Wednesday, February 23, 2005

DOE doubles pay to run Los Alamos lab

February 23, 2005

DOE doubles pay to run Los Alamos lab

The latest amount waved in front of potential bidders ­ $60 million a year ­ is almost seven times what the University of California is currently paid to manage the lab. But the next manager will assume much more financial risk as well.

By DIANA HEIL The New Mexican

When it comes to attracting robust competitors for managing Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy knows it must dangle bigger carrots. The agency announced Tuesday that it will at least double what the contract would pay, from its previous figure of $30 million a year to $60 million.

After putting out a draft version of bidding guidelines in December, the government heard an overwhelming complaint ­ the money wasn’t worth it, especially for private companies.

The amount the next lab operator would actually receive, however, depends on how the Energy Department rates its performance and how President Bush sets up his budget, department spokesman Al Stotts said in a telephone interview Tuesday from Albuquerque.

Doubling the pay and other concessions are part of a set of recommendations from a board overseeing the competition. The competition won’t officially begin until later this year ­ but already some, such as the University of Texas, have bowed out.

The University of California has operated the lab for the federal government since the lab was created in 1943. The Energy Department and Congress decided to break with tradition because of management failures at Los Alamos in business services and security. The UC regents have not yet decided whether to seek the contract.

The latest amount waved in front of potential bidders ­ $60 million a year ­ is almost seven times what UC is currently paid to manage the lab. But the next manager will assume much more financial risk as well.

Since issuing a draft version of the bidding criteria in December, the government has received 200 pages of suggestions from potential bidders, lab employees, retirees and members of the public.

Recently, the board overseeing the competition recommended significant changes based on those comments and wants to hear from potential bidders once again. By March 4, interested parties may review the board’s recommendations and submit comments to: LANLRe

Prime contractors and their team members may request meetings as well. One-on-one meetings via teleconference today through Friday or in person in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday through March 3, will be scheduled on a firstcome-first-served basis.

In the past, UC’s contract was renewed periodically without competition. That won’t be the case anymore. The maximum contract term will be 20 years. The next lab manager would be assured seven years, as long as its performance was adequate. That’s what the board is suggesting instead of five years, to provide stability for the workforce and the mission of the nuclear-weapons lab.

The board also addressed concerns raised by LANL employees and retirees.

Medical benefits were left out of the December draft. But now, the final request for proposals will require the next lab manager to provide both employees and retirees with health and dental benefits “substantially equivalent” to what UC offers.

Current lab workers, in most cases, will have a guaranteed offer of employment and will be able to carry over their service credit and leave balances. They will have a pension plan and benefits package “substantially equivalent” to what employees have now.

If a current employee decides to retire before a new contract goes into effect, the new lab manager does not have to offer that person employment, however.

For retired Los Alamos employees, nothing about their pension plan will change under a new management contract.

Other proposed changes:

The new lab manager would not be required to hire all current lab employees (except senior managers) as originally proposed; instead, the new manager would be allowed to use judgment regarding employee retention and job assignments.

Interested parties would have 90 days, instead of 60, to prepare a proposal.

The transition period between lab managers would be extended from 90 days to 180 days.

Oh, goodie! Now, instead of "comparable baskets of benefits", we're being promised "substantially equivalent" benefits, and no guarantee of employment. Is that supposed to make me feel better? It doesn't! Especially since "substantially equivalent", like "comparable", is to be determined "by the Contracting Officer in his/her sole discretion."

Any wording other than equal benefits is ambiguous and allows the future contractor to interpret "comparable", "substantially equivalent", etc. however they choose!

And what about that 5% cap on benefits that still remains, with the added statement: "The plan shall include a timeline as to when the Contractor can bring the benefits to within 5% of the comparator group without impacting the substantially equivalent defined benefits for employees who transferred from the predecessor contractor."

These seem to be conflicting goals. How can "substantially equivalent" benefits (analyzed to be 200-300% of the comparator group) be maintained for transferring employees while simultaneously decreasing net benefit value and per capita cost to no more than 105% of the comparator group? I see two ways to do this:

1. Initially transfer us with "substantially equivalent" benefits; then, over some timeline, subsequently decrease them. (using "appropriate managerial judgement", of course!)


2. Grandfather transferred employees with our "substantially equivalent" benefits; consequently, new hires after the contract change must have a drastically reduced benefits package to reduce the overall total to 105%.

Neither of these solutions sounds to me like they will do much to attract or retain world class scientific talent. Who wants to come to the middle of nowhere to work in the toxic atmosphere that LANL has become for 1/3 of the existing benefits?

Sign me 47 wishing I was 57!
Lets see, even if UC bids and is awarded the contract a seperate retirement plan will be established with funds transfered form UCRS. Why is that. Why not just keep us in UCRP if we still work for UC. FOLLOW THE MONEY!!!!!
It seems like a money grab to me and they are willing to spend 7 times UC's contract to get at it.
Perhaps you posters should write on Greed: The Real Story. Has it occurred to anyone that our insanely generous pension package is a bit out of line in 2005. What if the newspapers compared our pension system with anyone else's in the state. Stop grousing in public, you are very well off, particularly if you couldn't get a job elsewhere after too much LANL "experience."
Hey Pal. You need to remember there
is a reason our pay is so high. If
you have a Ph.d you can get a job
in the real United States that
pays pretty well. However if you are
trying to convince someone to come out
to the wasteland called New Mexico you
better pay them damm well. The good people here can get jobs at the other
DOE labs and at Universities. Also the
people in the weapons part of the lab
have essentialy lost the chance at a Univeristy position by
choosing to serve the United
States. This is what they are repayed with? If you where a young
person would you ever think about going into science serving the United States now?
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