EXCLUSIVE: UH loses supercomputer contract worth tens of millions

EXCLUSIVE: UH loses supercomputer contract, its biggest ever worth tens of millions
Published: Aug. 28, 2012 at 9:29 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2013 at 5:58 PM HST
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Kihei, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) – The University of Hawaii has lost the biggest contract in the school's history, worth tens of millions of dollars, to run a supercomputer center on Maui.

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.

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.

UH has questioned the process and filed a bid protest with the federal government. A formal legal protest proceeding is now underway.

"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."

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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.  SAIC's new contract will begin Oct. 1.

An SAIC spokeswoman said the company could not comment because the bid award was under protest.

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 was "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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