Saturday, February 12, 2005

UT rejects any LANL alliance

UT rejects any LANL alliance

ROGER SNODGRASS,, Monitor Assistant Editor

Off again, on again - the University of Texas finally made it official. They will step up participation with a national laboratory, but it won't be Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Instead, University officials announced they would strengthen ties with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque.

The Board of Regents approved a five-year agreement with SNL on Thursday, spelling out an expanded relationship of educational collaboration and research initiatives, as well as a project for UT to review Sandia's science and technology programs.

The Regents also voted Thursday to drop its pursuit of a bid to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Sandia option appears to have been a back-up plan that was developing behind the scenes in parallel to preparations for bidding on the Los Alamos management contract.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who had encouraged UT to pursue the Los Alamos contract, was credited with arranging meetings between UT and Sandia officials last year where discussions about the expanded collaboration began.

"Because of the complexity and magnitude of the (Los Alamos) lab, we always envisioned that we would be part of a joint venture to put forward a proposal to manage and operate Los Alamos in partnership," UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof told board members.

As reported by the Associated Press, Yudof recommended that the system not bid to manage Los Alamos, because they had not been able to find a workable partnership.

The decision puts a final full stop on a quest UT began in February last year, when the Board appropriated $500,000 to begin preparations for the competition.

Then in July, UT's presumed partner for their bid, Lockheed Martin decided not to pursue the Los Alamos contract.

The arrangement with SNL is significant because it is specifically limited to non-classified activities.

John Pruett, a member of UT Watch, a student organization that has tracked UT's weapons lab ambitions, said he attended the meeting and was impressed that the Regents made a strong point about only doing basic and not applied research.

That was peculiar, he said, in an institution where security clearances measure status and level of involvement.

In 2002, UT geared up for a potential bid for SNL, but were thwarted in that effort when DOE decided to renew Lockheed-Martin's contract without competing it.

"Why are they spending all this money and investing these things if they're not even going to go through with the bid?" Pruett asked, speaking by phone from Austin.

Pruett said a team of 15 scientists would be visiting Sandia next month.

The agreement between UT and SNL calls for UT to conduct a review of the science and technology program. UT officials called it the first independent peer review agreement conducted at any of the 15 Department of Energy national labs.

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