The Department of Defense didn't give the University of Nebraska a major research contract, military and university representatives said Thursday. NU won it.
NU's proximity to the Bellevue-based U.S. Strategic Command had little or no impact on the university's selection as a University Affiliated Research Center, or research partner with the military, officials said.
The university, which includes campuses in Omaha, Lincoln and Kearney, beat out five other competitors for the five-year contract, which could be worth up to $84 million — and more, if the contract is extended.
A StratCom spokeswoman said the Defense Department received proposals from Johns Hopkins University, Penn State, Texas A&M, North Carolina/North Carolina State and Louisiana Tech.
Johns Hopkins and Penn State already have research partner status. Among the other universities that have such contracts are the University of Southern California, the University of Maryland, the University of Washington, Georgia Tech and M.I.T.
NU “was selected based on its competitive strengths,” said Gen. Robert Kehler, StratCom's commander. “I don't think it (proximity) played a prominent role, if it played any role at all.”
Robert Hinson, who retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant general, said proximity probably didn't hurt NU's proposal. StratCom officials won't have to get on airplanes to visit NU researchers and facilities.
But Hinson, who now heads NU's National Strategic Research Institute, said the Defense Department would have gone elsewhere if it could have done better than NU. Among those examining proposals, he said, are independent evaluators who have no reason to play favorites or “pick their backyard neighbor.”
“It wasn't just the StratCom people involved in this,” he said.
The university already had research capabilities that aligned with the military's needs, representatives said at a press conference Thursday at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
NU will focus on five broad areas solicited by the military:
» Nuclear detection — development of technologies to detect nuclear materials and radiation.
» Chemical and biological weapons detection — creation of strategies to detect neurotoxins and biological agents.
» Passive defense against weapons of mass destruction — development of vaccines and other measures, including respiratory protection, for military and civilian use.
» Consequence management — creation of software and technology that helps devise plans and forecasts for disasters, hazards, battlefield conditions and other situations.
» Space, cyber and telecommunications law — maximizing the University of Nebraska College of Law's program in space law, which NU calls one of the best in the world.
StratCom will “sponsor,” or oversee, the partnership, but other U.S. military entities may request that NU take on various projects for them. Those requests would go through StratCom.
Among the dignitaries who attended the press conference were U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, U.S. Reps. Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry, and NU President J.B. Milliken.
The sun shone brightly in the indoor commons area between UNMC's Durham Research Towers, and the atmosphere was light.
Terry congratulated NU on winning the competition. “They had to earn it,” Terry said of NU administrators. “This would be like Nebraska winning with 63 points last week.”
Milliken then jokingly said he had hoped to make it through the press conference without a reference to Ohio State's 63-38 football victory over the Huskers.
Milliken said to be one of 14 institutions with UARC status is “a tremendous distinction” for NU. “The UARC is good for the university, it's good for Nebraska and it's good for our country,” he said. “This puts us in esteemed company.”
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