Billions of dollars at stake in epic battle shaping up between University of California and two Texas Universities
Ever since World War Two, the University of California has managed the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, generating jobs, influence, prestige, and income for the university and bureaucrats who administer it. The LANL, which developed the first atomic bomb and has huge responsibilities for the nation's nuclear arsenal and more, has a yearly budget of $2.5 billion, which generates a huge amount of "administrative overhead" paid to the contract administrator to cover the expense of administering such a vast enterprise. Jobs, office space, and many other expenses would have to be cut back at U.C. if the contract were lost.
Los Alamos National Lab. Picture via Office of the President, University of California.
Now it appears that this historical plum for the university is at risk. Lindsay Ellis writes in the Houston Chronicle:
Texas' two largest university systems will have to knock off the incumbent if they hope to take over the Los Alamos National Laboratory management contract. ...
In September, UT System regents approved $4.5 million in spending to put together a bid, a process that will include finding partners potentially in business and academia. The UT System hasn't formally voted to proceed on a bid to manage the facility, which is responsible for the safety and reliability of the country's nuclear weapons.
They delayed a conversation and possible vote on the bid at a meeting earlier this month, and administrators said then that the vote will likely occur in an upcoming meeting.
It is, of course, possible that the Texas regents will decide that after spending four and half million dollars, the bid should not proceed. On the other hand:
Bids are due in mid-December, and the current contract ends in September 2018. Texas A&M University regents have also expressed interest in the contract.
I have to wonder if the U.T. system is willing to allow its in-state rival to proceed without its own challenge.
Lurking in the background of the potential competition is the fact that the University of California has been disgraced by corruption of its organizational control system – at the top of its organization. I have written about this previously, and a few days ago, the regents of the university censured but did not fire the university's CEO, Janet Napolitano. The San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board explained Saturday:
In October 2016, the state auditor's office sent two sets of survey questionnaires to each of the 10 UC campuses to obtain honest feedback from the campuses about Napolitano's administration. Each of the surveys directed the campuses to return them to the state auditor and not to share them outside of the campus.
That's not what happened, according to an independent report written by retired State Supreme Justice Carlos Moreno and released by the regents last week.
Instead, Napolitano approved a plan that involved her chief of staff and his deputy pressuring campuses to change their responses on the surveys from negative responses to positive ones. In some instances, her office also reviewed the responses submitted by the campuses. Napolitano even called the chancellor of UC Santa Cruz after that campus submitted its surveys to the auditor without allowing her office to see them first, suggesting the campus withdraw its responses.
"In short, the review plan was likely to, and in at least one case did, chill campuses' responses to the State Auditor," Moreno wrote in his report.
That this is inappropriate behavior should have been obvious to everyone involved.
This is no trivial matter. It is the equivalent of a corporate CEO deliberately altering the reported results of operations to deceive the board of directors. So grave was this offense that the leftist legislature and governor of California have made it into a criminal offense, after the fact. The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board wrote:
The still-stunning decision by University of California President Janet Napolitano to interfere with a state audit – by removing and weakening criticism of her office's performance from individual UC campuses – has gotten the harsh rebuke it deserves. It came in the form of Assembly Bill 562, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed this week. Under the new law, a state agency's decision to interfere with, impede or obstruct a state audit requested by the Legislature or required by statute is now a misdemeanor crime with a fine of up to $5,000.
How Napolitano thought her behavior was acceptable in this matter remains incomprehensible.
It is impossible to conceive of a publicly held corporation not firing such an executive, yet Napolitano has been allowed to keep her job after corrupting the reporting system. Two subordinates left their jobs, but the boss who approved the corrupt plan to deceive the regents about her performance still has a job for some reason. A public rebuke and shaming is not enough.
I have to believe that the Department of Energy, which owns LANL, will consider the integrity of the body to which it grants the next management contract. Can it, in good faith, allow an executive who approved corrupt altering of data about her organization to be in charge of an ultra-sensitive operation?
It seems to me that without a complete housecleaning, it would be folly to trust the U.C. System. Napolitano has disgraced herself and the university, and her continued tenure in her job is a danger sign for any other organization that relies on the integrity of the University of California System.