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Regents Wary of Bid on Job

Some say rivals might hold an edge for the Los Alamos contract.

May 16, 2003|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — University of California regents voiced concern Thursday over the university's ability to compete effectively in a future bidding process to run the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Some asked whether the university should even try to continue to operate the nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico.

The regents, who were holding their bimonthly meeting here, weighed in on the issue for the first time since the Department of Energy announced last month that it will require the university to compete for the contract to run the lab when its current deal expires in 2005.

UC has held an exclusive contract to operate Los Alamos for the federal government for 60 years, but Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham decided that the university must bear responsibility for recent management failures and other problems, including theft.

At the meeting, Linton Brooks, administrator of the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the lab, urged the university's leaders to compete for the contract.

Brooks, who co-wrote the critical report that led to Abraham's decision, said it should not be viewed as a repudiation and praised UC's recent efforts to overhaul its business practices at the lab.

"I think the university should compete," Brooks said. That UC does so, he said, "is in the national security interests of the United States."

But several regents asked whether the playing field would truly be level, with other institutions, including the University of Texas, rumored to enjoy greater political standing with the Bush administration.

Brooks said that although he could not assure the regents that politics would have no influence, "it is a decision that will be made on the merits."

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