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Regents Discuss Continued Federal Funding

SOCORRO, N.M. February 24, 2011 – Regent Richard Carpenter asked EMRTC Director John Meason and other Tech administrators how dependable federal contracts are, considering President Obama’s tightening budget and the death of earmarks.

University President Dr. Daniel H. Lopez said Tech’s lobbying team in Washington, D.C. – mainly Vice President of Research Dr. Van Romero – started to work at the agency level several years ago.

“There are always risks,” he said. “But we’re lucky to be in an area that will be affected less than others.”

Romero said the state of New Mexico is losing political influence in Washington, considering the impending retirement of Sen. Jeff Bingaman. However, Tech is not relying on political connections to secure federal funding.

“This contract wasn’t won on politics,” he said. “We can compete based on our merits. There’s a lot of unrest in the world and that doesn’t hurt us. It certainly helps our First Responder Training Program.”

“We’re focusing on the funding agencies and trying to minimize anything to do with earmarks,” Romero said. “But if and when [earmarks] come back, we’ll be at the table with our hand out.”

Romero said Tech’s two programs that stand to suffer the most financially with the shrinking federal budget are the First Responder program and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory.

The First Responder program has been funded at about $23 million per year. In Obama’s budget, the program is slated to receive only $12 million in the coming year. Romero said the program would be scaled back if the funding is cut.

Regent Ann Murphy Daily asked about the defense and military work done at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory.

Romero said the sponsors of the 2.4-meter telescope include the Office of Naval Research, which is concerned with space situational awareness.

“Space is a critical component of warfare,” Romero said. “[The United States] controls space and we want to continue to do that. So, we need the most latest and up-to-date equipment. The MRO is an integral part of what the Department of Defense intends to do in the future. The problem is that the MRO has lived as an earmark project. We need to find other resources.”

The Regents officially approved the selection of Studio D Architects to design a new dormitory. The contract is for $502,200. The company was one of 11 bidders.

Director of Special Projects Miguel Hidalgo also reported that the university will issue bonds for up to $14 million for construction and design. The initial cost estimate for a new dorm is $9 million to $11 million. Hidalgo said the bond approval process will take about three months.

Dr. Lopez updated the board on his activities during the 2011 Legislative Session. He said he and his team are tracking 57 bills – 29 in the Senate and 28 in the House, all of which would have a negative impact on universities.

“We need to make sure none get through,” he said. “I’m working with the House Legislative Finance Committee to make sure all those bills go through that committee.”

Unlike previous years when Tech would request funding for up to 10 capital projects, the university is only requesting funds for two projects: $1.2 million for road improvements in Playas and $1 million for security equipment on the main campus.

In an unrelated item, the Regents officially rescinded an August 2010 decision regarding a construction contract for the Macey Family Children’s Center. The board had previously awarded the contract to Fox Construction, but that decision was challenged by White Sands Construction in September 2010.

A total of 14 bidders responded to the proposal. Fox’s bid was $1.3 million. White Sands was the second lowest bidder at $1.324 million.

Via correspondence, White Sands challenged three items in the Fox bid. Initially, Tech agreed with Fox that the discrepancies were clerical errors. Tech administrators scrutinized the original bid and Tech’s attorney Mark Adams reviewed the documentation.

“In the end, we determined – and legal counsel advised – that the omissions in the original [bid from Fox] were material and, therefore, that bid did not qualify,” Lopez said.

Adams said Fox Construction failed to list subcontractors in its bid. When asked, Fox representatives declared that the company would be handling the subcontracting. Adams said that Tech determined that the company was not qualified to handle the subcontracting work.

“We concluded that although the bidder was responsive, the bidder was not a responsible bidder,” Adams said. “It was a cascading series of events that caused the bidder to be deemed not responsible.”

The Regents were presented with an eight-page legal opinion.

In other agenda items:

  • The Board received sabbatical reports from physics professor Dr. Peter Hofner and chemistry professor Dr. Alexander Kornienko. Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Peter Gerity said he had not presented these reports to the Regents in the past. However, he wanted to point out how professors on sabbatical are productive in research and make important contacts within their fields. Hofner spent his sabbatical year at the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy in Bonn, Germany. Kornienko spent his year publishing his research, including eight journal articles for which he was co-author.
  • The Board also learned that Dr. Michelle Creech-Eakman is taking sabbatical. However, she will spend the time focusing on the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer, a new project at the 2.4-meter telescope and completing research on data gathered from the Keck Interferometer.
  • The Board approved emeritus status for Dr. Jill Buckley of the Petroleum Recovery Research Center.
  • The Board approved the purchase of two Caterpillar telehandlers (similar to a front-end loader) for $279,800 from Wagner Equipment Co., the lowest of four bidders.
  • Lopez reported that the donation of about 2,200 acres of land near Playas, N.M., from Freeport-MacMoRan is nearly final.
  • Lopez informed the board about November and December degree conferrals. The December graduation list was record size. Gerity reported that the new policy of monthly graduations has been well-received by students at all levels.
  •  The Regents heard that paid student applications – used as the best judge of the fall’s freshman class – is lagging behind last year’s record-setting class. However, the preliminary numbers are marginally ahead of the fall 2009 and fall 2008 enrollment figures.
  • The Regents learned of nine purchases of more than $100,000 using restricted funds:
  1. EMRTC is paying $519,435 to Command Post Technologies for planning and execution of a live-action, military role-playing exercise at Playas.
  2. EMRTC is paying $167,706 to Strategic Operations Inc. for a training exercise in Playas. The company provides role-players for live action drills.
  3. EMRTC is paying $244,568 to Basic IDIQ Inc. to construct two metal buildings that will be used in border security work.
  4. EMRTC is paying $157,890 to Strategic Operations Inc. for second training exercise in Playas. The company provides role-players for live action drills.
  5. EMRTC is paying $7.354 million to SAIC to support the First Responder Training Program in Socorro and Playas.
  6. The Playas Training and Research Center is paying $275,915 to the Gordian Group and LC Structural Contruction to build two nomadic villages for live-action, role-playing military exercises in Playas.
  7. EMRTC is paying $1.145 million to Command Post Technologies for consulting work at Playas in improving role-player exercises.
  8. EMRTC is paying $385,229 to Strategic Operations Inc. for a live-action, role-playing exercise at Playas.
  9. New Mexico Tech is paying $102,807 to Indiana University for a project related to carbon sequestration in the Illinois Basin.
  • The next Board of Regents meeting will be at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, in Socorro.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech