Friday, January 21, 2005

Article in the ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL NORTH

Friday, January 21, 2005

UC May Have LANL Partner

By Adam Rankin, The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Journal Staff Writer

The University of California may be close to a "handshake" deal to partner with a corporation in an effort to keep the Los Alamos National Laboratory management contract, according to the school's vice president for laboratory management.

S. Robert Foley, the school's vice president for laboratory management, told the UC Board of Regents Thursday in San Francisco that an agreement establishing a potential partnership could come soon, but he wouldn't divulge details, according to University of California spokesman Chris Harrington.

Foley gave the regents an update on the school's effort to evaluate whether it will compete to keep the LANL contract, now up for grabs for the first time in the university's 60-plus years of managing the nuclear weapons research lab.

Harrington has said the university has been preparing as if it will compete for the contract, but a final decision by the regents has not been made.

Late last week, the regents received a strong endorsement from the New Mexico Legislature's LANL oversight committee, which encouraged the board to pursue the LANL contract.

"We believe that the University of California, the largest public research institution in the world, with an unmatched reputation in science and technology, is the best partner for LANL and our state," wrote Rep. Roberto Gonzales, House Speaker Ben Lujan and Sen. Phil Griego, all Democrats.

In their Jan. 13 letter, the legislators said LANL and the university are "an integral part of northern New Mexico" and help advance regional education and economic development.

Outgoing Energy Department Secretary Spencer Abraham announced LANL's contract would be put out for competitive bidding in 2003 after a series of financial and security management failures that elicited congressional scrutiny of the University of California's management of the lab. UC's contract to run the lab expires at the end of September.

Following that announcement, Congress mandated that DOE had to allow competitive bidding for any national lab contract not put up for bids in the last 50 years.

The law affected five labs in total and all three of the DOE labs managed by the University of California­ the Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories.

The university has been in close negotiations over potential corporate partnerships for LANL for more than a year.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate committee that funds DOE and LANL, has urged the university to seek a viable corporate partner and has said such a coupling could greatly increase its chances of winning the LANL contract.

In its draft request for proposals from potential LANL operators, DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration promotes a more business-like approach to running the laboratory, including initiatives to use industry standards, where appropriate, and to achieve greater cost efficiencies. Comments on the draft criteria are due today.

While the UC regents continue to deliberate on the LANL bid, the board voted unanimously Thursday to bid for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory contract as the prime contractor. A proposal to run that laboratory is due to DOE by Feb. 9.

Operated by the university since its inception in 1931, the Lawrence Berkeley lab focuses on basic science research and has 4,000 employees and a $500 million budget.

Regents Chairman Gerald Parsky said the vote Thursday to bid on the Lawrence Berkeley contract was "an important first step" in the process but doesn't necessarily indicate how decisions on other labs will fall.

"We do view this process as one contract at a time," Parsky said.

Before the contract vote Thursday, some speakers urged regents not to bid for the weapons labs, saying the competition would be expensive and the labs are out of step with UC's mission as an educational institution.

Harrington said the regents also voted to keep the Lawrence Berkeley staff as university employees and included as part of the university's systemwide pension and benefits program.

LANL employees have voiced concern that even if the university wins the LANL contract, it might decide to keep LANL employees off the university's impressive benefits system.

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