U.S. Looks for New Los Alamos Chief

Aiming to install strong, new management at the troubled Los Alamos (search) nuclear weapons lab, the government will pay up to $79 million to a new lab manager — nearly 10 times the amount the University of California now makes for the job.

A final request for proposals, released Thursday in the first-ever competition to run the New Mexico lab, also will require the contractor to assume more risk and create a new pension plan to replace the university's version.

The changes are designed to usher in a new era of operational efficiency at the storied lab where the atomic bomb was designed. Los Alamos' reputation has been stained by a recent series of problems, including the reported disappearance of two classified computer disks that were later discovered never to have existed.

The lab's director, Pete Nanos, announced his resignation earlier this month.

The University of California, which made up to $8 million a year running the lab, recently said it was teaming with engineering powerhouse Bechtel to prepare a potential bid. Lockheed Martin (search) and Northrop Grumman (search) have announced plans to compete.

"I think that what people will see over time is good operations and good business aren't the enemies of great science; they enable it," said Tyler Przybylek, chairman of the board of National Nuclear Security Administration (search) officials who will evaluate proposals.

Bidders will have until July 19 to submit proposals, and the NNSA, part of the

Department of Energy, hopes to award a new contract Dec. 1.