UC Regents advised to seek lab contract

By: Keay Davidson
The San Francisco Chronicle
September 21, 2004, Tuesday

The University of California should join the competition to retain its controversial 6-decade-old contract to run Los Alamos National Laboratory as long as specific contractual details prove to be satisfactory, a top advisory council to the UC president is recommending.

Some UC regents and other university officials have questioned over the past year whether UC should join an expensive competition for the Los Alamos contract at a time of state budget crisis.

But in a short summary of its position, the UC President's Council on the National Laboratories says UC's continued management of the nuclear weapons laboratory in New Mexico "is in the best interest of the nation." The council plans to issue its full statement at the UC regents meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Affiliation with UC is "of great importance" to "thousands of (Los Alamos) employees," the summary says. "These people are the heart of the (nuclear weapons) laboratories and the engine that drives the superb research and development activities that have been the hallmark of the University's laboratories and the pride of the University."

UC has had a long-standing monopoly on the management of Los Alamos and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the East Bay -- but its stewardship of Los Alamos has been controversial at least since 2002, following scandals that include missing classified data and financial mismanagement.

Last week, after a long investigation, the Los Alamos director fired four employees and forced another to resign.

Because of the scandals, Congress and the U.S. Department of Energy decided last year that all future contracts for running Los Alamos and some other national labs must be open to outside competition.

The UC regents are scheduled to hear a discussion of the pros and cons of competing for the Los Alamos and Livermore contracts at the Wednesday meeting.

In making the recommendation, the council offers only one caveat: that UC should compete for the contract as long as specific contractual details are satisfactory to UC officials. UC's current contract for operating the New Mexico lab expires Sept. 30, 2005, while the contract for running Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory expires in late 2007.

The opposite view also will be expressed Wednesday: The Coalition to Demilitarize the University of California, a self-described "coalition of student and community groups," plans to attend the regents meeting to attack UC's management of the labs.

"UC should not participate in furthering the development of nuclear weapons," said a press statement jointly issued Monday by the coalition, which includes two veteran Bay Area activist organizations, Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment and Western States Legal Foundation. It remains uncertain when the Energy Department will issue the draft contracts, otherwise known as "requests for proposal," or RFPs.

On Monday, it was reported that the department might not present the draft contracts until after the November election. Citing an unidentified source, Inside Energy, an expensive "inside the Beltway" newsletter that closely monitors Energy Department activities, said the RFPs might be issued "either late this year or early in 2005."

The statement is posted at the UC regents Web site at www.universityofcalifornia.edu/regents/regmeet/sep04/203.pdf(pdf)

E-mail Keay Davidson at kdavidson@sfchronicle.com.