Stung by security lapses at a leading nuclear weapons laboratory, the government will consider business and management ability as much as scientific expertise when selecting a new manager for the facility.

The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration (search) released a draft request for proposals Wednesday as it prepares for the first competition to run New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory (search).

Los Alamos has been managed by the University of California (search) since the lab's creation as a top-secret World War II project to develop the atomic bomb. But problems, including missing computer drives and sloppy fiscal procedures, led the department for the first time to call for an open bidding process last year.

The new contractor will take over when the university's current contract expires at the ending of September. The school has not decided whether to bid to continue managing the lab.

"The vision is we want world-class science, enabled by excellent operations, and really, really good business management," said Tyler Przybylek, chairman of the board of National Nuclear Security Administration (search) officials who will evaluate proposals.

The agency will collect comments from prospective applicants, community members and others for 30 days before issuing a final request for proposals. Applicants will then have 60 days to submit their proposals.

The agency plans to select a contractor next summer to begin work on Oct. 1. The new contract will cover five years, with possible extensions for 15 years more.

Recent problems at the lab include the shutdown of most operations in July following the disclosure that two disks believed to contain classified information were missing. Most lab activities have since resumed.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has encouraged the University of California to seek to retain its contract. Other possible bidders include the University of Texas and Texas A&M.

Federal officials also will seek bids on the two other labs that the University of California manages, the Lawrence Livermore (search) nuclear weapons lab and the nonweapons Lawrence Berkeley lab (search). The school's Lawrence Livermore contract also expires at the end of September, but the Energy Department plans to extend it.