Regents approve bid for Berkeley lab

    The UC Board of Regents has approved UC President Robert C. Dynes’ proposal to submit a competitive bid for the continued management and operation of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The vote will allow Dynes to submit a proposal on behalf of the university to the Department of Energy by the Feb. 9 deadline.

    The Energy Department owns the Berkeley lab, along with the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The University of California has managed the labs for more than 50 years. A law passed in 2003 mandated that the labs seek competitive bids for management rights for the first time in history.

    The current management contract for the Berkeley lab will expire Jan. 31.

    “The University [of] California has managed the Berkeley lab since its inception in 1931, and that laboratory we are all very proud of,” Dynes said at the regents’ Jan. 20 meeting. “It has experienced enormous success under the university’s management and is a jewel in the scientific crown of the United States.”

    While the Los Alamos and Livermore labs perform nuclear-weapons research and design, the Berkeley lab is a civilian-based facility that does not perform any classified military research. Projects at the Berkeley lab include research on dark matter, the human genome and high-performance computing.

    “When one looks over the horizon to the future of science over the next 20 years, this work is going to be very exciting,” Dynes said. “I personally look forward to watching science at the Berkeley lab and the relationship with the Berkeley lab and the rest of the nation.”

    The Energy Department has specified that if the university wants to make a proposal, it must agree to certain non-negotiable terms, including the department’s right to remove employees from contract work and the right to reduce the management fees paid to the university in the event of environmental, health and safety violations.

    The management proposal will include provisions for returning fees to scientific programs and for the retention of the laboratory’s staff in the universitywide benefits program, according to Dynes.

    “Our technical proposal will highlight the strengths of the university and what I believe to be our unparalleled capacity to produce scientific achievements at the Berkeley lab,” Dynes said.

    At the Board of Regents meeting, state Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego) also said she, along with the New Mexico state legislature, supported a university bid for the management of all three labs, including the Berkeley facility.

    “I do believe it is important for us, particularly with respect to Berkeley and Livermore, that we maintain the group of contracts that we’ve had for those 60 years,” Ducheny said. “I think as people have moved into the bidding process, they’ve realized … the work the university has done [in this lab], the magnitude of it and the importance of that relationship with the university.”

    The Energy Department began the bidding process for the labs after a series of safety and security violations in recent years. In the summer of 2004, a laser accident injured an intern at the Los Alamos lab, and storage devices containing classified information were reported missing. In response to these incidents, administrators shut down the lab for several months.

    The university has also faced legal challenges over its treatment of laboratory workers. Workers at the Los Alamos and Livermore labs have filed cases alleging sexual harassment, discriminatory practices and health and safety violations, according to their attorney, J. Gary Gwilliam. Employees who bring attention to mismanagement practices can face retaliation and dismissal, he said.

    “The outrageous and unfair treatment of these employees continues to this date as shown by the evidence from numerous cases,” Gwilliam stated in a written release. “The evidence makes plain that the mismanagement continues unabated.”

    While the management contract for the Livermore lab has been extended for another two years, the contract for the Los Alamos lab will expire in September. Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, a nonprofit government watchdog group based in Livermore, Calif., announced on Jan. 19 that it would join Nuclear Watch of New Mexico in making a competitive bid for the Los Alamos lab.

    “In submitting a proposal, we seek to influence the bidding process and ultimately the Los Alamos lab contract as well, irrespective of whether we are chosen to manage the Los Alamos lab,” Tri-Valley CARES Executive Director Marylia Kelley said. “This is critical not only for the future of the Los Alamos lab, but … we believe we’re also impacting the bidding process for the [Livermore lab].”

    Tri-Valley CARES is hoping to introduce new provisions into the management contract, according to staff attorney Loulena Miles.

    “We want to improve the health and safety for workers and communities, increase openness and accountability, strengthen whistleblower protection, increase civilian-science and ramp down weapons work and lab activities that violate international laws,” Miles said at the regents’ meeting.

    Kelley also said that, while the university’s management of the Berkeley lab has not been perfect, the same types of problems that workers allege at the other two labs do not seem to be present.

    The Energy Department will likely determine the future contractor for the Berkeley lab sometime in the spring. The university will make the final proposal and contract available to the public after the department has made its decision.

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