PART 3: Zach Wamp recalls a pivotal meeting that impacted the future of ORNL

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles focused on the history of the Tennessee Valley Corridor and its series of Summits. Twenty-five years after the inaugural event in Oak Ridge, the silver anniversary Summit will be celebrated as a series of 90-minute virtual events beginning July 16 and continuing for the next four Thursdays. More details will be forthcoming.)

As the inaugural Chair of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) – a six-year run that ended in 2005, I thought that I had a well-developed knowledge base about key events in the region. That belief was upended when former Congressman Zach Wamp recalled a discussion that most likely paved the way for the University of Tennessee and Battelle to win the contract to manage Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

It was December 1999, and dignitaries had gathered in Oak Ridge for the groundbreaking for the Spallation Neutron Source. Those special guests included Bill Richardson, then Secretary of Energy.

“He asked for a private meeting with our two U.S. Senators and me,” Wamp said, adding that the Secretary said, “No staff.”

Then Third District Congressman Wamp – his District included ORNL, Senators Bill Frist and Fred Thompson, and Secretary Richardson gathered with the latter saying, “Guys, it’s time to make a decision on who is going to manage ORNL. We would rather you do it.”

The decision came down to Lockheed-Martin Energy Systems, the long-time manager, and the newly formed UT-Battelle LLC.

Wamp recalls Senator Frist explaining the rationale for Lockheed-Martin to continue its role. When Senator Thompson was asked, he deferred to Wamp who said, “I made this compelling speech for UT-Battelle.”

As the meeting adjourned, Wamp said the Secretary made a reference to a vote of 2 to 1 and, just a few days later, the announcement of the contract going to UT-Battelle was made.

“Now, you really see the benefits of that decision,” Wamp says.

UPCOMING OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS: Other reflections from key players in the TVC over its 25-year run.

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THE SERIES:

 

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