New PNNL contract would restrict private work
Oct 25, 9:49 PM EDT
By SHANNON DININNY
Associated Press Writer
YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) -- A provision that allows the contractor managing Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to conduct research for private companies will be removed from the next contract, under a draft request for proposals released by the federal government Thursday.
Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit group based in Columbus, Ohio, has managed and operated the national science laboratory in south-central Washington since its inception in 1965. The laboratory had a business volume of $765 million in 2007.
An estimated 10 percent of that work was for private companies under a "special-use permit" approved by the U.S. Department of Energy under each contract since 1965. The permit allows Battelle to use government-owned facilities to conduct outside work.
In a statement announcing the draft request for proposals Thursday, the department said it would eliminate the special-use permit to foster competition through a "level playing field" and to better align the new laboratory contract with other contracts in the Energy Department's complex. The draft will be open for comments through Dec. 10.
Members of Washington's congressional delegation immediately criticized the proposal, arguing it could result in layoffs and cripple the laboratory.
"The use permit is responsible for 300-400 jobs at PNNL alone, and has led to job and business creation in the Tri-Cities and across our state. It should not be summarily ended as this draft proposes," read a joint statement by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Norm Dicks, both Democrats, and Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, whose district includes the laboratory.
Battelle has operated the laboratory under a series of extended contracts since 1965. Its current contract, which expired Sept. 30, has been extended while the government seeks new bids.
The laboratory's research areas include science and environment, energy, defense and national security.
Battelle officials were disappointed about the Energy Department's decision to eliminate the special-use permit, spokeswoman Katy Delaney said in a telephone interview.
"Historically, we believe it's been a good means of connecting the lab to industry," she said.
However, she said Battelle was excited about the opportunity to bid and was putting together its "A Team" to do so.
"We consider this our flagship lab in the national laboratory system, and we intent to put together a winning proposal," Delaney said.
Battelle also is a partner in operating Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, Idaho National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
PNNL, located in Richland, conducts nearly 60 percent of its research for the Energy Department, and about 25 percent for the departments of Homeland Security and Defense. Private work accounts for about 10 percent of the laboratory's business.
In 2005, 11 percent of the work conducted at the laboratory for the Energy Department, or an estimated $76.5 million, was related to the Hanford nuclear reservation, a nuclear weapons facility created during World War II as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb.
Since 1965, the laboratory has received a total of 1,466 U.S. and foreign patents. It employs about 4,300 people and has a payroll of $327 million.
On the Net:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: http://www.pnl.gov