Hoping to hang on to the management contract for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), the University of California Regents voted Thursday to bid on continuing its stewardship of the research facility.
The Regents’ decision allows UC President Robert C. Dynes to submit a proposal to the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE), which runs the 10 national research laboratories across the country. The university has until Feb. 9 to submit its proposal, and LBNL Communications Director Ron Kolb said DOE might announce a final decision by early April 2005.
In a statement, Dynes said the Berkeley lab and its employees are a critical part of the UC system, and they provide a tremendously valuable scientific contribution to the nation.
“Our strong bid will continue our proud tradition of public service and scientific discovery, while ensuring that the best management practices are in place at the laboratory,” Dynes said in the statement.
The University has overseen the Berkeley lab, which conducts unclassified research, since its inception in 1931. In 2003, Congress required all labs that have been under the same control for more than 50 years to be opened for competitive management bids. All three national laboratories managed by the UC — Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos — are affected by the Congressional action.
The current contract to manage the LBNL will expire Jan. 31. The UC lengthened its management of the laboratory in October 2002 under a series of contract extensions, including a one-year extension signed by the University on Jan. 30, 2004.
Unlike the Berkeley Lab, the Livermore and Los Alamos labs conduct classified nuclear and weapons research. The UC’s management of the two nuclear labs was criticized after a series of security lapses at Los Alamos. The U.S. Dept. of Energy announced that it would call for bids when the Los Alamos management contract expired this year.
UC spokesman Chris Harrington said the University has taken a significant number of actions at the Berkeley lab to address a wide variety of management and security issues, but the University is declining to release any specifics of the proposal because of the competitive nature of the bidding process.
“We recognize our competitors are watching us,” Harrington said. “Once the proposal has been made for the management of the labs, we will release the proposal.”
But Kolb said it’s unlikely that the UC would lose its post as manager of LBNL. He said the DOE had previously held talks with parties interested in taking over the management of the Berkeley lab, but Kolb said it was pretty obvious there was little interest in the contract.
“It would be very difficult for any other organization to manage this lab because of our integral connection with the Berkeley campus,” he said.
Kolb said the UC has been a very competent and conscientious steward of the labs.
“We have no complaints and no problems with how [the UC has] managed us, and we’ve made no secret of our preference that the UC be our manager,” Kolb said.
Harrington said the DOE budgets roughly $4 to $5 billion annually to the three research laboratories that are under the UC’s supervision — the Berkeley Lab receives $504 million, about $1.9 billion goes to the Livermore facilities and around $2 billion is allocated to the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico. Harrington said DOE pays the UC about $14 to $16 million a year, including monies for employee benefits and salaries, to manage the three laboratories.
Both the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos contracts will end this year. Harrington said it’s expected that the DOE will extend the Lawrence Livermore contract by two more years. The regents have not decided whether or not to bid for continued management of the two laboratories.
Located in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus, the Berkeley lab was founded in 1931 by Ernest O. Lawrence, winner of the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics. The facility performs research, including quantitative biology, nanoscience and new energy systems and environmental solutions.