Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici
(R-NM) has opened a series of hearings on the management of the
Department of Energy's national laboratories. While somewhat
reminiscent of the hearings held a few years ago on lab management,
the June 24 hearing had none of the fireworks that marked earlier
Said Domenici, "My committee is holding these hearings to explore
lab management as a whole and to address specific issues that need to
be considered as DOE prepares to compete management contracts for the
Los Alamos lab, and eventually, the Lawrence-Livermore lab." Invited
to testify were John Peoples, Jr., Director Emeritus of Fermilab; Sig
Hecker, Senior Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory; Herman
Postma, former Director of Oakridge National Laboratory; and Martha
Krebs, President of Science Strategies and former director of the DOE
Office of Science. The hearing follows a DOE announcement made two
months ago that the Los Alamos operating contract will be open to
competitive bidding in 2005. The University of California has
managed this lab since its establishment sixty years ago.
Addressing the witnesses and his fellow committee members (in
attendance were Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Lamar Alexander (R-
TN), and Larry Craig (R-ID)), Domenici spoke of the "need to optimize
the relationship" between the labs and DOE. He characterized the
criteria used by DOE to enter into or extend current management
contracts as "extremely vague." Domenici added that "there
many studies noting that increased micro management of the labs, much
of it in the name of providing increased accountability, has greatly
complicated the ability of laboratory scientists and engineers to
deliver on their critical national missions."
In his testimony, Postma described the relationship between DOE and
its laboratories over the last sixty years as "fundamentally sound,"
saying that the GOCO structure (government-owned, contractor-
operated) "has served the country very well." Krebs said that
"since the creation of the department there has been well-meaning,
often unintentional, but ultimately and unfortunately, benign neglect
on the part of the internal and external programmatic sponsors of the
laboratories." She called for a clear statement from congressional
committees "of what the laboratories' M&O [maintenance and
operations] contracts should be . . . for the next 30 years."
Hecker lamented how the original partnership between the government
and the laboratories has changed in response to public criticism and
"intense congressional pressure." "It's also become more
to nurture world class science, to deal with the risks of nuclear
operations and to provide a buffer from the political pressures, as
well as to provide the continuity that's necessary for stewardship."
Merely competing or changing the contractors will not solve the
underlying problem, Hecker said. Peoples told the committee "that
partnership can be made to work . . . I think that the future of
these laboratories is with the GOCO concept."
Issues raised during the question-and-answer session included
contract continuity, difficulties in the extension process, what
Bingaman said was "bias toward competing these contacts,"
circumstances under which the decision was made to compete the Los
Alamos contract, university "culture" and government procedures,
the contractor assessment process. The next hearing is scheduled for