University of Texas makes pitch to Regional Coalition

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By Tris DeRoma

If it wasn’t clear to the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities that the University of Texas really wants to be the contractor that manages and operates the Los Alamos National Laboratory, it was the second time officials visited with the coalition Oct. 13 at its regular staff meeting.
“Of course, we have our own self-interest and reasons for wanting to do this,” former staff member-turned-consultant for the University of Texas Susan Rogers said at the meeting. “This is a serious responsibility that offers a great opportunity in terms of research, visibility and industry partnerships for UT.”
She also said it would also be great for students and faculty.
“It will be a wonderful opportunity for our institutions, our faculty and our students. There are many reasons of our own for wanting to do this.”
UT System is one of many contractors that have shown interest in being the next contractor to manage and operate the laboratory when the management and operations contract expires in September 2018. The NNSA put out a draft request for proposals in late July.
UT System officials first met with the Regional Coalition in late August, when UT System’s vice chancellor David Daniel met with the coalition for a brief visit.
At that meeting, the Regional Coalition laid out its concerns whether or not the Northern New Mexico region will enjoy the same partnerships and support it’s received under the current management and operations contractor, Los Alamos National Security.
LANS has been the lab’s management and operations contractor since 2005. The Department of Energy decided in 2015 not to extend LANS contract past 2018 due to poor safety performance.
During LANS’ involvement with LANL, it started an annual $3 million community fund that helped aid nonprofits and organizations in the Northern New Mexico region improve the communities and residents they served.
LANS also created partnerships with the Los Alamos Public Schools and the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos in an effort to provide more educational and career opportunities for students in Los Alamos and the northern New Mexico region.
Rogers assured them that if UT System gets the bid, they will be a good community partner, as well.
“The most important point in our discussion today is that the lab has played a most significant role in the community, that it is it’s home,” Rogers said. “If we were to earn the bid, UT System would take a position of engagement and responsible stewardship.”
LANS also demonstrated a commitment to protecting the region’s environmental resources by providing the Regional Coalition regular updates of how LANL is protecting the environment from its manufacturing and science activities. It also provided the coalition with updates of LANL’s efforts cleaning up hazardous waste from past activities.
Rogers also made it clear that if it’s the winning bidder, it will take safety seriously.
“We believe that management of the Los Alamos National Laboratory must be laser focused on safety and securely providing world-class technical capabilities to ensure the maintenance and readiness of the nation’s nuclear weapons and service to the national nuclear enterprise,” Rogers said.
Coalition Executive Director Andrea Romero was impressed with UT System’s efforts in meeting with the group so far. She said it showed UT System’s commitment to the Northern New Mexico region on all fronts.
“We’re really grateful to the UT System for being open to meet with our community and being so open about their interests,” Romero said. “Particularly to keeping open ears and eyes to the interests of the coalition and its regional community stakeholders.”
The UT System is made up of 14 educational institutions throughout the state of Texas.
It also operates a nuclear research reactor on its Austin campus, as well as the Galveston National Laboratory, which specializes in bio contaminant research.
According to Rogers, UT System researchers have received the largest share of research grants funded by the DOE during the most recent 10-year period.
“We have demonstrated abilities to assemble robust and mutually accountable partnerships with private industries and premier institutions that will be necessary to ensure LANL’s success,” Rogers said.
Rogers also said the university’s chancellor, William McRaven, a retired, four-star U.S. Navy Admiral, has received UT System’s board of regents’ strong support in pursuing the bid. According to news reports, the regents approved in September the use of $4.5 million in university funds to pursue the bid.
John Jekowsky, a longtime consultant and advisor to the coalition thinks UT System is a very strong contender in the race to win the contract.
“(McRaven) has got the regents convinced that LANL is the jewel of national security,” Jekowsky said. “They are going to try and be a part of that.”