The U.S. Energy Dept has suspended the May award of a 10-year, $13-billion contract to contractors BWX Technologies and Fluor Corp. to manage, clean up and close 177 contaminated underground waste storage tanks at its Hanford nuclear site, deciding that the procurement needs “corrective action.”

The agency told ENR on Aug. 12 it will extend for up to one year an existing contract for the work held by Washington River Protection Solutions LLC at the former weapons manufacturing site in Washington state.

The  consortium is led by Amentum, the former government services unit of AECOM that was rebranded after its spinoff last year. Its contract had been set to transition on Sept. 30 to the new team. 

DOE officials would not comment on what its corrective action would be, but sources say it will likely result in a new procurement—either a decision to reselect the BWX Technologies-Fluor team again or to seek new bidder proposals.

The DOE action follows two protests of the contract by unsuccessful bidders, following its award.

DOE did not provide a timeframe for awarding or re-procuring the tank farm work, but the proposed contract extension to the incumbent will be for up to 12 months, from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2021.

Amentum had led a different consortium in a bid for the new tank cleanup award, as did a team headed by Jacobs Government Services, with both filing bid protests to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the agency that decides the merits of federal government contract challenges.

GAO dismissed the bid protests on July 23 after DOE's decision to re-examine the contract, according to Ralph White, the agency's managing associate general counsel for procurement law.

Before that DOE action, Amentum had filed four amendments to its protest in June and July, and Jacobs filed two.

The nature of the protests are unknown since GAO does not make them public and DOE would not comment.

Amentum on Aug. 7 filed to GAO for reimbursement of its bid protest costs.

The company, while still part of AECOM, had held the previous 10-year, $7.8-billion tank farm cleanup contract since 2008, and was awarded a $725-million one-year extension in 2019.

A spokesman for the Washington State Dept. of Ecology said the agency would not raise concerns about DOE’s contracting actions unless it appears these would cause cleanup milestones to be missed under the Tri-Party Agreement—a consent decree signed by the state, DOE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1989 to set federal waste cleanup mandates and oversight for the Hanford site.

Tank farm work already had been delayed due to COVID-19, the spokesman said. Tanks, which store about 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste from decades of weapons production, are decaying and some have leaked. Low-level radioactive waste from the tanks is being prepared to be pumped for treatment at a site vitrification plant under construction, which DOE anticipates will begin to transform it into glass logs for disposal beginning in 2023.

The turn of events at Hanford widens the scope of Amentum's presence there; it also led a team that includes a Fluor unit and the Atkins arm of SNC-Lavalin Inc. that won in May a $10-billion, 10-year contract to clean up the 560-sq-mile site's former plutonium production complex.

The contract, currently held by the CH2M unit of Jacobs, is set to transition to the team at the end of September.