Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (one of our nation's two nuclear weapons research and design labs) management (which is an LLC) scored very low performance on its recently released annual agency review. This is perhaps unsurprising given that they also scored very low last year, except this year no National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) official is going to swoop in and grant the Lab’s management contractor, Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, or "LLNS", a waiver to allow them to receive an unearned one-year extension of their management contract.
Apparently, after then-NNSA Deputy Administrator Neile Miller received criticism for giving the unexpected waiver to LLNS last year, she suggested that it was a one-time event. Additionally, the agency increased the threshold for achieving contract extensions, which has resulted in the Livermore Lab contractor’s failure this year.
According to the recently released Performance Evaluation Report (PER) for Livermore Lab management, covering the period from October 2012 to September 2013, LLNS was downgraded for poor “Contractor Leadership,” and was given only 40% of the award. Unfortunately, the PER was unduly vague as to the specific reasons behind the low evaluation.
Additionally, the PER recognized a significant lack of attention to the safety and effectiveness of program operations by Lab management. This is something we have reported on regularly, and we are glad to see it receiving formal notice in the Performance Evaluation Report.
Specifically mentioned in the PER are two incidents. First, the Department of Energy Inspector General found Livermore had not adequately protected dangerous explosive materials in the High Explosives Application Facility. The PER notes as well “other employee misconduct,” but does not provide any detail.
Second, the PER specifically reduced the LLNS award fee by $365,000 for lax oversight that resulted in an acid splash of workers at Site 300. The incident caused severe injuries and a long closure of the facility, leading to a missed cleanup milestone.
Also notable was Livermore’s relatively high marks in the other four categories, all of which cleared the 80 percent mark. Most surprising was the 83 percent given for performance on its Nuclear Weapons Mission, which includes the languishing National Ignition Facility (NIF).
The PER acknowledges that NIF executed only 13 of 27 planned tier-one stockpile stewardship experiments during the period. Now that the goal of “ignition” for which NIF was named is no longer expected, the facility more easily meets NNSA’s performance expectations. In other words, while NIF is the largest single largest project by budget at Livermore Lab, the NNSA officials conducting the PER have learned to expect less and less from it due to its ongoing poor performance.
We will continue to report on Livermore’s management troubles, their search for a new director to replace Parney Albright, who abruptly left during this period, and on the management contract negotiations in the coming months.