Labs to Begin Negotiations

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Despite a myriad of recent high-profile security lapses, the U.S. Department of Energy will negotiate the renewal of its contract with the UC system to manage national nuclear weapons research facilities, department officials said yesterday.

U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson approved plans proposed by John Gordon, national nuclear security administrator, for improving security and facility operations at Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories. Although the current contract with the university does not expire until September 2002, department officials said they hope to negotiate a three-year extension by the end of the year.

"A decision (was reached) by the Department of Energy that it will continue to have its two defense labs operated by the university provided there can be successful negotiations about the details of the contract," said UC spokesperson Jeff Garberson.

The renewal of the university's contract would be contingent on improvements in the security of the labs, as well as in health and safety, community-employee relations and other non-science management issues.

Gordon's recommended improvements include the creation of a UC Vice President for Laboratory Management to establish security measures and other operational standards for the labs and a Laboratory Senior Management Council to advise UC President Richard Atkinson on key security issues.

In addition, the university will subcontract with experts to assist the lab directors in improving security procedures and facility operations, among other things.

"I am very pleased that the Secretary of Energy has chosen to enter negotiations to extend the University of California contracts to operate the Lawrence

Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories," Atkinson said in a statement. "The decision to proceed is a vote of confidence in a relationship that has brought great benefits to our nation for more than half a century."

In a conference call yesterday, department officials said they decided to enter into negotiations rather than to terminate the university's contract because of the high- quality research done by the labs' scientists.

"The university is committed to scientific excellence, responsible management and effective security in its operation of these laboratories as a public service to the nation," Atkinson said.

The university has managed the labs since the 1940s, when its scientists helped create the first atomic bomb. Two recent high-profile incidents - the arrest of former scientist Wen Ho Lee and the temporary disappearance of hard drives containing nuclear data - prompted severe criticism of the labs' security procedures.

In July, a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee recommended that the department terminate its contract with the university to manage the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Richardson made the decision to restructure the university's contract on June 30. At the time, the department was considering several options for the future of the labs, including separating the management of the university's scientific work from their security duties, said a department spokesperson. Department officials, however, decided to leave the UC as the sole administrator of the labs and have the university bring in subcontractors instead.


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