As the July 19 deadline to submit a bid for continued management of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) approaches, the University of California is working to stem the facility’s all-time high retirement rate to keep its expert scientists from leaving.

James Rickman, Los Alamos National Laboratory spokesman, said 178 workers have declared their retirement this fiscal year and another 298 retirements are pending — a potential 90 percent increase from the number of retirements last year. During the 2003 fiscal year, 3 percent of the workforce retired, while 3.1 percent of the workforce retired in 2004. Rickman said LANL officials are becoming concerned about the loss of much-needed knowledge the retirements that could result as scientists leave the lab and their projects are be taken up by new, less-experienced hires.

Rickman said he thinks the dramatic increase in retirement could be caused by the currently undecided fate of the lab and whether the options and benefits offered in the current UC retirement packages would change and become less comprehensive if another competitor won the bid.

“Once the competition was announced, there was a considerable amount of anxiety,” Rickman said. “People have told us they are interested in pursuing retirement due to uncertainty in the [lab’s] contract.”

Leaders from the UC and Congressional representatives also recently visited the lab to try to encourage LANL employees to wait until the bid has been awarded before deciding to retire, Rickman said.

“They came and basically all had the same message of ‘Hold your horses. Don’t retire yet until you see how the contract comes out,'” Rickman said.

Rickman said the lab is also trying to fill already-vacated positions.

“We believe that we are still an attractive place to come work at,” he said. “The laboratory is actively in the process of recruiting the next generation to work at Los Alamos.”

Meanwhile, UC spokesman Chris Harrington said the University’s bid proposal team is working “24 hours a day, seven days a week” at an undisclosed location to ensure that the UC has a strong bid proposal to submit to the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

“We are entering this with the intent to win,” Harrington said. “We clearly believe that we have a strong winning proposal.”

The Dept. of Energy announced in 2003 that it would put the Los Alamos contract up for competitive bid because of alleged mismanagement by the University. This is the first time the UC has had to compete for management of the laboratory in its roughly 60-year stewardship.

Harrington said the contract the UC is now competing for covers a seven-year period and includes the possibility of an additional 13-year renewal by the NNSA. While the University currently earns about $8.7 million per year from running the laboratory, the NNSA bid guidelines require that competitors ask for between $53 and $79 million per year.

The UC’s only competitor in the process is the University of Texas, which announced earlier this year that it — along with its corporate partner, Lockheed Martin — would compete for management of the lab.

“We believe we have the winning combination to win this bid,” University of Texas Chancellor Mark Yudof said in a May press release. “We wouldn’t be entering if we didn’t think we would be successful.”