The U.S. Energy Dept. has paused a long term contract worth up to $28 billion over the next decade that it awarded in late November to a Fluor Corp.-led team to operate and manage two large-footprint nuclear weapons assembly and storage facilities—based on claims by losing bidders against the agency for its “ad hoc” decision.

The Fluor group, which includes contractor Amentum, had been set to replace Bechtel National at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee and at the Pantex plant in Texas as of March 31.

DOE did not disclose or confirm a revised schedule to award the contract nor that it would be rebid.

DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) solicited a new manager-operator for the sites after it opted not to renew Bechtel’s contract for the last three years of its potential 10-year award.


Protest Alleges Conflicts of Interest

Teams led by Bechtel and by contractor BWXT bid on the new contract and lodged protests with the U.S. Government Accountability Office over the Fluor-Amentum award. GAO dismissed the protests on Jan. 14 after NNSA agreed to reassess its evaluation of the three proposals’ technical, management and cost responses—adding that “if appropriate, will revisit its best-value, trade-off determination.” 

The contracting agency also will reassess alleged conflicts of interest and alleged appearances of impropriety that the bid protests raised. “If necessary, NNSA will terminate the contract and award a contract to the offeror whose proposal represents the best value to the government,” it said.

Bechtel’s protest said the “RFP and evaluation criteria should be clarified in four respects to avoid the ad-hoc decision making that was the hallmark of the [November] selection decision.” 

The Bechtel team also objected to DOE’s request that GAO dismiss the protests based on NNSA’s proposed corrective action, saying that the agency has not provided adequate details about its investigations into alleged organizational conflicts of interest and appearances of impropriety, and does not commit to a specific course of investigative action.

GAO responded that an agency has broad discretion to take corrective action necessary to ensure fair and impartial competition and need not address every protest issue. It called Bechtel’s objections “premature,” noting the firm can protest again after NNSA makes a final decision.


Details To Come

“We’re pleased that NNSA has taken this action given the nature of the issues raised, Fred DeSousa, a Bechtel spokesman, told ENR. "We await additional details on what exactly the corrective action will entail.”

GAO did not release details of BWXT's bid protest.

NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency in DOE that maintains and enhances the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

The contract for Y-12 and Pantax is to manage NNSA’s stockpile stewardship and management program and support its office of naval reactors, defense nuclear security, defense nuclear nonproliferation counterterrorism and counterproliferation. The Pantex plant has been the nation’s primary nuclear weapons assembly, disassembly and life-extension center for more than 40 years.

Y-12 is a 150-acre site in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where enriched uranium is processed and stored, and lithium and special materials are processed. The site has buildings dating from the Manhattan Project.

Bechtel is set to remain at the Y-12 site to complete construction of the estimated $6.5-billion uranium processing complex there that will replace by late 2025 a World War II-era structure. The project has been part of the firm-led consortium's contract but was set to be split off in the site management transition.

Construction of its 242,000-sq-ft main processing building, which began in 2018, was completed last September.