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“Godspeed” and a green light to go: UT regents support pursuit of management contract for Los Alamos National Lab

AUSTIN – Management of the nation’s most preeminent national laboratory in the areas of nuclear weapons, nuclear nonproliferation, safeguards and security, environmental management, energy and other programs will be open for bid for the first time since 2005, and University of Texas System leaders today received strong support from regents to pursue this unique opportunity.

UT System Deputy Chancellor David Daniel and UT Austin President Greg Fenves, under the leadership of UT System Chancellor William H. McRaven, a recognized figure in national security, presented their case to the Board of Regents for consideration. Both McRaven and Daniel emphasized the UT System is uniquely positioned to provide excellent service in the national interest. The scale of the UT System and its academic and health institutions’ scientific assets could strongly position it for operational leadership of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) 17 national laboratories. LANL operates under the auspices of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the DOE.

Instead of routinely renewing the contract for the management of LANL, which is currently managed and operated by the University of California System in concert with industry partners Bechtel National, Inc. and others, NNSA has decided to open the bid process and invite new parties to make their case to manage the lab.

Daniel stressed that the U.S. needs the strengths of its universities’ scientific prowess to maintain its nuclear deterrent, to promote non-proliferation, to monitor for rogue nuclear threats and testing, to manage environmental land and groundwater challenges left from the Cold War era, and to tackle new threats to national security such as cyberattacks.

Leveraging its vast assets, the UT System, working with UT Austin and its other academic and health institutions, would consider building an unparalleled team of industry partners to lead LANL into the next era. Daniel further emphasized that the UT System understands the business and national security interests of national lab management, and in concert with its corporate partners has the management assets to deploy toward the endeavor.

“In this regard, anybody would be hard pressed to find a greater collection of talent than that which resides within the UT System,” Daniel said. “We have much to offer our nation in the area of national service.”

Daniel outlined the system’s cadre of technical experts in fields related to the work performed at LANL including 126 members of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and six Nobel Laureates. The System’s mission-relevant assets include world-class capabilities and expertise in computational science and engineering, supercomputing, cyber security, biohazards management, environmental stewardship, materials science, nanoscience, systems engineering, microelectronics, and many other best-in-the nation facilities and people. University of Texas institutions also have a history as trusted partners in working with federal agencies and maintaining classified material. 

UT Austin President Fenves expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to have his faculty and students collaborate and work with the Los Alamos team, learning from and contributing to solutions on national security challenges. He also referenced the critically important research opportunities that would accompany the role of leading the lab, specifically the advantages that would be presented UT Austin as a national top research-intensive university.

“For UT Austin, it would be a tremendous honor to help serve the nation. The important work at LANL is aligned with our research goals and priorities across the university,” Fenves said. “Our Texas Advanced Computing Center and Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences illustrate just two examples of those synergies, and we have a strong track record of meeting security clearances.”

If the UT System proceeds, this will be the second time it competes for the LANL contract. It participated in the 2005 bid procurement as part of a larger team led by Lockheed Martin, but the contract ultimately was awarded to the University of California System and its industry partners. The UC System has been involved in the management of LANL for more than 70 years. 

This time, the UT System would be in the lead position and solicit potential industry partners—those with significant experience in operating national labs with national security responsibilities—to participate with it in the bid.

It is expected that the DOE will issue a formal request for proposals in the next month, with proposals due back within 45-60 days. The agency is expected to announce a successful bidder in spring 2018, and the contract is likely to include a basic term of seven years with additional discretionary terms possible. 

Regents expressed support for the opportunity to start the process.  Sara Martinez Tucker, the regents’ chairman of its academic affairs committee, encouraged the system to proceed.

“Pursuing the bid is a rare opportunity and I applaud you for bringing this to us,” she said. “We may not see it again.” 

Regents Chairman Paul Foster echoed Tucker’s comments: “I encourage you to do it.  There is nobody better.”

Regents Vice Chairman Jeff Hildebrand agreed.

“This is an incredible opportunity to showcase UT and the state of Texas—what we can do as an institution and state,” Hildebrand said. “It’s too compelling to not aggressively pursue.  Godspeed.” 

Daniel said he considered the regents’ responses a bright green light to proceed immediately.

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking basic, applied and clinical research, and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. With 14 institutions and an enrollment of more than 234,000 students, the UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates approximately two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public institutions in Texas. The UT System’s operating budget for FY 2018 is $18.3 billion, including $3.6 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 20,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and many members of the National Academies – and nearly 80,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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