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Dorfan Today: Competing DOE Laboratory Contracts

(Photo - Jonathan Dorfan)Some of you may have read the November 17th press release in which the Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans for competing the contracts of another three of its National Laboratories, including SLAC. You may also have seen the article in the SF Chronicle on November 18th specifically discussing the SLAC contract renewal. The choice to compete our contract did not come as a surprise and Stanford has been taking active steps to prepare for this eventuality.

In the past few years, strongly urged by Congress, the DOE has been competing all contract renewals for its laboratories. As stated in the DOE press release: "These competitions are part of DOE's policy to compete M&O [Management and Operating] contracts for DOE National Laboratories to ensure the greatest possible benefit to the Department of Energy and the American taxpayers." Even in a situation where the incumbent contractor is anticipated to be the sole competitor, as was the case recently with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Fermilab, competing the contract requires the incumbent to examine its management practices to ensure that they represent an effective and responsible expenditure of federal dollars.

Following authorization by Congress in September 1961, the Stanford Trustees entered into an agreement with the Federal Government that founded SLAC. Free of any rental fee, 426 acres of Stanford land were leased to the government for fifty years. And without charging an operating fee, Stanford set up the first contract to manage and operate SLAC. The no-rent, no-fee approach has remained the core principle of Stanford's management approach, reflecting Stanford's clear purpose of promoting science for the Nation above any considerations of profit. Roughly every five years since then, the Contract has been renewed; currently we are operating under the ninth such Contract, which expires at the end of September 2007. The lease expires in 2012.

In October 2005, the University provided DOE with an Assurance Letter declaring its willingness to enter into a long-term extension of the SLAC lease. This February, the Secretary of Energy authorized the DOE Office of Science to "immediately begin negotiations with Stanford for a new lease or lease extension/renewal...". Stanford University's objective and priority are thus clear—to retain long-term operation of SLAC. The University's contract bid will naturally contain all the traditional strengths that have made the SLAC-Federal Government partnership so successful. This will include the continuation of SLAC staff as employees of Stanford University with the University's benefits and other Human Resource programs. But in addition, it will reflect a fresh look at how best to maximize those assets to make SLAC an even stronger laboratory.

The DOE is currently engaged in competing the contracts for the Ames Laboratory, which is operated by Iowa State University, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which is operated by Battelle. Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, operated by Princeton University, SLAC and Brookhaven National Laboratory will follow. The beginning of the competition process for us is probably about a year away and will likely take a further year to complete. In speaking with the DOE, I have learned that we can anticipate a contract extension to cover the period from September 2007 through the duration of the contract competition.

Stanford University has been an outstanding contractor for SLAC these past forty years, providing the American taxpayer with a remarkably rich return on the federal investment. It is my expectation that the next forty years will likewise be stewarded by Stanford and will, yet again, provide a cornucopia of scientific breakthroughs.

—Jonathan Dorfan, November 27, 2006