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New LANL Security Contractor And New Lessons Learned Arrive On The Hill

on February 4, 2016 - 1:39pm

Centerra Group CEO Paul Donahue interviewed at Homewood Suites in Pojoaque. Photo by Roger Snodgrass/


Los Alamos Daily Post
Paul Donahue, CEO of Centerra Group, the new protective force security contractor at Los Alamos National Laboratory, paid a visit to the laboratory recently from company headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was waiting in the lobby of the Homewood Suites in Pojoaque, looking positive about the day.

“Today is our first major internal exercise,” he said, brightening with the prospect. “That’s why I’m up here today to watch the team in action.”

After a LANL contract was awarded to Centerra Group Sept. 11, the company formally took charge Nov. 1, replacing SOC, LLC, the previous service provider. Donahue said an internal protest of the contract award by SOC was resolved in Centerra’s favor during the second week of December.

“I try to stay out of transitions, because when you’re here for transitions it’s like sausage-making – policies and procedures, emotions and work charts,” he said.

Centerra traces its colorful and turbulent history to its roots as a small security guard company founded by George Wackenhut in 1960. Donahue began working for Wackenhut 22 years ago. Hired as an accountant, he was groomed to become a chief operating officer and then chief financial officer. When Wackenhut retired he sold his company to G4S, a large British multinational security services company, but the former Wackenhut unit kept its own identity as G4S Government Solutions working on U.S. government contracts, until it became independent again in 2014, now named Centerra Group.

A company with an annual revenue somewhere between $450 million and $650 million, Donahue said, Centerra is actually down from G4S Government Solutions’ income of about a billion dollars a year around 2011, having lost about a third of its business as the U.S. withdrew from Iraq.The company has 9,000 employees worldwide, including about 250 in Los Alamos. With seven direct contracts with DOE facilities, Donahue counts 110 contracts in his current portfolio with some choice assignments for DOD, like Bahrain, Diego Garcia and Guantanamo Bay.

“We did every fire station in Iraq, 36 departments in the entire country for the Department of Defense; and we had 100 percent of the firemen there; that was a $100 million a year contract,” he said “We were the largest provider to the State Department UN and for personnel and tank mine removal with contracts in Mozambique, Northern Italy, Peru, all over Afghanistan. When the war was at its peak that was a $150 million operation. When the war ended it dropped to about $20 million, because funding sources dried up after the war ended.”

The new manager for Centerra Group at LANL is Ted Spain, who has been with the company for about 10 years, Donahue said.

“He was the sheriff of Baghdad at one point. He got to be the top cop in Baghdad during the war,” he said.

Managing the LANL security team will be the third position he has had with Donahue’s organization. Described as a “dynamic, extroverted people-leader,” Spain’s experience at the Savannah River Site included directing the protective force, special aerial operations, a canine group for explosive detection, and narcotics control, among other security elements.

“And quite frankly this will be his most challenging assignment,” Donahue said. “Any time you come from outside of any project, it’s always harder because you have a local culture and every project has a personality, and he has to adapt to that.”

When the subject of Y-12 at Oak Ridge, Tenn. came up, Donahue didn’t flinch from owning a share of DOE’s biggest security failures, the case of the three protestors who made it inside the fence to what many publications called “the Fort Knox of Uranium.” It was an act of conscience that scandalized Congress. Centerra had one month left on their contract and they lost it, even though, as Donahue said, “We got a 97 award fee (the performance fee rating) about 60 days before the event.”

“There was a breakdown in communication and our guy quite frankly not doing what he was trained to do,” Donahue said. “His defense was he knew these people; they weren’t a threat, he saw them at the gate for 15 years. The difference was they had never gotten to the inside. We didn’t do what we were trained to do; how we got to that point is another matter. You should never have any complex that can get to a single point of failure.”

Because not just a key camera was out of commission at Y-12 that night, but 20 percent of the cameras that might have provided a warning to security personal, Donahue has taken one lesson to heart. Even if it was somebody else’s responsibility, as later investigations established, he now has a blanket requirement, that in each of the DOE facilities where Centerra Group has a contract, security is responsible not only for checking every camera once a week, as they should be doing anyway, but then sending him a report.

“I know right now how many cameras are out at LANL. Well, as of Tuesday, that is,” Donahue said. “So that’s a lesson learned, how you stand up differently than when you fell.”