The University of California Board of Regents on Monday appointed a well-connected retired Navy admiral and former federal weapons director to manage three national laboratories that the university runs on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Retired Adm. S. Robert Foley, 75, will serve as the UC’s vice president for laboratory management and oversee the operations of the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons labs and the Lawrence Berkeley lab. Foley will report directly to UC
President Robert Dynes, who recommended his appointment.

“Admiral Foley brings tremendous history of expertise and knowledge of the nuclear weapons laboratories,” said Bruce Darling, UC’s senior vice president for
university affairs and interim vice president of the labs for the past 10 months.

The UC-operated labs, particularly Los Alamos in New Mexico, have been under fire for months from the federal government and nuclear watchdog groups forshoddy business practices and security breaches. Those troubles prompted a congressional investigation last year and caused Energy Department officials to put the lab contract up for competitive bid — the first time in the lab’s 60 years that UC’s management has been

“In the past 60 years, the university has done great science at the laboratories,” Foley said. “Over the years, some of the business practices have deteriorated. We need a fresh way to do things.”

With a combined budget of $4 billion, the labs represent roughly a quarter of the UC’s annual budget and are the source not only of research opportunities
but of national prestige and political clout.

In recent months, Foley has been an adviser to UC and Los Alamos officials working to improve management and security at the laboratory. UC officials must decide
in coming months whether to compete for the Los Alamos contract, and Foley could be a shrewd choice for the university.

He has connections to the Bush administration, serving on the president’s Energy Transition Team and working as a consultant to both the Defense and Energy
departments. Foley also served as President Reagan’s assistant secretary of energy for defense programs, a job that made him responsible for the nation’s entire
nuclear weapons complex.

A graduate of the Naval Academy, Foley rose to commander in chief of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet. One California-based nuclear watchdog group said UC’s hiring of Foley sends the strongest signal yet that the university intends to maintain its management of the weapons labs.”It seems like the UC is doing all it can to position itself to bid for the contract and to
keep nuclear weapons as a central mission of the labs,” said Tara Dorabji, outreach coordinator for Tri-Valley CAREs in Livermore.

Foley’s appointment takes effect Nov. 1. His salary
will be $350,900.

The Bee’s Lesli Maxwell can be reached at
(916) 321-1048 or