Antarctic Support Contract delayed for a year

Nearly three months after the National Science Foundation was supposed to announce who had won the thirteen-year, $2 billon Antarctic Support Contract, the federal agency has acknowledged to bidders that the award will be delayed by at least a year.

Centennial-based Raytheon Polar Services currently holds the contract, which it was awarded a decade ago, supporting the U.S. government's three scientific research stations there -- McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott South Pole and Palmer. Raytheon is in charge of constructing and maintaining the buildings and equipment; planning missions, transporting personnel and cargo; and maintaining communication.

The contractor also hires, trains, feeds, houses, pays and protects the small army of staffers who live in Antarctica year round. The sometimes strained relationship between Raytheon and these employees, especially those who have blogs discussing daily life on the continent, was the subject of the October 8 Westword feature "Ice Capades."

Raytheon reapplied for the Antarctic Support Contract earlier this year, but it faced stiff competition from six other conglomerates, including Lockheed Martin Corporation and Computer Science Corporation. A bid was supposed to be announced October 1.

Although the NSF still hasn't explained the delay - and the NSF contracting officer Bart Bridwell hasn't responded to telephone messages -- Raytheon spokeswoman Valerie Carroll says the agency said it expects to make an award in September 2010.

"They received a lot of info from all kinds of competitors and bidders, and it wasn't as easy to compare apples to apples," she says. The NSF and Raytheon are currently negotiating an extension of the current contract that could last for one year.

In the meantime, scientific research continues at the southernmost point on the planet, and the Antarctic has been the subject of three interesting articles recently, all on completely separate subjects: the demolition of the iconic South Pole Dome; the search for Ernest Shackleton's lost whiskey; and a mysterious death at the South Pole in 2000.