The National Nuclear Security Administration planned to start work on a competition for a pair of new contracts to manage its main nuclear-weapon sites in 2023 and 2024, the agency said Monday.

In the meantime, Oct. 1 marked the official start of big-money extensions to Consolidated Nuclear Security (CNS), the Bechtel National-led incumbent at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, the central nuclear-weapon service depot, and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the agency’s uranium hub.

Work on the competition will start in 2023 for the Pantex contract and in 2024 for the new Y-12 contract, NNSA said in

a press release on Monday. The two sites have been under CNS’ sole management since 2014, but that is changing. 

After pulling the plug in May on a contentious award to a competitor — an award that some alleged hinged on unfair competition involving ex-NNSA employees — the NNSA is breaking up CNS’ joint sites contract and reverting to separate management and operations contracts for Pantex and Y-12. 

While it gets ready for an open competition on the separate follow-on contracts, NNSA has awarded CNS two firm years each at Pantex and Y-12, through fiscal year 2024, according to procurement documents posted online in May. The government holds options to keep CNS at Y-12 for three years after that, through fiscal year 2027, and for up to one more year at Pantex, through fiscal 2025. Competitions for big site contracts can last a year or more.

The combined Pantex-Y-12 contract costs the government about $2 billion annually, and CNS’ retention of the work through at least 2024 is a massive reversal of fortune for the team, which only two years ago appeared ready for an early exit, in September 2021, with three options left on the two-site deal it signed with the NNSA in 2014.

In 2020, citing management failures including cybersecurity, criticality safety and timecard irregularities, the NNSA announced it was passing on its remaining three years of CNS options and starting a competition for a new joint-sites contractor. In November 2021, NNSA awarded that contract to Nuclear Production One: a team led by Fluor, Irving, Texas, with junior partner Amentum, Germantown, Md.

But in the wake of alleged irregularities in the follow-on award, and the time it took for the NNSA and the Government Accountability Office to investigate them, the agency extended CNS through Friday and then, after scrapping the award to the Fluor-led team, all the way through fiscal 2024.

“This contract extension is the most advantageous method of ensuring NNSA’s critical mission work is not impacted,” the agency wrote Monday in its press release. “The extension also provides stability and continuity for the workforce at the two sites.”