UPTE Applauds New LANL Contract That Supports Research, Development and Employees – Not Profits; and Urges New Contractor to Adopt Two Structural Reforms, Offers to Help Change Safety Culture
UPTE’s years-long lobbying of DOE for a return to non-profit operators for the national laboratories has paid off at LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory). Beginning in November of this year the new contract will pay Triad National Security, LLC $2.5 billion per year for up to ten years to manage and operate LANL. Major payoffs for UPTE’s lobbying include both more money for science and new contractual provisions mandating the creation of a safer work culture.
Three non-profits, the University of California, Texas A&M and Battelle Memorial Institute, formed the non-profit Triad National Security, LLC. Like DOE, the main mission of the three partners is research and development, rather than construction profits. Construction and engineering profits are the main mission of the largest of the University of California’s current operating partners for LANL, Bechtel. DOE awarded Triad a 1 percent fee, only one-third of the fee it awarded LANS (Los Alamos National Security, LLC) to operate LANL, leaving more of the contract award to go to LANL’s programmatic missions.
The management contract was re-bid because there grew to be a widespread recognition that the reward incentive for-profit nature of the old contract, in which management bonuses were directly tied to meeting superficial project milestones, resulted in a loss of science-driven mission focus. This profit-driven management structure made it harder and harder to maintain the core scientific competencies on which the science and national security missions of LANL depend.
UPTE has sent the attached letter to the three entities making up Triad urging them to adopt two structural reforms which UPTE believes are keys to the success of their endeavor to return LANL to a focus on mission success.
The new contract also mandates that Triad change the safety culture at LANL. Another reason that DOE did not extend the current LANS contract is the unusually large number of devastating injuries and disruptive shutdowns that have plagued LANS and seriously delayed national security programs.
At our urging, the DOE incorporated a new section into the Request for Proposals that governed the contract bidding process entitled “Organizational Culture Change.” This section demands that the contractor “promote an improved safety culture.” Regrettably, many serious incidents over the term of the expiring LANS contract have graphically illustrated the need for this new provision.
Incidents resulting in serious injury, years long operational or construction delays and more than $110,000,000 in fines have included 1) hospitalization for over a month of an electrician servicing industrial electrical boxes for which he was not qualified, 2) a transcription error that led to the substitution of organic and flammable kitty litter for inorganic non-flammable kitty litter that exploded and burst a drum in 2014 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, then exposed workers to radiation and closed down the nation’s sole repository for certain types of nuclear waste for nearly 3 years, and 3) safety and accountability lapses in the handling of plutonium that have prevented the production of any plutonium pits at LANL since 2011 – and transfer of their production to the DOE’s Savannah River Site.
To prevent such devastating safety incidents in the future, UPTE will seek to work even more closely with Triad than it does with the joint management-union safety committee at LLNL (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) to promote employee safety. LANS has no such joint management worker safety committee at LANL.
If Triad agrees to work with UPTE, the safety culture at LANL will improve. In 10 years former high-level officials of the DOE will not have to lament, as has Robert Alvarez, a senior policy adviser to Bill Richardson when he served as secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, that, at LANL, “one thing that really hasn’t changed much is the lack of safety culture at the lab. It’s a culture that lacks what you’d call an industrial safety ethos.”
Labor unions such as UPTE have been successfully changing work cultures for over a century. UPTE stands ready to help Triad make the necessary changes in the safety culture at LANL.