The University of Texas system announced last week that it will join Lockheed Martin to compete for the contract to manage the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
For the first time in more than 60 years, the Energy Department is allowing competitors to bid against the University of California for the Los Alamos contract. That decision came after a string of security lapses and procurement abuses. Earlier this month, Los Alamos Director Peter Nanos stepped down from his leadership role and left for a position with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
On May 12, the University of Texas System Board of Regents authorized Chancellor Mark G. Yudof to negotiate an agreement with Lockheed Martin to submit a joint proposal for the lab's management. The board approved $1.2 million for the university's share of the costs in preparing the proposal.
Lockheed Martin officials said their policy was to not discuss the exact financial allocation they are putting forward, but spokesman Don Carson described it as "significant." He said the company will benefit from working with the university.
"They have a great depth and great breadth in science," he said. "They are really, really good."
In January, Yudof announced that he was opposed to the university's involvement in a Los Alamos bid, but he changed course and said last week that he believes the combination of an academic institution and a corporate organization will provide the right balance. He said that the next managers at Los Alamos must look at the problem of operating the facility more efficiently and safely.
"We believe that higher education must be a part of answering that question," Yudof said in a press release. "There may be industrial bidders who could do the job alone but, without access to the best minds in academia, they could not do it as well."
The announcement comes as good news to outside observers who have pushed for a vigorous competition for the Los Alamos contract. When Texas appeared to be on the verge of bowing out this January, officials at the Project on Government Oversight worried that the competition would turn into an uncontested victory for the University of California. That group has not endorsed any specific contender, but has advocated for a lively competition.
Carson said Lockheed and the university are close to signing their formal cooperation agreement, and that there are no obstacles to the formalizing of the partnership. He noted that they are still working with the draft request for proposals from the Energy Department.
"I think soon [the final RFP] will be out, but I don't know when," Carson said.
Yudof said he expects the Lockheed Martin and Texas group to submit a proposal by late summer, and he predicted a decision from the Energy Department by late 2005 or early 2006.