A group that includes Texas A&M University was awarded a lucrative contract to oversee the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico on Friday, beating out a competing bid led by the University of Texas system. The group’s bid was chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy, which is headed by A&M alum Rick Perry.
“We are committed to building on the legacy of world-class research, unparalleled innovation, and service to public good that have been the hallmark of the laboratory since it was founded in 1943,” A&M chancellor John Sharp said in a press release. A&M’s bidding group, a limited liability company called Triad National Security, includes the Battelle Memorial Institute and the University of California.
The group will inherit a facility that has long served as one of the nation’s most important nuclear weapons research centers, but has recently been marred by major workplace safety issues. The University of California has been involved in managing Los Alamos for nearly 75 years, most recently partnering with defense contractor Bechtel to run the lab after being awarded a contract in 2006. But the federal government decided in 2015 not to renew the group’s contract after its expiration in September 2017, following a series of federal investigations and performance evaluations that revealed a pattern of serious accidents and worker health and safety violations, which resulted in a total of $110 million in fines and lost performance bonuses, according to ProPublica.
There was much hand-wringing by the University of California over putting together a new bid for the Los Alamos contract. During a September meeting of the Board of Regents, university regents placed much of the blame for Los Alamos’s problems over the past decade on Bechtel, and decided to move forward with a new bid with a different private partner. Bechtel, of course, did not like that. Shortly after the meeting, Bechtel president Barbara Rusinko sent a letter to UC president Janet Napolitano, responding to each point of criticism levied by the regents—and objecting to their harsh criticism of Rick Perry.
According to the letter, which has been obtained by Texas Monthly, UC regent Richard Blum was concerned about the outcome of the looming bidding war being affected by the political leanings of each bidding group, explaining that they decided to bring Bechtel into their 2006 bid because “they were a Republican group.” Blum also had some unflattering comments about Perry. “Now here we go again,” Blum said at the meeting, according to the letter sent by Bechtel. “We have the former governor of Texas who couldn’t remember that there was an Energy Department that he wanted to get rid of when he ran for president, so my guess is that his understanding of anything about this is probably beyond clueless.”