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Thursday, September 18, 2014

DOE moving to more Autonomy for Labs, Official Says



DOE moving to more Autonomy for Labs, Official Says

Weapons Complex Monitor
September 16, 2014


The Department of Energy’s Office of Science is moving to give more autonomy to national laboratories from headquarters on management and budget decisions, a DOE official yesterday told a panel tasked with reviewing the labs. The Congressionally-mandated Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories at a meeting in Alexandria, Va., yesterday pressed DOE officials on improvements being implemented at the labs. Office of Science Deputy Director for Science Programs Patricia Dehmer told the panel: “We are moving toward funding the laboratories with larger lots of money in order to give the laboratory management the flexibility to make decisions. At headquarters we should not be managing on the post-doc level. And you will anecdotal hear stories of managing at half the post-doc level, and it happens, but we are trying to move away from it.”

National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) officials said they are focusing on strengthening communication and collaboration with the labs and contractors. “From our perspective, really developing and viewing the relationship, regardless of the legal framework, as a partnership is essential,” NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington told the panel. She added: “The FFRDC [Federally Funded Research and Development Center] concept here is absolutely essential to making this work in the long term, because if you can’t regard each other as partners and as co-contributors to every step of the process, starting with strategic vision on through, then ultimately the relationship will break down. We’ve seen some of that and are now in a very serious rebuilding mode.”

The panel will meet monthly, and is expecting to issue its phase one report to Congress in early February, panel co-chairman and former Deputy Energy Secretary T.J. Glauthier said at the meeting. Members of the panel will also visit five laboratories in the coming months, making trips to Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley, Argonne, Fermilab and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dehmer and Harrington, yep a couple of real heavy hitters are quoted in this piece.
Change must be coming fast at this rate.

Anonymous said...

Another bogus analysis or study on the Labs that will never happen.

Anonymous said...

What I read this as meaning is, moving to a different model for global security projects, towards block funding instead of hundreds of small-fry individually funded projects. That would be a good move. However as noted, the people quoted don't have much say.

Anonymous said...


Small Fry = some accountability and some standards. Some change of peer review. Competition for the best

Block funding = Far less accountability and lots of low quality people funded under the radar. Politics dominates outcome of funding. Peer review reduced. Results as a gaol are marginalized.

Solution = Block funding with some money for the upper management. No peer review whatsoever. Funding should only be about politics. There is no such thing as results the labs should only focus on process. We are labs that are in a process, we are becoming and are in a position to become but never "are".

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your contribution in making it a better place, 7:29.

Anonymous said...

I was reacting to the fact that September 19, 2014 at 11:47 AM
was noting but sarcasm when real thought and rational ideas are required here. Care to contribute any?

Anonymous said...

Well if we are talking about GS, the funding of those projects is an abortion gone wrong. Massive duplication of effort by large numbers of people at many institutions, cronyism and turf protection problem, lack of clear motivating goals, compartmentalization of critical information. It can not and should not continue this way, and needs to be block funded with discretion and prioritization decisions moved down to local levels. The national labs are not intended to provide cover for pseudo-entrepreneurs, they work on big problems that require dedicated long-term coordinated efforts on a large scale.

Anonymous said...

"It can not and should not continue this way, and needs to be block funded with discretion and prioritization decisions moved down to local levels."

The poster has a reasonable description of the situation, but the proposed response would make things worse, not improve them.

Only massive consolidation can reduce massive duplication, and only large layoffs can address having too many staff. The root issue is that we have too many institutions fighting for a few problems that uniquely require the national labs. We then put staff on work that should be done elsewhere, all the while charging the sponsor three or four times more money.

Anonymous said...

"...only large layoffs can address having too many staff. The root issue is that we have too many institutions fighting for a few problems that uniquely require the national labs. We then put staff on work that should be done elsewhere, all the while charging the sponsor three or four times more money."

I've heard this sort of argument from many in GS, and only people in GS use the word "sponsor". What it points to is a foreign mindset. GS has become not just a different branch but a different tree, where people don't respect the massive backing of resources (people, equipment, facilities) that makes it possible for them to work on their little 300K projects, whether or not they actually make use of those resources. Other people do, and the result is ultimately credibility Take the pseudo entrepreneurs away from the labs, and most of them would sink, and the handful that could swim ought to become real entrepreneurs outside the gates. Folks who want to do scappy entrepreneur work at cut-rate prices do not belong at the national labs.

Anonymous said...

The root issue is that we have too many institutions fighting for a few problems that uniquely require the national labs.

September 20, 2014 at 7:40 AM

The only problems that uniquely require the national labs are those that make use of their massive infrastructure that you don't want to pay for. Other stuff, should be done someplace else.

Anonymous said...

The only problems that uniquely require the national labs are those that make use of their massive infrastructure that you don't want to pay for. Other stuff, should be done someplace else.

September 20, 2014 at 8:35 AM

Agree completely. The fact that you can reliably and repeatedly attract enough funding from some sponsor to keep you (and perhaps a technician) employed, does not make you national laboratory material. Your sponsor probably complains about your overhead, but somebody else bought and paid for your sandbox. If your "project" isn't big, multidisciplinary, and clearly important to national security, you belong elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Sandbox "science" has been sucking at the tit of nuclear weapons funding for far too long. It's high time for full cost recovery contracts.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sandbox "science" has been sucking at the tit of nuclear weapons funding for far too long. It's high time for full cost recovery contracts.

September 20, 2014 at 10:53 AM



Nailed it perfect. Yet LANL is trying to open up multiple biosecurity laboratories when the country already has capacity to do the work in far more economical locations.

Anonymous said...

National laboratories are not expensive due to their "massive infrastructure." And in fact, small-fry projects are directly charged for much of the infrastructure that they use.

National laboratories are expensive due to their bloated management structures that do next to nothing but create unfunded mandates that others must follow. I should not cost almost 4 times my salary, especially when much if not most of my time is spent dealing with hassles created out of thin air by all the overhead.

One solution is simple. Cut management, including DOE management, by at least 50%. Cut it in half and say, "that's all there is - there isn't any more - it's up to you to make it work with what you have." The benefit would be exponential.

I agree that the labs are for big projects of national importance. But these projects should be clearly defined. They should be so well defined that the projects find the labs. The labs shouldn't need to search for the projects. The labs and DOE shouldn't create less significant or duplicative projects simply to support their staffs. If the projects don't exist - if the needs don't exist - the labs should be consolidated or eliminated. If there isn't a mouse problem, there is no need to build a better mouse trap.

Anonymous said...

I think it's ironic that DOE's office of Science wants more autonomy when it cancelled Sandia's Solid State Lighting EFRC (Energy Frontier Research Center) that was up for renewal at DOE this year. This funding effort was an $18 million dollar effort with a lifespan of 5 years (2009-2014). As of June 18, 2014, it was officially announced by DOE office of Science that the EFRC renewal proposal submitted by Sandia this year was not renewed.

Anonymous said...

There should be a very high hurdle for anyone who wants to fund work at the three weapons laboratories, who isn't NNSA/DP. It should be limited to programs that require significant nuclear weapon expertise, such as nuclear forensics. And lab staff should be prohibited from seeking out non-DP funding.

Anonymous said...

"The national labs are not intended to provide cover for pseudo-entrepreneurs, they work on big problems that require dedicated long-term coordinated efforts on a large scale."

I think that's the correct focus, but then we need to:

1) Get rid of GS and all the nickle & dine distraction projects.

2) Right-size the laboratory to the big mission(s) -- that means getting rid of technical, scientific, and management staff that no longer fit.

3) Put our emphasis on funding and supporting only the core mission(s).

Anonymous said...

Another report on the Labs that will make nice kindling for my fire place.

Anonymous said...

This study is like putting perfume on a sweating dog (i.e. Labs). The dog (i.e. Labs) still stinks.

Anonymous said...

"3) Put our emphasis on funding and supporting only the core mission(s)."

As a reminder: the core mission of the nuclear weapons laboratories is, wait for it -- NUCLEAR WEAPONS! Everything else should pay through the nose for the infrastructure put into place over the past 70 years by the nuclear weapons program. If WFO don't want to pay their fair share, I am sure there are other places where they can take their little projects to. If people don't want to work on nuclear weapons, I am sure that there are other places they can go to.

Anonymous said...

It's amusing to watch everyone whine over GS "not paying their fair share" when the truth is GS has been grossly overcharged for years.

Full cost recovery on the myriad of indirect costs that LLNL hides bloat in: Check, fully paid.

Supporting the fictitious lower overhead at NIF for what seems like forever, subsidizing their "construction costs" for years after construction was done: Check, fully paid.

Paying into the LDRD sandbox, most of which was given to the disciplines and diverted to NIF support for years: Check, fully paid.

Can the GS work be done elsewhere? Perhaps. Could the weapons work LLNL still does be done by LANL, a non-FFRDC contractor, or federal staff? Of course (except perhaps for LANL, who seems to raise shooting yourself in the foot to an art form).

Be careful what you wish for. With NIF's failures, LLNL has no anchor facilities that forces NNSA to keep it open. Watch what is happening with Y12 and Pantex consolidation for where things are headed in an era of reduced resources.

Anonymous said...

"Can the GS work be done elsewhere? Perhaps."

Then it should be done elsewhere. The national labs need to focus on what only they can do, at a cost appropriate to the importance and complexity of the problem while making use of in-house skills and culture and 70 years of nuclear weapons design expertise. Building the NIF is an example, regardless of the outcome of the NIC. A 3-person project for building a sensor for detecting a chunk of uranium on a truck is not, unless it's part of a much larger program that the lab is responsible for that makes use of the unique capabilities.

"Be careful what you wish for. With NIF's failures, LLNL has no anchor facilities that forces NNSA to keep it open."

NIF is not going anywhere, nor are the weapons designers. It was a mistake years ago to gamble that GS would be an important future mission at the lab, and I think that's finally being recognized.

Anonymous said...

The weapons labs (mainly LLNL, but also part of LANL and SNL) will eventually be forced to recognize reality. Being government, and DoE at that, it will take a long time (10-20 years) for the hard decisions to be made, but they will come.

My prediction is that you will see LLNL shut down and folded into LANL within 10-20 years. The LLNL site might remain as a spin-off struggling to do soft-money WFO, something like a pathetic MITRE.

The funding for basic research at all three labs will face big cuts and mostly dry up, as non-FFRDC contractors and universities continue to eat away. Sandia's loss of the Solid State Lighting EFRDC is just the beginning.

Anonymous said...

September 23, 2014 at 6:58 AM

I agree with the scenario, but put the timing much sooner, say 3 - 5 years. The world situation is changing very fast, and DOE and Congress will not have the luxury of slow response. Escalating military expenditures in the Middle East, and soon Africa, will force cutbacks very soon. Even sooner if the Republicans take back the Senate in November.

Anonymous said...


Don't Republicans in general fund the labs better than Democrats?

I would think so, especially with Bechtel (huge Republican donor) having it's hand in.

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Anonymous said...

"NIF is not going anywhere, nor are the weapons designers. It was a mistake years ago to gamble that GS would be an important future mission at the lab, and I think that's finally being recognized."

The mistake was made when George Miller bet the farm on ignition. That was about 10 years ago, and all the management at the time knew what was coming should NIF fail. That's why the lab poured every dollar they could squeeze out of all programs into NIF, laws and Cost Accounting Standards be damned.

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