Lost UH supercomputing center contract worth at least $70M - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Lost UH supercomputing center contract worth at least $70M

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The federal contract to run a supercomputer center on Maui that the University of Hawaii lost to a mainland defense contractor could be worth at least $70 million over the next ten years, according to a federal procurement website.

As Hawaii News Now first reported Tuesday, UH filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office over the awarding of the contract to Science Applications International Corp., known as SAIC. The UH protest was filed Aug. 15 and the federal government is required to decide protests within 100 days, a UH spokeswoman said. 

On Thursday, a UH spokeswoman said a second bidder, VSE Corporation, has also filed a protest with the GAO over the Air Force's selection of SAIC.   

The Maui High Performance Computing Center is one of six supercomputer centers in the country run by the Department of Defense for high-tech research.  It's located at the Maui Research and Technology Park in Kihei. 

The new contract is worth $27.5 million for four years, with options to extend the contract for another six years, according to a federal procurement website.  At that rate, the new contract is worth at least $70 million dollars over a ten-year period. 

Since October of 2001 the UH has operated and managed the facility under a contract worth as much as $181 million over the last decade, which was the largest contract in UH's history, according to a news release at the time. 

UH was one of four bidders for the new contract. On Aug. 1, the Air Force announced it had awarded the new contract to mainland defense contractor SAIC, instead of UH. 

SAIC is based in McLean, Virginia with 41,000 employees who work on contracts with the Department of Defense, U.S. Homeland Security department and other government agencies.  The company had revenues of $11 billion in fiscal year 2011, according to its website. 

"This was a hard-fought full and open competition that began over two years ago and put UH head-to-head against major corporate defense contractors that compete for these contracts for a living," the UH said in a statement released to Hawaii News Now. 

In its losing bid, UH partnered with defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which operates four other Defense Department supercomputer centers on the mainland.  Hawaii-based defense contractors Pacific Defense Solutions and Referentia Systems, Inc. were also part of UH's bid team.

"The UH proposal was strong and offered great value to the U.S. government, Maui, and the State of Hawaii," the UH said in a written statement. "UH was proud to secure this contract through a competitive process in 2001; UH and all our partners realize that defense contracts of this magnitude are extremely competitive."

"Lockheed Martin was honored and pleased to partner with the University of Hawaii in this competition,"said John Sullivan, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin.  "We are confident our team provided the government with an affordable and innovative proposal to support the customer's supercomputing mission.  We look forward to partnering with UH on other opportunities in the future."

Peter Boylan, deputy chief of staff and a spokesman for U.S. Senator Dan Inouye said, "We are disappointed the University of Hawaii did not prevail, however, there is a bid protest and as such we must refrain from further comment until the process is completed." 

The new management contract awarded to SAIC by the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico is for up to ten years; a four-year initial term with two three-year options, UH officials said.  The new contract will begin Oct. 1. 

The Maui center is staffed with a combination of military, UH and subcontractor employees.  UH officials did not have a numerical breakdown of the number or type of employees at the supercomputer center Tuesday. 

It's unclear how many UH jobs will be lost because of the contract change. 

"The follow-on contractor would determine the staffing moving forward," the UH said in an email answering questions from Hawaii News Now. 

According to SAIC's web site, the company is "actively seeking experienced professionals and incumbent staff" for assignments at the Maui supercomputer center.  SAIC listed 13 job areas it's looking to fill, from project managers and data analysts to research scientists and people to work in user services and technical support. 

UH claimed it will not lose its competitive edge in supercomputing despite losing the contract.  

"UH can continue to work with the Air Force even if another contractor is selected, and we are also identifying alternative approaches to meeting the increasing high performance computing needs of our researchers," the UH email said. 

UH faculty and students will still be able to use the facility for research, a source said. 

The center provides more than 38 million hours of computing time per year in high-tech research for the military.  

The more technically inclined might be able to understand the following sentence from an Air Force website that describes activities at the center. 

"MHPCC offers a large-scale parallel computing platform with terabytes of high-performance disk arrays, near-line tape archival storage, and a high-speed communications infrastructure that connects directly to the Defense Research and Engineering Network," according to the Air Force Research laboratory Directed Energy Directorate website from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. 

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