Flanked by high-powered business and university executives, President Robert Frank said Tuesday the University of New Mexico would partner with Battelle, The Boeing Co., the University Texas System and the Texas A&M University System on a bid to manage Sandia National Laboratories.
The team, seeking a five-year deal to manage the national nuclear engineering laboratory, was rolled out at a special event on campus.
Frank said the partnership would seek to bring more jobs and economic development opportunities to New Mexico if it wins the management contract, putting a priority on working with locally-based companies and institutions in their bid to operate the lab.
“Not many research universities have a national lab as a neighbor, and UNM and Sandia already have a long, rich working relationship,” Frank said. “This is a fantastic opportunity for our team to do great things.”
Lockheed Martin currently operates Sandia, which has a $2.9 billion annual budget and 10,500 employees. Lockheed also is expected to submit a bid.
Battelle, a global research and development firm, already operates six national laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy and Homeland Security. Boeing Co., the world’s largest aerospace engineering firm, has managed defense contracts for decades. And UNM and the Texas universities are recognized as leaders in engineering research and development.
“It’s a powerful team with the right complementary capabilities and experience,” said Battelle President and CEO Jeffrey Wadsworth. “We’re ideally positioned to manage Sandia.”
The team’s strength is in the sum of its parts, said John Sharp, chancellor for the Texas A&M University System.
“This club has great individual stars in their respective fields, but we also know how to play well together,” Sharp said.
Frank said the team partners want to channel more of the lab’s contracts and spending to local companies.
“Sandia is a great lab, but as it now functions, it’s not as New Mexico-centric as it could be,” Frank said. “We want it to become more New Mexico-centric.”
Nearly 20 entities, including major defense contractors and universities, have expressed interest in managing the lab since the National Nuclear Security Administration released a final request for proposals on May 18. But Tuesday’s event marks the first official announcement by potential bidders.
Bidders must submit proposals by mid-July. The NNSA is expected to announce a winner by year-end, paving the way for a new manager to take over by April 2017.
The winning bidder will be awarded a five-year contract, with options for up to five additional years.
Both UNM and the Texas university systems hope winning the contract will lead to more collaborative research with Sandia, joint commercialization of new technology, and workforce development opportunities through internships and job opportunities for university graduates. UNM already has about 400 interns at Sandia, and about 2,400 UNM graduates currently work at the lab, Frank said.
UNM and Sandia also hold about 170 joint patents for new technologies developed in partnership by both institutions. UNM hopes to strengthen those combined efforts by reinforcing technology transfer at Sandia.
“The national labs have been criticized for not doing more with intellectual property,” Frank said. “Ideas often get stuck in the lab system. We’d like to see that change and I believe we can help in that regard.”
To do that, the team expects to work with federal agencies and the U.S. Congress to increase incentives and programs for lab scientists to participate in technology commercialization, said Tim Noonan, Boeing vice president for training systems and government services.
“There are challenges to unlock entrepreneurial energy and intellectual property at government labs,” Noonan said. “But we can create the ecosystems and internal and external networks needed to do that. Our team brings five enterprises with that kind of expertise and know-how.”
The plan has support from the president of the board of regents Rob Doughty, who said the university has much to gain on the deal.
“The University of New Mexico has been positioning itself for such an opportunity as this, which will strengthen our long-standing relationship with Sandia National Labs, and give UNM students and faculty unprecedented research and educational opportunities,” Doughty said in a statement.
This is the first time since 1993 that the NNSA has put the contract out to an open bid.
Journal staff writer Chris Quintana contributed to this report