Government Lab is Target of Two Investigations of Tech Transfer
WASHINGTON (AP) _ An Energy Department laboratory is under investigation for possible ethics violations in transferring sensitive computer technology to a new company led by former lab scientists who helped develop the process.
Officials at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on Wednesday defended the licensing, which is being investigated separately by the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee and the Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General.
″We are satisfied that from all we know, all was legal and above board,″ said Jeff Garberson, a spokesman at the Livermore, Calif.-based laboratory managed by the University of California under an Energy Department contract.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House panel, raised ethics and other questions about the licensing agreement in a letter to Energy Secretary James D. Watkins.
A copy of the July 7 letter was made available to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Dingell called the awarding of a license to the company n-Chip for commercial development of the technology ″highly curious.″
He cited ″the appearance of a conflict of interest″ in the granting of an exclusive license to a company whose top officials include at least three people who helped the lab develop the process.
Laser pantography is used for interconnecting computer chips in a way that permits supercomputers to be compressed to the size of a pack of cigarettes.
Gordon Longerbeam, head of the lab’s technology transfers program, said in a telephone interview that stringent measures were taken to ensure that the n- Chip licensing process was fair and legal.
No other companies expressed interest in getting the license until after the lab had signed a legally binding agreement with n-Chip to negotiate terms of the deal, he said.
Longerbeam said laser pantography was developed as part of a Defense Department electronics program but that it had no direct connection to work on the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as Star Wars.
He said the technology was not classified but that some of its applications could be.
The exclusive licensing agreement with n-Chip was made in January and took effect in June.
Three of n-Chip’s main officers are former Lawrence Livermore employees, including A. Carl Haussmann, who was associate director-at-large at the lab and had management responsibility for the laser pantography project until he left in April 1988.
Haussmann is vice president for special projects at n-Chip.
The others previously involved in development of the technology are Bruce McWilliams, n-Chip president, and David Tuckerman, vice president of technology.
Carol Powell, a spokeswoman at the Energy Department’s San Francisco field operations office, which oversees work done at Lawrence Livermore, said she could not comment because the case was under investigation by the inspector general.
Ms. Powell confirmed that the investigation was requested by the San Francisco office, but she declined to say what prompted it.
Judy DeMaire, executive director of the inspector general’s office, said that as a matter of policy she could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.
An investigator on Dingell’s subcommittee, speaking on condition he not be identified, said the panel had seen no sign of criminal activity in the licensing of the technology. But he stressed that recent meetings with Energy Department and lab officials had not answered all questions about possible ethics violations.
Among the issues raised by Dingell was whether Lawrence Livermore had alerted other private companies that the technology was going to be made commercially available before choosing n-Chip for the license to develop it.
″What we’re looking at is does this mean a person gets an unfair advantage in acquiring this technology just because he has a connection with a lab?″ the subcommittee investigator said.
Longerbeam said the technology was ″broadly communicated to segments and sectors of the electronics industry″ for several years before the agreement with n-Chip.