Thursday, January 20, 2005

Senator Bingaman News Release

NEWS from
U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman
Democrat, New Mexico

703 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, DC 20510

CONTACT JUDE McCARTIN, 202-224-1804

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, January 19, 2005

BINGAMAN RAISES CONCERNS ABOUT LANL CONTRACT WITH ENERGY SECRETARY NOMINEE

WASHINGTON - At a Senate Energy Natural Resources Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, raised concerns about the process associated with bidding the Los Alamos National Laboratory contract.

The hearing was to discuss the nomination of Samuel Bodman, President Bush's choice to replace Spencer Abraham as secretary of the Department of Energy. Bodman, a former science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is currently a deputy secretary at the U.S. Treasury Department.

Bingaman told Bodman that the lengthy process associated with the contract bid has been problematic for many lab scientists.

"It's been almost two years since the Bush administration first announced it would bid the LANL contract. Since that time there has been a high level of uncertainty among lab employees, and I think it's very important to ensure that the date for awarding the contract is not delayed," Bingaman told Bodman. "I hope that you will take a personal interest in seeing to it that the contract award is made by mid-summer."

For more than a year, Bingaman has been pressing DOE to ensure that the future contractor offers a benefits package to lab employees is as good as or better than the package offered now. In a letter earlier this month Bingaman said he believes DOE's final "request for proposals," which will outline contract specifications for prospective bidders, should be changed to give proper consideration to the benefits package.

Bodman today agreed to give benefits a high priority. Bingaman said he appreciated Bodman's commitment. However, he continues to believe the RFP should be changed to ensure that benefits are evaluated, along with other criterion, before the contract is awarded -- not after as the RFP currently reads.

"If we are going to prevent the early retirement of the lab's invaluable senior scientists and retain the best and brightest of the young scientists, I believe more emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring the benefits package is as good as or better than the one currently offered by the University of California," Bingaman said after the hearing.

Bingaman also asked Bodman to give careful consideration to comments about DOE's new polygraph rule. The regulation, which is not yet in final form, reduces the number of laboratory employees who are currently subject to polygraph tests, but continues to call for use of the test as a screening tool.

"This proposal permits a more liberal use of that tool than is justified by science. I ask that you listen closely to member the scientific community before it is finalized," Bingaman said.

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