The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Bechtel Jacobs contract extended

DOE extends the cleanup contract for 60 days while successor North Wind is scrutinized by the General Accounting Office.

By Joe Walker

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The U.S. Department of Energy has again extended Bechtel Jacobs' Paducah cleanup contract, this time for 60 days while successor North Wind Paducah Cleanup Co. is scrutinized by the government's General Accounting Office.

Bechtel Jacobs was notified of the extension Friday, said spokesman Greg Cook. The contract had been set to expire March 31, allowing North Wind to take over the following day, but North Wind's $303 million winning bid is under protest by Wastren Inc. of Grand Junction, Colo., a competing bidder.

"The letter notifies us that DOE intends to extend through the end of May and they anticipate the contract extension will be signed by Feb. 15," Cook said. "We understand that they're trying to get the new contract in place, and in the meantime we'll continue to do the work."

Cook said the extension gives Bechtel Jacobs time to finish some projects that it might not otherwise have completed. As the lead cleanup and waste management contractor for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Bechtel Jacobs employs 160 people and oversees another 390 subcontract workers. North Wind pledged to hire most of those workers.

This is the fourth contract extension for the company since mid-2003 when the Energy Department announced it would replace Bechtel Jacobs with a smaller company in an effort to be more cost-efficient. The bid process was repeatedly delayed with little public explanation until Jan. 10, when DOE announced that North Wind had been awarded the job starting April 1 and running through Sept. 30, 2009.

But on Monday, Wastren protested the bid for reasons that neither DOE nor Wastren has disclosed. Other bidders have through Feb. 7 to do the same.

Karen Long, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, said Energy Department officials told her the latest extension would probably have been granted regardless of the protest to give North Wind more time to make the transition. The protest added to the need for extended time, she said.

Long said DOE has 30 days to submit a report on the protest and the GAO, Congress' investigative arm, has until May 4 to rule. Protests end quickly if they are dismissed without merit; if they are upheld, procurement apparently must start over, she said.

"We're in no position to know who is the better team," Long said. "If this protest turns out to be legitimate and the GAO rules that way, I suppose it goes up for rebid."

The process could also be shortened if either DOE or the GAO, or both, agree to expedite it, Long said. DOE may agree to file a report within 20 days and the GAO may take only 65 days to rule, rather than 100.

"North Wind is basically in a stop-transition period while we find out one way or another where the protest is headed," she said. "We don't know on what grounds the protest was filed, whether it's technical or substantive."

The GAO on Tuesday dismissed a protest by Paducah-based bidder ELR Consultants against the new $141 million contract of LATA-Parallax Portsmouth for cleanup at a closed uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio. No explanation was given for the dismissal, but the action took place only 13 days after the complaint was filed.

Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, is the new chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over DOE. Long said the protest period adds to the nearly two years of procurement delays by the Energy Department, adding to the extensive cost of cleanup, a concern that Whitfield has repeatedly expressed.

Long said the DOE delays were partly caused by multiple changes in agency decision makers, having two states involved in contracting and switching the contracts from large to smaller businesses. The delays also cost bidders considerable money and frustration, she said.

"There were a lot of variables, I believe, that contributed to the delays," Long said. "Be that as it may, it's disheartening that we might have further delays, but bidders have the right to protest a $303 million contract."