DOE Requests Proposals to Manage LANL

* DOE Requests Proposals to Manage LANL

The Department of Energy (DOE) released a request for proposals to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) recently. The request outlines the responsibilities and benefits associated with managing the nationŐs primary nuclear weapons facility.

The University of California (UC) has managed LANL since its establishment in 1943. A series of management scandals, security breaches and accidents lead former DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham to open LANL management for bidding.

The request states that managers can earn as much as $79 million per year for managing LANL satisfactorily. This is nearly ten times more than UC currently earns. However, there may also be increased penalties for poor management. Further, if management is satisfactory, the contract may be extended for as many as 20 years.

As managers, organizations would be responsible for overseeing nuclear weapons research and design, environmental management, community relations and employee supervision. According to DOE, they are particularly seeking an organization with scientific and technological experience, experience managing major manufacturing programs and a commitment to employee recruitment. All bidding parties are also required to submit a list of their environmental and safety violations for the last five years.

DOE argues that science will remain their primary commitment at LANL. Tyler Przybylek, chair of the DOE board that will evaluate the proposals, said, "The overriding concern É must be that we get a management and operating contract that promotes excellence in science and technology."

Thus far, three bidders have expressed interest in managing LANL. These are the Bechtel National Corporation in conjunction with the University of California, Lockheed Martin Corporation in conjunction with the University of Texas and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico in conjunction with Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment.

The request stipulates that managers develop a corporate structure, which makes many wary that management may become too rigid. In a statement before Congress, Representative Tom Udall said, "[DOE] has eliminated the proposition of an entirely different, and perhaps more creative and effective, management structure."

Many are concerned that a corporate manager may be more profit-driven and less committed to science and environmental management, given their past work. For example, Bechtel was fined by the federal government for their shoddy cleanup of the Three-Mile Island disaster, and they continue to be responsible for the floundering Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Sidney Drell, a professor at Stanford University, said of the corporate interest, "...The national labs that have fared the best are those that ... have the backing or the aura of academic freedom that allows scientists to speak out. So I react against giving the corporate side dominance."

Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, which is pursuing the management contract, is also concerned about corporate partnership. Scott Kovac, of Nuclear Watch, said, "For Fiscal Year 2006, non-nuclear weapons science is 3% of LANL's total annual budget. Soil and water restoration is 5% and renewable energy technologies is 0%. Major corporate involvement would likely not help these budgets. Nuclear Watch's involvement in LANL management would robustly focus on seriously bringing science, environment and renewable technologies to the top of the priorities."

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