ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The National Nuclear Security Administration employs hundreds of employees in Albuquerque, scattered across Kirtland Air Force Base, in 20 different buildings. As far back as 1979, the Department of Energy began planning for one large building that would consolidate all NNSA staff into a single, state-of-the-art facility. But the winds of congressional appropriation blow hot, cold, in many different directions, and sometimes, all at once. Despite aggressive “marketing,” NNSA was never able to obtain sufficient funding for a new building. Employees on KAFB languished in old dorms, random office buildings, and even a former child development center the Albuquerque District built years ago. Needless to say, it was not conducive to effective collaboration and mission success.
That all changed, in late 2015, when the NNSA obtained funding for the design of a new facility, otherwise known as the NNSA Albuquerque Complex Project, or “NACP.” NNSA obtained $8 million in design funds, and signed an interagency agreement with the Albuquerque District in February 2016. The District assembled a crack project delivery team, and awarded a $6.5 million design contract in May 2016.
During the next 18 months, an intense effort was put forth by the Albuquerque District’s top engineering and construction staff, led by Amanda Tapia-Pittman, the District’s project manager at that time. One of the biggest challenges -- happening in parallel to the design effort -- was helping NNSA understand USACE’s requirements to incrementally fund the $140 million construction contract that would follow design. USACE typically requires full funding, so that we can award a contract for a “complete and usable” facility. This turned out to be much harder than expected; simple communication was difficult. It often seemed like NNSA was speaking Klingon, while USACE was speaking ancient Gaelic. Blood pressures were elevated, and lawyers were involved, on both sides, before the issue was finally resolved, and the correct language was included in the congressional appropriation.
The team was on track to award the construction contract, in August 2018, when NNSA threw a major wrench in the works: their headquarters announced, in February 2018, that they would lose the funding if the contract was not awarded by April. After numerous discussions with the principal assistant responsible for contracting and South Pacific Division, and since the design was not complete, it was decided that the only way to achieve the April deadline was to follow a “bifurcated best value” approach. This method required two steps. Step 1: produce the 90 percent design. Step 2: the 100 percent design was issued as an amendment, and contractors had only 14 days to revise their bids. This is a very risky approach, as con-tractors aren’t given much time to bid.
In order to mitigate their risk of unknowns, the contractors added significant contingency to their bids. Further, the short bidding period makes the whole solicitation ripe for a protest from an unsuccessful bidder. It also required an intense labor effort from the project delivery team; many nights, and weekends, were spent reviewing the two design phases, finishing the request for proposal, preparing the contract paper-work, and completing the source selection process. It was a very expensive effort, in terms of labor. The project delivery team spent a considerable amount of overtime on the project. Thanks to a super effort by our District, and the local NNSA team, a $140 million, firm, fixed price construction contract was successfully awarded on April 24, 2018!
A groundbreaking was held on July 3, 2018, and was attended by numerous USACE and NNSA VIPs. It was also attended by Martin Heinrich, senator, New Mexico, and then-Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. Today, the steel frame of the building is going up, and the project is on schedule for a November 2020 completion.