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Climate research center's oversight up for bidding

October 29, 2006|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Wanna run a government lab staffed by hundreds of scientists tackling climate issues like global warming?

For the first time in 46 years, management of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, perched on a ridge under the Rocky Mountains northwest of here, is up for grabs. Since 1997, National Science Foundation policy has required that all government research institutions be subject to a competitive bidding process when their contracts come up for renewal.

Foundation officials say that a formal request for bids is imminent and that the competition will be open to all organizations -- academic, nonprofit and for-profit. Since its founding in 1960, the atmospheric center, based in Boulder, has been run by a nonprofit consortium of 70 universities, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

The center's research on global warming and its forecasts of rising temperatures, fiercer wildfires and stronger storms have drawn the ire of some politicians. But officials in Washington say that politics will not affect the competition.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 08, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 105 words Type of Material: Correction
Climate research center: An article Oct. 29 in Section A about oversight of the National Center for Atmospheric Research going up for bidding said management of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico switched last year from the University of California to a team headed by the Bechtel Group. After decades of UC management, the lab since June has been run by Los Alamos National Security LLC, a partnership of the University of California, Bechtel National, BWX Technologies and Washington Group International. The article also said the Los Alamos lab was affiliated with the National Science Foundation. It is a U.S. Department of Energy facility.

"This doesn't really have anything to do with the science that's getting done there," said Kristin Spencer, the agreements officer at the National Science Foundation who is handling the competition.

The current five-year agreement to run the atmospheric center, which ends in September 2008, is worth $548 million.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who contends that human-caused global warming is a "hoax," wrote to the foundation in February to confirm it was putting the atmospheric center's management agreement out for bid. He also asked for lists of the roughly 1,000 employees of the center and its operating consortium, as well as the identities of such employees under contract with other government agencies or nonprofits.

Committee spokesman Matthew Dempsey said Inhofe was simply doing his job and had no interest in injecting politics into science. "As chairman of the ... committee that has jurisdiction over issues of climate change, Sen. Inhofe remains committed to providing oversight of all climate change programs and ensuring accountability and transparency by government agencies," Dempsey said.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is the last of the five federally funded research centers operated by the National Science Foundation to go out for bid. Only one has changed management as the result of competition: Last year, management of the Department of Energy's research labs at Los Alamos, N.M., switched from the University of California to a team headed by the private for-profit Bechtel Group.

The president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Rick Anthes, said the National Science Foundation warned the consortium in 2003 that it would have to compete to hold on to the atmospheric center. Anthes said he had no problem with that.

"We are very concerned with any political interference with this process," but, Anthes said, he expects "the NSF will run a very fair process."

"There's no guarantee ... [but] we expect to win," Anthes added. "The success record is so strong."

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