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Scientist union weighs in on contract

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By Tris DeRoma

A union of technicians and scientists that has a chapter at the Los Alamos National Laboratory recently commented on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s recent request for proposals for the laboratory’s contract.

Jeff Colvin, executive vice president of the University Professional and Technical Employees, was pleased with how the contract seems to give non-profit organizations a chance to successfully bid.

“UPTE believes that the present for-profit contract is the root cause of many problems besetting LANL, so that the draft RFP fee structure represents a big step in the right direction,” Colvin said.

Of particular interest to the union is the contract’s performance fee, which in the proposal, has been cut from 3 percent to 1 percent.

“UPTE first commends the NNSA for eliminating the Performance-Based Incentive (PBI) management bonus and re-structuring the new management and operations contract to be largely a fixed fee contract, with the fee capped at 1 percent,” Colvin said. “With the 0.5 percent award fee, applying only to DOE’s (Department of Energy’s) portion of the lab budget, it means that overall, this is a management fee structure that levels the playing field between for-profit and non-profit contractor bids.”

Not everyone is happy about performance pay restructure however, as many for-profit and pro-business organizations fear that if a non-profit takes the helm at LANL, it will mean a loss of millions of dollars in gross receipts tax to the county and the region. Currently, Los Alamos National Security, a for profit company, has an annual $2.4 billion contract, with a 3 percent performance fee.

“One way or another, because of the high risk of operating the laboratory, there needs to be an incentive to any practitioner that can come in and operate the laboratory,” Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Executive Director Andrea Romeo said. “And at the 3 percent threshold, because of the risk of operating such a complex site, we believe that the 3 percent threshold is appropriate for that type of activity. The NNSA has been very clear that they wanted to choose the best potential solicitor for the work, and we agree.”

The RCLC also would like to see a for profit company head the laboratory.

“What we would like them to do, without any law on the books to say otherwise, is to continue to pay gross receipts tax to the state,” Romero said. “I think that’s where the divergent interests of UPTE and ours is different because we’re looking at it from a perspective of added value for having an actual for-profit entity working in our state whereas if they are not for profit, the local communities and the state lose out significantly on the gross receipts tax.

There are some things the UPTE didn’t like in the RFP, mainly the contract having no language in there about protecting current workers in the transition stage of the new contract.

“UPTE is alarmed by the wording in Sections 2.1 and 2.3 of Chapter 3 of Section J, the Statement of Work, which, in our view, gives way too much latitude to the new contractor to create their own staffing plan and to hire or not hire the incumbent employees depending on whether their current position is included in the new staffing plan,” Colvin said.

“This wording in the RFP, plus the discussion of “organizational culture change” comes across as NNSA setting up for a big layoff of incumbent staff. UPTE finds this totally unacceptable.”

Romero and the RCLC didn’t think people should read too much into those words.

“It’s up to the management operator on the quality they’re looking for in their workforce. We didn’t see that it was  in any way looking toward a mass layoff or that they would be able to pick and choose who would stay and who would go,” Romero said. “Those are things that are up to the management operator. However, our interests  are in maintaining at least the status quo and being a competitive world-class institution that can provide world class benefits and salary thresholds, there should be an explicit plan to do so."

The request for proposals was made by the NNSA July 13. Today is the last day for interested bidders and public comment on the RFP. The NNSA is expected to release a final RFP sometime in late August or September.