Friday, January 21, 2005

Domenici News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: CHRIS GALLEGOS
JANUARY 21, 2005 202-224-7082

DOMENICI LISTS CONCERNS WITH NEW PLAN FOR NEW
LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LAB CONTRACT

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Pete Domenici today issued his concerns with the plan under which a new management contract will be issued for Los Alamos National Laboratory, stressing that the contract must more specifically protect and outline benefits for laboratory workers and retirees.

Domenici, who is chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds the Energy Department's national laboratories, listed his concerns in a letter to Ambassador Linton Brooks, administrator of the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration. Domenici issued the letter as part of the public comment period on the NNSA draft Request for Proposal (RFP) on a new management and operating contract for LANL.

"It is critical that the new contract very clearly outline the benefits due to current, future and past lab employees. The draft RFP is insufficient in that area and must be rewritten. I am very concerned that not doing so could have negative ramifications on the lab, its missions, its employees and the overall region," Domenici said.

In his letter to Brooks, Domenici indicated that his concerns are based on his own review of the RFP as well as concerns aired by constituents. He encouraged the NNSA to move quickly to amend the RFP and select a contract for LANL. The existing contract expires Sept. 30, 2005.

"I believe that is imperative that the NNSA move quickly to select the contractor. This process has already created an enormous distraction for lab employees and they must get on with the work of national defense, combating nuclear proliferation and other scientific research," Domenici wrote.

Domenici's comments focus on shortcomings in the RFP related to retirement, health and other benefits, as well as the need for specific commitments in a new contract to community and regional support required for economic development and public education.

"NNSA must ensure that the final RFP and the selected contracting entity provide equal benefits for retirement for existing employees and retirees. Specifically, I believe the requirement to limit LANL retirement (and health benefits) to 105 percent of the complex average is unacceptable and is inconsistent with Secretary Abraham's announcement to protect employee benefits. Unless the existing benefits are preserved, the NNSA will have difficulty retaining experienced scientists and lab employees," Domenici wrote. "As I believe you would agree, the last thing we would want is an exodus by long-time LANL employees intent on protecting their hard earned retirement benefits before the end of the existing contract."

On Wednesday, Domenici gained a commitment from Samuel W. Bodman, President Bush's nominee to replace Spencer Abraham as Secretary of Energy, to maintain and enhance the scientific capabilities of LANL, and to protect existing pension or health benefit levels for LANL workers and retirees.

The following is the text of the Domenici comments to NNSA Administrator Brooks:

I am writing to make you aware of my concerns and the concerns of my constituents regarding the draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for the competitive selection of a management and operating (M&O) contractor for Los Alamos National Laboratory. I hope that you give careful consideration to these matters and make the necessary changes to the final RFP.

I believe it is imperative that the NNSA move quickly to select the contractor for Los Alamos National Lab. This process has already created an enormous distraction for lab employees and they must get on with the work of national defense, combating nuclear proliferation and other scientific research.

Listed below are the concerns that I believe must be changed before a final RFP is released. Retirement Benefits. NNSA must ensure that the final RFP and the selected contracting entity provide equal benefits for retirement for existing employees and retirees. Specifically, I believe the requirement to limit LANL retirement (and health benefits) to 105 percent of the complex average is unacceptable and is inconsistent with Secretary Abraham's announcement to protect employee benefits. Unless the existing benefits are preserved, the NNSA will have difficulty retaining experienced scientists and lab employees. The Department must provide flexibility to allow employees to shift their benefits to a new contractor or be provided a grace period following the award of the contract to retire from the University of California systems with the guarantee of being rehired by the new contractor. In addition, the Department should consider other options such as providing additional years of service to those employees close to retirement in exchange for continued service. Such efforts will ensure that the lab protects its most important resource - its people. As I believe you would agree, the last thing we would want is an exodus by long time LANL employees intent on protecting their hard-earned retirement benefits before the end of the existing contract.

Health Benefits. The final RFP must specify and clearly outline the Department's expectations and existing obligations for current employee and retiree medical benefits. The Department must be clear as to how and to what extent future medical coverage will be covered in a future contract. Like retirement benefits, the Department must ensure that the benefits are equal to existing services for Los Alamos National Laboratory employees and retirees.

Community Support.
· The Department has provided specificity in what it expects with regard to regional and community support. I applaud this effort, because I believe technology transfer, small business contracting, economic development and educational development are critical, especially in rural and remote areas of Northern New Mexico. However, as I have personally shared with you, I am disappointed that Community Relations is not a specific component of the award selection process.

· Economic development, technology transfer, and regional educational initiatives have been a lasting and continuous challenge. Therefore, it is imperative that the future contract build on the existing initiatives already underway including the work with the LANL Foundation, the Regional Development Corporation as well as the Los Alamos Research Park. Support for the RDC and the LANL Foundation should continue at no less than current levels.

· I have noted that the Draft RFP provides a $1 million cap on Technology Development Initiatives. I believe this is insufficient to facilitate the successful commercialization of lab technology. I hope the final RFP will enable the successful bidder to provide additional incentives including alternative, non-financial incentives to encourage technology transfer.

· NNSA's current small business procurement initiatives focus on increasing small business contracting on a nationwide basis, but it is coming at the expense of New Mexico small businesses as the Department attempts to pull contracts from the laboratories back to Headquarters. This trend will hurt economic development in New Mexico and undermine regional economic development initiatives identified in the draft RFP. Specific approaches to enhance regional small business contracting should be encouraged in the new contract.

Evaluation Criteria
· Not enough emphasis has been placed on employee retention. The Final RFP for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory contract provides a higher scoring criterion for retention of key personnel.

· I also believe that more emphasis must be placed on developing the science strategy for Los Alamos, similar to what was included in the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory RFP. Los Alamos National Lab is a major research institution with extraordinary research competencies and the future lab contractor must be encouraged to develop the scientific capability, just as it is rewarded for managing the operations on a daily basis.

· The NNSA must specify the evaluation criteria that will be used to measure an applicant's economic development and community development. While the Draft RFP does specify the NNSA's desire to support these activities, there must be a specific score and measure to reward and encourage economic development.

· Finally, I believe the 100 point score for Oral Presentation is extraordinarily large and should be drastically reduced or eliminated to increase the scoring criteria for science, job retention, technology transfer and economic development,

Other Benefits. Under the current contract, children of LANL employees attend UC schools at in-state (i.e., California) tuition rates. Bids should discuss either how this benefit will be continued or how an alternative and comparable approach to such educational benefits may be provided.

Thank you for taking time to view my concerns and the concerns of my constituents. Please don't hesitate to contact me if I can provide addition explanation or details as your prepare the final RFP.

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