San Francisco — California’s lieutenant governor scolded the University of California this week for signing new contracts that continue the university’s lead role in managing the nation’s two premier nuclear-weapons laboratories.
During a contentious meeting on Wednesday of the Board of Regents, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi called the contracts a bad deal. The university could be “splattered by the mud” if new security lapses occurred at the two facilities, the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories, said Mr. Garamendi, a Democrat elected in 2006. He complained that the new contracts did not provide the university the right to escape a management obligation that the federal government could extend to 20 years.
The University of California system was the lead manager of the labs for decades until the U.S. Department of Energy announced in 2003 that it would put out for bid the labs’ management contracts. The university joined with corporate partners to form management teams that vied successfully for both contracts, in 2005 and 2007.
Mr. Garamendi may be the highest-ranking state official to knock the university’s role in the labs. Michael T. Brown, faculty representative on the regents’ board, also voiced opposition at Wednesday’s meeting, over plans to increase production of plutonium components at Los Alamos. Both labs have drawn opposition from faculty members over preliminary work to design a new generation of nuclear bombs to replace those in the nation’s aging arsenal.
The contracts were defended at the meeting by the system’s president, Robert C. Dynes, who is stepping down; by lab officials; and by Norman J. Pattiz, a prominent member of the board.
The discussion revealed some new details about the contracts, including that the university retains majority control of the management teams’ boards. When the contracts were awarded, Energy Department officials had hinted that the university would confine its role to science and scale back its role in security, following several embarrassing breaches.
In addition, even with the multiple partners, the new contracts have doubled the university’s annual management fee compared with what it had earned as the sole contractor. (The university has said it plows the fees back into scientific research.) —Paul Fain and Jeffrey Brainard