* The National Academy of Sciences met with the public recently to discuss criteria for the upcoming request for proposal to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The Academy is investigating how best to preserve and enhance scientific performance at LANL.
Spencer Abraham, Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE), announced in 2003 that the LANL management contract would be available for bid for the first time since LANL opened in 1943. Abraham's announcement came following several instances of mismanagement by the University of California (UC), LANL's manager.
Many LANL employees consider LANL unique amongst weapons facilities because of its association with UC. For example, LANL Director Pete Nanos drew a clear distinction between Sandia National Laboratory and LANL in his State of LANL Address last summer. Nanos argued that Sandia's management by a private corporation reduced its stature amongst laboratories, saying, "Sandia is a fine institution, but it's not a science lab."
Many commentators expressed similar concerns and requested that the proposals be limited to universities in order to protect scientific integrity at LANL. LANL employee Bob Karis said, "Congress and [DOE have] made a decision that could totally disrupt the weapons science community."
Thus far, the UC, University of Texas and Lockheed Martin, a private corporation, have expressed interest in management of LANL. Bill Harris, of the University of Texas, requested that the Academy ensure that LANL's managing contractor demonstrates excellence in science and technology, extensive human resources, financial strength and good management practices.
Nanos has expressed his opinion that UC should retain management of LANL, saying, "The strength and oversight that UC brings to the science at LANL is incredible. If we ever lose that, we will have terribly broken something for the country." Nanos also argued that current management upheaval will hurt LANL's recruitment of quality scientists. According to Nanos, prospective employees are hesitant to take a position if they are uncertain who their employer will be.
Current employees are concerned about retirement benefits, which are held by the UC retirement system. Many are worried that if UC loses management of LANL, employees will lose retirement benefits. Several commentators asked that the request for proposal include a detailed plan for distribution of retirement benefits.
Manuel Trujillo, president of the University Professional and Technical Employees, said that the managing contractor should also be respectful of employee morale and ensure that LANL's work environment is free of retaliation and hostility. Trujillo says, "World class science can only excel when an institution's morals are of the highest standards."
The request for proposal is expected to be released this spring. DOE will then have a year and a half to review proposals before the management contract expires in September 2005. DOE will also be reviewing proposals for management of LANL's sister laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which is also managed by UC. LANL officials said that they would like both laboratories to be managed by one contractor, although a federal committee advised DOE otherwise last year.