proposal, and they would make all kinds of promises.”
But sometimes they would win the contract and not live up to the promises, Younger added. “So, now, the acquisition process looks at performance, and the biggest thing they look at are performance reviews.”
Younger’s last year as director of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site was 2011, a year when the managing partnership earned 95.5 per cent of its incentive fee, which is a high mark in a key metric across the complex. Among the highlighted successes was the successful start of JASPER, a major test facility. The launch was “under budget and below cost.” There was also a commendation for “exemplary support to Japan following the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.”
Last year, the Nevada test site was tied for first in the performance evaluations with Honeywell’s Kansas City Plant, Younger added. “So when I say we bring together the bet contractors in the NNSA complex, that’s the number to demonstrate it: We both got a 92.”
Younger may well be among the most qualified and most experienced senior managers in the nuclear enterprise, with career background that includes weapons design at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the position of senior associate director for national security affairs at Los Alamos. He also served as director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
After retiring from the NNTS in early 2012, he became a Senior Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Center of the Smithsonian Institution, working on sociological and anthropological questions about human violence.
His first book, “Endangered Species: How We Can Avoid Mass Destruction and build a Lasting Peace,” was published in 2007. “A big picture book,” he called it. “I was very interested in why humans kill one another,” he said, “Are we hardwired or not, and then if we aren’t what are some things we can do to avoid it?”
He returned to this subject from a closer angle in 2014 with an anthropological monograph, Violence and Warfare in Precontact Melanesia. And soon to be published is a book of naval history on the U.S.S. Nevada, a battleship with a long and fascinating career.
More recently, Younger has penned a chapter in Doomed to Cooperate, Sig Hecker’s new compendium on the shaky period when Russian and American scientists “joined forced to avert some of the greatest post- cold war dangers.”
Younger’s chapter, “Side by Side as Equals, Forging Collaborations between VNIEF and Los Alamos,” recounted the confidence-building discussions between American nuclear scientists and their counterparts at the Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics in the City of Sarov.
Pete Sheehey, a retired LANL scientist, Los Alamos County Councilor and president of the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security, recalled traveling to Russia with Younger in the mid-90’s as part of a series of lab to lab encounters that contributed to securing nuclear materials after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
“He is not only well-qualified in stockpile stewardship, but also has some valuable skills for international relations,” Sheehey said. “He takes national security completely seriously, but this other experience demonstrated that he understood the trade-offs between treaties and programs. He can see both sides of things.”
Two other names that will be familiar in Los Alamos are included on the new Sandia roster: Steven Girrens is slated to serve as NTESS Nuclear Deterrence associate lab director, and Susan Seestrom has been named Advanced Science & Technology associate lab director.