Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Ranking Member Eric Swalwell (D-CA) of the House Subcommittee on Energy recently sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz requesting information on Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories. Moniz responded on July 10, giving an overview of science and technology priorities which were the subject of a recent hearing.
Moniz acknowledged the recent report, Reimagining the National Labs in the 21st Century Economy, and described the common perspectives between that report and the reports on the National Laboratories by the National Academy of Public Administration and the National Academy of Sciences. Moniz was pleased that in all of these reports, there was a “consensus that the Department’s National Laboratory System is a key element in the US Innovation Enterprise.”
In the letter, Moniz described the approach he intends to take to strengthen the relationship between the DOE and the National Laboratories. His plan includes leading a dialog with the leadership at the national laboratories and to engage the laboratory community in this discussion. He will establish and chair a National Laboratory Policy Council tasked with providing advice on “strategic directions for the Department’s science and technology programs across the board and on the Labs’ critical role in advancing the Department’s missions and the nation’s innovation ecosystem.” The Council will also help shape policy initiatives in the Quadrennial Energy Review called for in the President’s Climate Plan.
Moniz recognized that there were two recurring themes in the studies of the National Laboratories: “the need to improve the strategic direction of the Laboratories and the need for the Department to develop an enterprise-wide view of the National Laboratory system.” Moniz plans to align “the strategic direction of the National Laboratories with the strategic direction of the Department [which] requires that the Department articulate a comprehensive vision of its science and technology missions.” To accomplish this, Moniz plans to align “the Department’s basic research and applied energy [research and development] activities under a single Under Secretary.”
In the letter, Moniz also addressed the current Government-owned Contractor-operated (GOCO) model between the DOE and National Laboratories stating that “improvements in how this core management concept is implemented today will be a focus of the Policy Council and the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board (SEAB).” On the issue of accountability, efficiency and effectiveness, Moniz states “we need to strike the appropriate balance between providing operational flexibility to the Labs and the Department’s responsibility and accountability to the President, the Congress and the taxpayer.” He seemed pleased that the National Laboratory Directors have identified 20 specific areas for improvement and that the DOE has taken action on 14 of those. Moniz plans “to establish a new organizational unit, the Laboratory Operations Board, that will provide an enterprise-wide forum to engage the Laboratories in finding additional opportunities to improve effectiveness and efficiency.”
Moreover, though the National Laboratories advance the missions of the DOE, Moniz states that “the Department also should be a responsible steward of these assets in instances where they can serve other national objectives.” He highlights that “the National Labs can uniquely provide work for other agencies” as he discusses their role in national security. Moniz intends “to collaborate with the Laboratory Directors to find ways to make the process of assigning national security work to the National Laboratories more efficient.”
Additionally, Moniz expressed his intent “to recruit a Departmental technology transfer coordinator who is deeply familiar with technology innovation and commercialization.” He recognizes that the process of moving technology to market as a part of the innovation system is complex and rejects the notion stated in the Reimaging report stating that the laboratory system is “largely running on autopilot.” In closing, Moniz expressed that he would be “actively engaged with the National Laboratory Directors in developing specific follow-up actions.”