Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
Credit: UC Davis
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Martha Krebs by David Zierler on May 15, 2020,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
This is an interview with Martha Krebs, former director of the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation for Penn State in Philadelphia and advisor to the Defense Science Study Group at the Institute for Defense Analysis. She recounts her childhood in postwar Japan and then central Pennsylvania, and she describes her interest in science and the formative influence of Sputnik on her ambitions during her time in a Catholic high school. Krebs explains her decision to attend Catholic University where she knew she wanted to pursue a degree in physics from the beginning. She discusses the importance of securing a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship and the family considerations that influenced her decision to stay at Catholic for graduate school, where she studied under Tomoyasu Tanaka, who was working on hydrogen bonds in ferroelectrics. Krebs describes the opportunities leading to her first postgraduate job in the Science Policy Research Division of the Congressional Research Service which led to her work on the Energy Subcommittee of the Science and Technology Committee, and she provides context on the major issues relating to federal energy policy in the mid-1970s and the rebalancing of power between the White House and Congress in the post-Watergate era. She narrates the origins of the Department of Energy during the Carter administration and she describes the circumstances that led to her tenure as staff director of the Energy Subcommittee which was becoming increasingly important to national developments in renewable and efficient energy sources. Krebs describes the major partisan and industry dynamics that shaped her work on the committee, particularly with the ascendancy of the conservative movement in the 1980s. She explains her decision to move to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which was looking to reinvent itself beyond high-energy physics with new projects in relativistic heavy ion collider projects. She describes the central influence of the Cooperative Research and Development Agreements in the relationship between the Lab and the DOE, and she describes the events leading to her work as director of the Office of Science in the DOE for the Clinton administration. Krebs discusses the collapse of the SSC project at the beginning of her tenure and her contributions to the Office of Energy Research and the applied R & D programs and how she understood the relationship between DOE and OMB on science policy generally during the Clinton years. She describes the state of high energy physics during this time and the DOE’s involvement in nanotechnology research, her decision to join the California NanoSystems Institute, and then her decision to become director of energy efficiency at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. At the end of the interview, Krebs reflects on her career and offers insight into how U.S. national policy can be best directed toward further gains in energy efficiency into the future.
This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is May 15th, 2020. It is my great pleasure and honor to be here with Dr. Martha Krebs. Martha, thank you so much for being with me today.
To start, please tell me your most recent title and institutional affiliation.
My most recent affiliation was as the director of the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation for Penn State in Philadelphia. And I came back to California from that in 2016. So I have been retired since 2016.
And are you serving on any advisory boards or in any other capacity these days?
I have a role with the Institute for Defense Analysis, where I was formerly on the board. And I'm now an advisor to its Defense Science Study Group.
Good. And we'll come back to that as the interview progresses with your narrative. For now, let’s take us right back to the beginning. Tell me a little bit about your family background and your birthplace and your early childhood.
Oh, wow. I didn't realize we were going back that far.
This is a full life history! That’s the idea.
Oh my goodness! Well, I was born in 1944 in England General Hospital, which was formerly Haddon Hall, a hotel on the Atlantic City boardwalk.
My father was in the Army Medical Corps, and my mother had been an Army nurse and left when she and my father got married and became pregnant with me.
Did they meet in the Army?
She had been in the Army as a nurse. My father stayed in the Army. He was a sergeant, I think, at the time. And so shortly after I was born, my father left for New Guinea, in the Pacific—
—and was gone until somewhere in 1945 of ’46, something like that. So I was born in ’44. And shortly after that, he was sent to Japan. And we spent three years—my brother was born in California as we were getting ready to go to Japan. My father had already left. So my brother was about six months old by the time we got to Japan.
What year would this have been?
This will have been early 1947. And so from ’47 until early 1950—we lived in Japan in the Army of the Occupation. That’s what they called it.
Army of the Occupation. Wow.
Do you have any memories from those years?
Yes, I do. I know what we did, because my mother took pictures and they were an important part of her life, actually. But one of the things I remember—we lived in Quonset huts, big double Quonset huts on a base that’s—I think it’s still in existence—Tachikawa. And it’s now in the middle of Tokyo. And across the street from our Quonset hut was an old bombed-out factory that was—although this was now on the Air Force base. They used to use this old factory for some kind of storage. And so there were always trucks coming in and out. And when I got older, I remember the boy next door and I used to go over across the street to sort of peek at what was happening in the old bombed-out factory.
So that’s an example of something. And then I visited Japan much later, when I was working on the Committee on the Hill. We went to Kamakura, where there’s this very large Buddha. And I remember seeing that Buddha when I was about five. And we had gone there. My parents took us there. So yes, I have definite memories. And I still have many of the things that my mother brought back from Japan. Behind me, I think you can see the painting on the wall?
That is a picture of a farm in cherry blossom season. So that, I've had with me ever since my mother gave it to me about 30 years ago, at least. Maybe 40 now. So yes, this whole thing with Japan is very real and present in some respect.
So you said your family was there for—what was your father doing? Did you have a good sense? I mean, after the fact, of course. What was his involvement there?
Well, my father went into the service at the age of 16. He left school. It was the middle of the Depression.
Where was he from? Where did he grow up?
He grew up in New Jersey. My mother grew up in New York. And they met in the Army. My father worked in the Army. I think in the pre-war Army, it was—he was not an officer, so he just did what they told him, kind of. He became a sergeant at some point. He went into the Medical Corps. He was in supply and logistics for the medical services, the Army medical services. I think he did that also in New Guinea, and then when they stationed him in Japan, he was also affiliated with the medical service there, as well.
And my mother actually went back to work as a nurse in Japan, too. And at some point, I think after he finished up with Japan—or maybe it was before; I actually don’t know this—when the Air Force split from the Army after World War II, he joined the Air Force. Because we were at Tachikawa Air Force Base in Japan. So that must have been when he moved over to the Air Force. But I actually don’t have firm memories of what was going on there.
What’s the next move for the family?
We moved to Olmsted Air Force Base in Middletown, Pennsylvania.
And that would have been what, in 1951?
1950. And I started grade school there. At some point—
What part of Pennsylvania is that?
It’s south of Harrisburg, so it’s in central Pennsylvania, right along the Susquehanna River. And the next summer—and I don’t have any memory of the conversations, but my parents were able to put a down payment on a house, and we moved to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, in a new development called Highland Park, which was—Camp Hill Post Office, that was on the west shore of the Susquehanna.
So we moved from the east shore to the west shore. And the Catholic church that we went to was in New Cumberland, and that’s where I went to school from second grade until eighth grade. Then I went over to the big consolidated Catholic high school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, back over on the east shore.
What kind of a commute was that, or did your family move?
No. We took a bus. Actually, they ran a bus for the Catholic students. I'm trying to remember—they ran a bus, yes. They ran a school bus over to Catholic High, which became McDevitt High. And that’s where I went to high school.
When did you start becoming interested in science?
Well, let’s see. It basically was fairly early, and it was to some extent—I was in grade school from 1950 to 1958, so Sputnik was a big deal.
In what ways was it a big deal? From your vantage point then, how did you feel? Obviously in retrospect, but in those years, in what way did Sputnik feel like a big deal to you personally?
Well, let me see, how can I—? We had television. It was on the television. The other big element—my mother was a really formative force in my life. She grew up in New York. She subscribed to the Sunday Herald Tribune. She couldn't afford the paper every day and it wasn’t available, but she could afford to get the Sunday Herald Tribune. And from the very early times that the paper came, I began to read the paper. I read the book section. I read the movie section. I read the front pages. And so between that and television, I knew what was going on in the world, and that it was important.
And my mother would talk to us about it. Not in a very political or even—she wasn’t teaching us very much, but it was on her mind, and it was what she was thinking about. And so I just had a sense that this was something that was important. The other thing I knew about was nuclear power. I mean, I picked up somewhere along the way that—you know, Atoms for Peace, which had started in that period. And by the time I was in eighth and ninth grade, I wanted to be a nuclear engineer or a nuclear physicist. I knew about nuclear engineers and I knew about physics in the context of nuclear physics. I didn't know what it was.
But Atoms for Peace, was this like from Life Magazine? What would have been your point of contact with these concepts? Your parents? Teachers in school?
I think the paper. The paper. And you know, we had science. We had science class from the time I was in fifth grade. And so I must have picked things up there and had tasks to do that made me—we had an encyclopedia that my mother had bought. I have a brother, who’s two years younger. So our education was really important to her. By the time I was in sixth grade—well, I should also say I had a fifth grade teacher who got to know my mother, and she asked my mother to substitute teach for her. And my mother said, “Why would you pick me?” She said, “Well, if you're Martha’s mother, you've got to be a good teacher.” And of course she was.
And by the time I was in sixth grade, seventh grade, she was starting to teach first grade at our Catholic grade school. And of course, she could never have—she was a nurse. She would never have been permitted to teach in a public school. But in those days, it was easy to—the Catholic schools were always looking for people who were cheap, and she was. She became the most wonderful teacher. She stayed there for 27 years. And she was an interesting person. But anyway. So she encouraged me. And I did very well in school. In grade school, in high school, I was—
Was it a co-ed school, Martha?
Yes. And the high school was a co-ed school. But that was partly because we were in the middle of no place, and—
It couldn't sustain—right.
—kids from 30 miles away attended the school, as they said, mission territory. So unlike Philadelphia, where there were girls’ high schools and boys’ high schools—although Catholic grade schools generally were co-ed. It wasn’t until you went to high school that they split you up. In central Pennsylvania, it was co-ed for the whole 12 years.
And was your sense, looking back, did you have a strong science education in high school? Was it a good program?
I wouldn't—it was good enough for the times, I think. We had a real lab. I don’t think my physics teacher was as good as I might have liked. But I loved everything.
And I'm curious, in those years, as a young woman, did you ever get the sense that—did anybody ever make you feel like that was not an appropriate field for you to go into? Did you ever have those kinds of blocks to your ambition?
No, because all of my teachers, all of my science teachers, were nuns. They didn't say no. The interesting thing was my history teachers were men.
Oh, that’s interesting.
Yes. And towards the end, we had brothers—a couple of brothers—and some of them taught science. But, nobody said no to me about science. The only thing is that my father was not really ready to send me to college. And so in order to go to college, I really had to get my way paid for, and I did. I did.
So when you were thinking about schools to apply to, were you thinking specifically about physics programs and where should be a good place to go for physics?
Yes, yes. However, I had a constraint, because I knew my mother—I knew it couldn't be too far away, and I knew it had to be a Catholic school. So in those days—this was 1962, before the Baby Boom really hit the Catholic schools. And so I knew it was going to have to be co-ed, and there weren’t many co-ed Catholic colleges that also had good physics. So the one that I identified was Catholic University in the District of Columbia.
I would have preferred to go to someplace like Georgetown or Fordham. The Jesuit schools often had pretty good science programs. And Georgetown at the time, perhaps better then than now, had a good school. But I could not imagine—I mean, she didn't say this exactly, but I could not have imagined not going to Catholic school. I think it would have been really hard for my mother.
And what about for you? Culturally, spiritually, was that important for you, also, to go to a Catholic school?
At that time, it was. At that time, I was very interested in—I found church history, religious thought broadly, very interesting. And actually Catholic University had, at that time, a—I don’t know about now, but at the time I went through, they put Catholicism in context of the other great religions of the world. Predominantly Christian, but also Jewish. Judaism. And to some extent, Islamic, but not very much on that side.
But anyway, I didn't have a problem with—I wasn’t questioning my faith, then. I did question it later, more in the context of the church as opposed to underlying beliefs. So as I got into graduate school, that became the time of women’s groups and consciousness-raising and all that kind of stuff, and I found the church’s unwillingness to give women a role pretty disqualifying. [laugh]
And there of course, we could delineate between institutional and political issues from spiritual and belief issues.
Those are separate concepts. And I’d like to return to that, later on. So in 1962, Catholic University fits the bill. It hits all the spots for you, and that’s where you head off.
Did you declare the major in physics right away, or was there a general studies program first, and then you became a physics major?
Well, I declared, but I didn't take my first general physics class until sophomore year. And then the majors really began in junior and senior year. It’s really different now, I think, in terms of what kids have to deal with.
Did you have a senior thesis?
No, I did not. But I knew I wanted to go to graduate school. Now, I should say I also met my first husband in my freshman year. He was in physics. At that time, I thought, “Well, golly—” I mean, I was at that point in my life still—my father was not a Catholic, and so the mixed marriage of my parents—
Was he Christian?
Lutheran. He grew up Lutheran. But it was kind of like ideal from a certain—it was what I was supposed to—since I was such a good girl, it was what I was supposed to do. And so we were together all the way through my undergraduate school. He was three years older than me, so he was a senior. He stayed at Catholic University for graduate school.
And when I graduated, he—I knew by then, for the purposes of a career, I should go someplace else. I thought about going to like the University of Maryland, which had a good—oh, and by then, I wasn’t wedded to nuclear physics anymore. I actually liked the non-nuclear, non-high-energy physics kind of stuff better. I liked thermodynamics and statistical physics and even—I didn't quite get to solid state physics, but I liked the connection between the theory and things that existed in the real world, things that you didn't need big accelerators to sort of see what was happening. So to speak “see.”
I wonder, were there any professors or classes in particular that helped shape your identity in that direction?
Well, there was one. Dr. Theodore Litovitz was my—he taught me undergraduate—my first class in physics, and then he had a couple of other—I guess he did undergraduate electromagnetism (E&M)—and he just—his own work was in what he called liquid state acoustics. And he actually had funding from the Naval Research Laboratory. And then later, he also did some work in glassy materials that got him some research funding from the Department of Energy for nuclear waste management. Anyway, that gave me a bigger sense of what physics really was about. It also moved me towards theory, but not nuclear theory. I liked the complexity of the solid state, different kinds of matter.
So obviously as you're starting to think about graduate school, a Catholic university is no longer a constraining factor.
That’s right. It was not, for me. But my husband was there, and it was easier. And I, once again, was able to get them to support me. Mind you, I actually had a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship, so I kind of supported myself. But I didn't look at it quite that way, as I now know that in fact it was. Here’s where I think I did not get good advice from—no one said, “Martha, do you really think you should be doing this?” Because I believe they didn't take me seriously.
As a woman?
Even though I was really smart.
You just simply mean as a woman?
Exactly. I think they didn't.
Where were the nuns, Martha? Where were the nuns?
[laugh] Yes. Catholic U did not have nuns in science—they had priests in philosophy and a few other places, and theology, but most of the rest of the faculty were laymen. There was one woman, by the time I got to graduate school, but she was sort of hoeing her own row, so to speak. I knew her, but I wasn’t interested in what she was doing research on. And then I went to graduate school. I—
I'm sorry, Martha, but we didn't fully flesh out—what was the ultimate decision for why you decided to stay at Catholic? I'm sure you could have gotten into a more—
I got married. My husband—OK. Let me—
I mean, I'm asking—was like a Stanford or a Princeton, was that within the realm of possibility intellectually? Not personally, but intellectually.
Yes. But personally, I got married the summer after I graduated, and my husband was at Catholic U. And so the place I would go was likely the University of Maryland. And I didn't even—it didn't seem to me that it was that much better, and it was going to be more convenient to just be—logistically—to be staying at Catholic U. And they were happy to take me in. So that was the path. I took the path that was the easiest.
And I'm sure you made your mom happy, also, right?
Well, I don’t think by that time—my going to graduate school was beyond what either of my parents really understood. They didn't care. They thought that what I had done—and you know, I could make a living. And besides, I was getting married, and the career was not thought of—my mother taught as a grade school teacher, and she wasn’t the primary income. And I didn't have to be the primary income, either.
So the professors that you worked with closely in graduate school, was this essentially a continuation of the relationships that you had built up as an undergraduate?
No. The person who became my graduate thesis advisor was a Japanese immigrant named Dr. Tanaka, who had come to the United States because of his connection to Karl Herzfeld, who was on the faculty there. And of course, Dr. Herzfeld, he taught—he was a saint, you know? He was more than a physicist. He was, at least to many of the people—and I happened to have an opportunity to get to know him a little bit better, and part of that was because of Dr. Litovitz. Dr. Litovitz went to Catholic U because of Dr. Herzfeld.
But Tanaka—Tomoyasu Tanaka—who I have not kept in touch with, and is probably gone by now—but Catholic U was his landing place when he first came from Japan. And I got to know him, and he had some interesting but abstract calculations that he wanted to do on ferroelectrics, on hydrogen bonds in ferroelectrics. We had access to the computer out at NASA Goddard, and so I would go out there in the middle of the night and run programs.
I'm curious if you ever talked with Dr. Tanaka about your family’s experience in Japan.
I did. I did. And I got to meet his family. But he didn't speak English too well, and in some respects, I needed more motivation from him than I actually got. And I became pregnant with my son in my fourth year, and I struggled for a while after that. It took me pretty much nine years to finish my PhD, and so there was a lot of—
Had your husband moved on? Had he completed his graduate work at that point?
He finished after about six or seven years from graduation. He got on the faculty at American University in the District. And then things started to happen between him and me. That’s the reason why he’s my first husband and not my [laugh] current husband.
And so this is a situation where for me, I really stumbled. I think had I been at a place where—well, I’d like to say I think I—I'm not sure that would have been the case in the ‘70s at MIT, but if I had been at a place like MIT now, where I think they really do take care of women and other students with a diversity background, I think I might have been better taken care of than I was at Catholic University. I'm sure that there are other places where—for example, if I had—I'm not so sure that it would have worked at a place like Berkeley Physics, but if I had been in the engineering school at Berkeley, they take care of their students. They take care of their women. They take care of their students of color.
So Martha, I'm curious—over the course of nine years, did you ever have any existential moments where you almost said, “I'm dropping out; I'm not going to continue”?
I thought, “Well, you know, I really care about—” There were things that were going on intellectually. I wound up teaching at Montgomery College for a couple of years, part-time, in the physics program. I taught astronomy and that, and I enjoyed that. And I liked—one of my colleagues there was really interested in science education, science teaching. We did a lot of interesting experiments—sort of tool—approaches to teaching science. And that was interesting.
But I also, partly because of some of my husband’s colleagues at American University—Charles Ferster, who was a student of Skinner’s, was in the psychology department there, and he was doing—he had taken some of the work that had been done on operant conditioning in the Skinner labs and had started to think about using them in the context of some small group psychological theory that was being developed. And I participated in some of the experiential kinds of exercises they ran there. And I was very interested in that, so I liked that sort of thing. So yes, there was a point, after my husband had gone to American—now I thought, “Let me give up on physics, and let me do something that’s really kind of interesting!” And I almost wanted to go over into psychology. But, I really—I really loved science, and I wanted to finish it. I would not have felt good if I didn't finish!
You mean finish just as an end in and of itself, beyond any way that not finishing would handicap wherever your career might have otherwise gone?
That’s right. I wanted to be a physicist.
And I bet part of it was also the danger is over the course of nine years, if you don’t remain involved, even if it’s just one lab a week or something like that, that you lose your muscle memory, too, to some degree, right?
And that’s a very dangerous—I mean, I can relate to that, personally. I mean, we have four kids, and it’s a balancing act to make all of that work as well. That if my wife dropped out just a little bit, it’s just so hard to get back into it, even if you have all the intentions in the world to do it.
So over those nine years, were you able to keep some semblance of continuity, despite how spaced out your tenure as a graduate student was?
Yes. And I finished. I finally finished. But when I finished—again, by this time, my son—let’s see. Jonathan was—when I finished, Jonathan was five. My marriage was definitely in trouble. I wasn’t ready to leave. I could have gotten a postdoc, and NIST and University of Maryland—I could have done—and they were most likely—I think I could have gotten something at Goddard, if I had—but—
So you were definitely focused on local opportunities. You were staying in the D.C. area.
Yes. Exactly. But, then a job came along—this was a period—so this was 1975. We had had the first energy crisis in ’71, and the natural gas shortage. So there was the oil embargo, the natural gas shortage. And a job came up, and I forget exactly how I found out about it, but somebody told me about this job at the Library of Congress, in the Science Policy Research Division of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), part of the Library of Congress.
And I thought to myself, “Well, I'm interested in—” One of the things I have to go back and say is that in this small-group psychology kind of stuff that I was fooling around with, and its relevance to teaching—you know, the conventional view of teaching at that time was that knowledge was transferred from the teacher to the student. And this of course was in the ‘70s with all of this consciousness-raising stuff. And what it really was, was an exercise of power.
And so when this job at the Library of Congress came up, I thought, “Well, first of all, it’s in the Science Policy Division. It will use my scientific training. But it also lets me observe—I'll be nominally working for, providing information to, the Congress. What a great place to watch power being exercised. But not being touched or tainted by it!” [laugh] And so they offered me the job. And it was a good salary, which by comparison to what I had been doing for the last five, six years, it basically put me on a par with my husband at that time.
And if I could ask you on a personal level, what did that do for the prospects of your marriage, which you previously said was in some trouble?
We separated the following year. And getting that job made it possible. Now, mind you, I don’t know what I would have felt like if I had taken like a postdoc or something like that. It might have fallen apart anyway at that particular point in time. It wasn’t going to last much longer. And going down that path made all the difference. Because within a year, I had done several papers—it was a very active time in energy on the Hill.
In 1974, the Atomic Energy Commission was disestablished. They had created the Energy Research and Development Administration, ERDA. And they had also—I'm trying to remember. They created ERDA and the Federal Energy Administration, and the Federal Energy Administration took some of the regulatory aspects of the Federal Power Commission, but also, in the wake of the oil and gas stuff in the early ‘70s, there were regulatory and certain kinds of grant programs that were not R&D—and they put that into the FEA, and they also, in 1974, pulled out the Nuclear Regulatory Commission out of the AEC.
So all of this stuff was going on, and the—let’s see. The other thing—oh, yeah—the Congress, especially the House, was also—at the end of 1975—I didn’t live through this part of it, so this was happening before I came on, so that’s why my memory is—
Well, Martha, let me ask you like this. Are you trying to reconstruct events that you learned after the fact when you joined the staff, or were you generally aware, being a physics graduate student and living in D.C., about what was going on, on the Committee?
I was not aware of what was going on in the Committee. It wasn’t until I got to CRS in 1975, and there was a lot of interest in synthetic fuels. So I really should say—by the time—I did several papers, a lot of things on synthetic fuels, and some reviews of energy technologies, the status of energy technologies. And by mid-1976, I was asked to come on the Energy Committee—excuse me, the Energy Subcommittee of the Science and Technology Committee.
And so at that point in time, the energy R&D jurisdiction of the Science and Technology Committee had just come over to them at the beginning of 1975, because the Atomic Energy Commission and the Joint Atomic Energy Committee of the House and Senate—had been disestablished.. When the Joint Committee went out of existence at the end of 1974, the energy and science jurisdiction went to the Science and Technology Committee. The jurisdiction for the weapons programs went to the Armed Services Committee. There were a couple of places where there was overlap.
What was your understanding—who or which people were the driving forces behind these changes? Pretty significant changes.
There’s a whole story here that I did not live through. But I think it was a combination of the anti-nuclear weapons folks and the—
You mean on the Hill? The faction of the anti-nuclear weapons on the Hill, or broader than that?
No, no, I mean in the society. So for example, the Arms Control Association, this was at the same time that this was—this was 1970 to 1975. It was right after Rachel Carson. At the same time, since—from 1945 to 1975, Pugwash—and there was an intersection, I believe, that’s worth actually—I don’t know whether the story has been written—after 1970, there became a really strong intersection between some of the people who were arguing for environmental responsibility that found common purpose with the environmental consequences of developing the nuclear weapons at places like Hanford and South Carolina and at Rocky Flats. And Oak Ridge. So in the wake of all of the change after Watergate, the people who came in after Watergate, there was a desire to make major change.
Of course. Martha, may I add—not just Watergate, but Vietnam and intelligence issues as well.
This is an across-the-board structural shift.
Right. And part of what was going on for the—the destruction of the Atomic Energy Commission was—
And that’s the best word in your view? “Destruction” is the best word there?
Not to be too psychological about it, but I'm intrigued by the natural word choice of “destruction.”
Well, I don’t know if I feel that way, but I think it is the right way to describe how the people at the laboratories, the people in the AEC—and they still—Germantown is the remnant of the AEC. There are still—the AEC hearing room out in Germantown is only used pretty specially. I don’t think there are too many people who would remember anymore, but there were lots of people when I was on the Hill, and even when I first went to DOE, there were people who had been there when. When I first went to DOE, running the science program, there were still people from the AEC period who viewed those as kind of hallowed times, who felt destruction was the right word.
But the right word from the procedural point of view is it was disestablished. And part of that was consistent for some of the people who were into the business of trying to regulate nuclear reactors and nuclear materials and who sort of viewed them as something that needed to be returned—the idea of separating the regulatory arm away from the part of the agency that was actually promoting the use of nuclear power—that was consistent with the establishment of the EPA and the kind of regulatory role and the need for technical compliance that was being established in other areas.
Technology developers and regulators are in antagonistic roles, so you have to have a strong barrier. So I came onto the Committee—I really only spent a year in the Library of Congress, and by the time I was done with that, I thought, “Whoa, I think it will be really more interesting to be closer to where the power is being exercised.”
Who was the point of contact? Who was the connection that got you onto the staff?
Well, the guy who was the staff director at the time for the Energy Subcommittee was a person named Rob Ketcham.
Did you meet him socially? How did you get connected with him?
No, no. He had sponsored a number of the studies that I had been part of, and I had had to brief him and other staff members on the committee, along with some other people. But there was one big study that I did on synthetic fuels which was a major responsibility of that subcommittee. They were trying to start synthetic fuels research development and demonstration programs.
So I had written a paper on that that was fairly substantial. I guess I went over there in August or so, of ’76. There had been some kind of a blow-up among the staff that somebody was fired, and they needed somebody to come over and help them run—and this was not unusual for the Library of Congress and the Congressional Research Service, to send people over on detail.
Martha, I want to ask you, at the outset of your tenure on the staff—so two sort of structural questions. One is—and we touched on this briefly—this is a period where the Capitol—the Senate and the House both see themselves in an ascendant position, as reasserting—
In a what position?
An ascendant position, in their role in the government. They were reasserting after the Nixon years and Watergate and Vietnam and so forth generally across all staffs, right, that this was a time for the Congress to really assert itself as minimally a co-equal player in the formulation of national policy.
And so the first question is, to what extent did you perceive that broad structural self-identification express itself in the particular science committee? And the second question is, of course, we have Carter in the White House, and in so many areas, Carter wants to make his own imprint, his own progressive imprint in so many ways. And on energy issues specifically and science in general, he has a lot of unique ideas. And I want to know where the Carter administration and its policies in science, they expressed that in the committee as well.
So you can take them one at a time. They're big questions. And as we talk about your six years on staff, I just want to keep those two big concepts on the surface, to the extent that you can comment on them from your vantage point.
OK. Well, first of all, up until this point—I went over in August of ’76, so Carter was not elected yet.
Right. However, it was probably clear to you that Ford was on his way out.
But I wasn’t paying attention quite to that sort of thing yet. I did not go to the Hill because I was so much interested in party politics and/or partisan politics at any level. Not inside the Hill; not nationally, really. I was more interested theoretically in the exercise of what was going on structurally, among—who were the players? And then how I could make use of my scientific knowledge. I became much more attentive to that, but not to begin with.
I think the important thing—let’s see, ’75? Yeah. OK. So ’75, ’76, whatever Congress that was—I don’t know whether it was the 93rd or the 94th or what—that was the first two years, the first session of Congress, the first two sessions I guess, where the work of the ERDA programs was being overseen by the Science Committee. The non-R&D programs had been given also to the Energy and Commerce Committee. So programs like uranium enrichment, nuclear waste management, they had a research component, but they also had a commercial interaction component, and they were given to the Energy and Commerce Committee. So there was, on the House side particularly now—it was different on the Senate side—so Energy and Commerce was run by John Dingell at that time. The most influential man in the world.
And next to Appropriations and Ways and Means, the Committee is the big gorilla in terms of jurisdiction in the House. It’ was a major committee. The Science Committee was a minor committee. And so this was a big deal for them to have this kind of increased jurisdiction. And it was the first big addition to their jurisdiction beyond NASA and the NSF.
And you have to remember, at that time, the NSF budget was small. ERDA represented multibillions of dollars. There was the nuclear R&D program from the AEC, some solar R&D from NASA, some coal, oil and gas technology from the Department of Interior. And then they had the science programs from the AEC – high energy and nuclear physics, materials and chemistry, biology and biomedicine. And so that was a major increase in their jurisdiction and legislative activity. And John Dingell wanted it all. He kept trying to pry it away from the Science Committee.
What do you mean, he wanted it all? What is it that he wanted?
He just wanted to look at all of that research work in addition to uranium enrichment and the nuclear waste management programs. And we were a small speck of dust or a fly that kept aggravating him.
And he had to take us into consideration. And the people like my boss, Rob Ketchum at the time, and the staff director of the full committee, they were always having to sort of push themselves in for consideration with the Armed Services Committee in some cases, and John Dingell in other cases—so those were the things that I was learning about, quite frankly, in the first year, year and a half I was there. That was interesting in and of itself. In terms of what else was significant—when Carter came in, indeed—and I don’t know.
I just actually was looking at something called the Domestic Policy Review of Solar Energy that came out in ’78 and ’79. And Frank Press was Carter’s OSTP person. I got to know him and his staff towards the end of the Carter administration, in late ’78, ’79, and ’80. And I got more insight into that. But in ’76 and ’77, part of what was going on was there was a lot of movement in the House that was independent of what was happening with the Carter administration.
In those early days, the House through the Science Committee addressed the organization and R&D strategies for the ERDA energy programs by doing authorization bills for the solar energy program, for the efficiency program, for geothermal, for fossil energy, for coal, and others. So we were pushing out legislation that set the frameworks for the R&D programs in ERDA. And we probably [laugh]—my boss at the time was probably aware of what was going on in OSTP and had interactions with them, but I did not, at that time. On the other hand, we also knew that Carter was trying to put in place—that’s not the right way to put it—Carter also wanted to shape these programs. There was no question about that. But even though there was a Democratic House and Democratic Senate, the House and the Senate did not trust Carter.
You're saying that as a bipartisan matter? Just as an institution, there was a lack of trust?
Yes. Because they had just come through this whole thing with Nixon and the presidency—
You're saying that the distrust was with the institution of the presidency?
And despite Carter’s best efforts to be the anti-Nixon, it was not enough.
The rift was deeper than the individual.
So these programmatic authorization bills were very important to put the Congressional imprimatur on what was happening in the agency. And since nothing mattered—you can influence the structure of the agency. By 1977 or mid-1977—let’s see, I'm trying to remember when all of this happened—the Congress established a special committee on—I think it was the House did it. It was just the House.
It became clear that Carter wanted to create a Department of Energy, and so the House, because it had the Armed Services Committee, the Energy and Commerce, and the science and technology program—and I forgot, actually, the House Interior or now Natural Resources Committee also had responsibility for nuclear waste management, partly because of their considering natural resources as uranium and that kind of thing. Also uranium enrichment, they had some joint jurisdiction there too. The two Appropriations subcommittees also had representatives. The House created a special energy committee that would deal with any organizational changes. And they wrote the Department of Energy Organization Act.
One of the things that was so powerful about the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, was it both authorized and appropriated the AEC programs. And so from ’47 to ’74—the AEC had a unique relationship with the Congress. But trying to deal with the new multiple jurisdictions was very challenging for both Houses of Congress to say nothing of the new agency.
Where did the Science Committee see itself in all of this?
It was represented on that committee. I forget what the total budget was for all of the energy programs at that time, but it was several billion. It was billions of dollars. I just don’t know what it was at that time. And the Department of Energy now is close to 40 billion dollars. I think NASA is 25 to 30. So proportionally, however you take that back to 1975—there were a lot of things that were in play between the members, the senior staff—and I was not a senior staff member at that time, but I figured it out pretty quickly. By 1978—was it ’78?—[laugh]—’79, I became a deputy staff director, and shortly, within another couple of years, I was a staff director of the Energy Subcommittee. So I started to play at a different level on the issues.
Now before we move beyond 1978, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about Committee Chair Olin Teague, and his style, the kinds of things that he wanted to accomplish, who some of his main partners were.
He was the full committee chair, and so I had some interaction with him, but not very much. My subcommittee chair was Walter Flowers. And so he was a person that I dealt with most, and with members of the subcommittee at the time. So I'm not the right person to look at—I mean, Rob Ketchum would be able to give you more of a sense. But he left, I think. He retired.
He left in 1978.
At the end of ’78. So he was there for the first Congress that I was there, in ’77 and ’78.
Was your sense that he made the Science Committee a player? Was he effective in his role as chair?
I think he was respected, but I think—he was succeeded by Phil Graham, and so Texas was changing. Texas was already changing. And that—
It was becoming Republican, you mean?
Yes. And so I think he knew that he was not going to be able to keep—or he was ready to leave. I think he was pretty old by the time he left. And I think that it was becoming more of a burden than he wanted—he might even have had—I don’t know whether he was going to have a primary challenger, or what. But they were wanting him—so Don Fuqua took over in 1979.
How did that come about? How did he succeed Olin?
He had Kennedy Space Flight Center in his district. Teague had not only Texas A&M, but I think he also had Johnson Space—well, it wasn’t Johnson Space Flight Center at that time, but the Houston Space Flight Center. I can’t remember all the other members. Again, because it was a minor committee, because he had a major facility in his district, and they were going by seniority, I think his time had come up for that.
Did you sense an overall change in the direction of the committee once Don took over?
Well, what I know is we had a new set of committee chairs, or subcommittee chairs, and so Ken Hechler from West Virginia had been a chairman of the subcommittee when I came on. In ’79, they divided Energy’s R&D jurisdiction—or they changed the division; let me put it that way. When I first went over, fossil and nuclear was run by Ken Hechler. Mike McCormick from Washington state had nuclear, solar, efficiency, and the science programs. How did they do this? In 1979, Fuqua took over, and he operated at the—he had been the chairman of the Space Subcommittee, and he continued to be the chairman of the Space Subcommittee. And so he continued to be interested in what he was interested in. He was interested in space and aeronautics. And he continued to do that while getting a feel for the other chairs and the other jurisdictions. So he didn't make any big changes at that point in time.
Did you see the dual-hatted nature of his appointment? Was that advantageous to the Science Committee? Did that extend its reach, so to speak?
I don’t think so. Actually, I'm trying to remember what his other committee appointment; it was a big thing for him, personally, but this was his first full committee chairmanship. But he was a very nice man; committed to his District, and he wanted to do the right thing by science and technology.
Other changes came along at the same time for the two energy subcommittees. Ken Hechler left to run for Governor in West Virginia. It had been Ken Hechler, fossil and nuclear; and Mike McCormick, solar, renewables, and efficiency, and science. In the new Congress, Mike McCormick, an engineer from Washington, took over fossil and nuclear, and they moved science over into fossil and nuclear, because the Chair wanted the science to have an experienced hand. Dick Ottinger from New York was the next member eligible for a subcommittee chairmanship and people worried about him and the science programs; so he got solar, renewables and efficiency, which is what he was really interested in.
That’s a statement on his character, or a statement on his interest in renewables, which might have been a little bit ahead of his time?
Just his trustworthiness as a member. Could you trust him to—
To do the right thing, or to follow through?
To do the right thing, and to follow through. And because he was also a member and a right-hand man of John Dingell, on the Energy and Commerce Committee. [laugh] So they put me onto the Ottinger committee, because they trusted me. And they also didn't trust also the guy that he brought over to be his staff director.
How did you perceive this move for you? Was this an opportunity? How did you understand this?
I became a deputy staff director of the subcommittee, so it was a move for me. But it was also challenging, because the guy who was my staff director, knew why I was there—you know, I had to be loyal to all my masters, and it was a challenge.
So you were now high up enough in the chain where people cared about your loyalty. It mattered at this point.
Yes, yes. And so—
How did your day-to-day change, with this effective promotion?
Well, I had to learn efficiency and renewable programs, and—
Learn from who? Where’s your source of information coming from?
Oh, the programs. On a daily basis, a lot of what I—I learned from ERDA and then the DOE program managers. We were briefed regularly. And also when we were trying to develop programs. It was an interesting job, because we were having hearings, multiple sets of hearings, every week. We would go on weeklong trips.
So we had to find—there was a lot of self-education that was done as well. Finding the right people in the interested communities, sometimes associated with the environmental community, sometimes academic. Finding the experts. You wound up getting a really interesting education that otherwise wouldn't have been available to you. So that was similar to what happened when I first went over to the committee as well. But I was now more involved in some of the more internal politics of the committee in ways that I hadn’t been.
And what were those internal politics? What were some of the main dynamics at play?
Well, mostly two aspects. One was what I told you about—the relationships between the committee chairs and the full committee management. I mostly dealt with other staff and with members of the committee. So for example, Al Gore was a member of the committee at the time, a member of my committee. He was very interested in a magnetohydrodynamics program and the fossil energy program. It no longer exists. But at the time, he had a facility in Tullahoma, Tennessee, that had a big contract with the Department of Energy’s fossil energy programs.
I was making a recommendation that it not be funded, so I had to go visit with Mr. Gore. And I was telling him why I was making those recommendation to the chairman. And he looked over at me and he said, “You know it’s in my district?” I said, “Yes, sir. But, this is not going anyplace. We'll be doing this for 30 years, and it still won’t be going—” “But it’s in my district.”
[laugh] It’s for real, in other words.
And I said, “I understand. I will let Mr. Flowers know.” It stayed in Mr. Flowers’—the chairman’s mark, but he entertained an amendment in the markup from Mr. Gore, and allowed it, and let it pass. So that’s the kind of stuff that I had to learn. I'm embarrassed that it took me twice having him say “It’s in my district.” But I knew enough that the chairman needed to know that this was really important to—that it was my technical judgment that it was not really worthwhile, but he needed to know that he had a member for whom it was in his district, and we had to work it out. And those are—yeah. Understanding interests was something I learned that was not ever taught in physics.
Sure, sure. An entirely different discipline. Martha, that’s probably a good place to ask about the role of lobbying and influence, as you interfaced with it, in the committee. First, broadly conceived, who were some of the entities who were most interested in what was going on in the Science Committee?
Oh, golly. Well, we saw a lot of the environmental community. Friends of the Earth, NRDC, and, oh, one of the others that I can’t remember.
Like Sierra Club, like that?
Sierra Club, not so much at the beginning. But NRDC was very big in nuclear energy, nuclear nonproliferation. So some of the things like advanced uranium enrichment technologies, so all of that, for sure.
And were they generally received sympathetically? Was that your sense? That people on that side of the aisle—?
It depended. The Democrats were more receptive than most of the Republicans. But the staff had to listen to them all and really understand what their interests and their connections were. Because that was the other thing that we brought to the members, was not just the technical information, but who could they talk to. But the other—utilities. We heard from utilities, because utilities were interested at that time in building nuclear power plants, in building different kinds of nuclear power plants. The big—we would hear from GE, Westinghouse, Rockwell, Lockheed Martin. Well, Lockheed, and then Martin Marietta. Because these were guys—who were proposing big solar energy projects, like ocean thermal energy projects, big things out near Hawaii, and Lockheed wanted to be in on that. They had big aspirations.
And Martha, when you say “we would hear”—from these major corporations—what does that mean? How on the nose would some of these efforts be, in terms of how clearly they communicated exactly what it was that they wanted?
Well, they came in and wanted to give us presentations on their contents.
By they, do you mean that for these large corporations, they had people whose jobs were specifically to interface with committees? Or are you talking about CEOs?
It would depend. Usually there were senior legislative reps for GE. There were lower-level, more project-specific reps. Let’s just take Lockheed, for example. And so I would sometimes get meetings with the senior DC technical rep, who just told me what—he would come in maybe every four to six months and just letting me know what Lockheed is involved in, what their projects are, how progress was coming. Then every once in a while, if something new was coming up in an area like ocean thermal energy, there was a specific project manager who would come in from California to give me—have a whole set of slides that he would walk me through to let me know what Lockheed was interested in and its capabilities, and how it could fit into the DOE program. Sometimes these were projects that had been funded by DOE, and they wanted to make sure that they stayed funded. These were multi-year projects, so they wanted to make sure. Since we were doing authorization legislation for each of these programs at project-level funding levels, so we would actually construct detailed tables in our Committee reports.
Then our job separately in part was to go argue that the appropriators should do the same thing. And that’s another aspect of the relationship between these authorizing committees and the appropriations committees. But at that time, we were doing authorizations at project level. So it was as if an ocean thermal development project was being funded like an accelerator in the science program. And they knew we would put that funding level in, and they wanted us to hear from them, not just DOE. And sometimes they knew that when we heard from DOE, DOE wouldn't think they were doing such a hot job. So they came in, and we would listen to them.
What was your sense of how well they understood the nuances between what your committee was able to accomplish, and what the DOE was there to do?
They knew very well. I'm trying to think about how to—sometimes these people were really good engineers and good technologists. Sometimes they were flim-flam artists. But the big companies have well-experienced people who understand government programs. The smaller—sometimes you would get people with really interesting ideas but no clue of how to deliver them, and you would know that they would get in trouble. But they were still kind of interesting.
But the big companies—I don’t want to say—the big companies, they're just covering their bases. They want to make sure—this is one of these things where for lack of talking to a staff member who is going to have some kind of input to the chairman’s mark, that it doesn't get in, or something—bad language gets put in—you just don’t let that happen. And so I had respect for some of these people, and some of them I liked. And the people in the really professional environmental programs and in the not-for-profits, they do this, too. And they recognize that these people—and most of the people who are doing this work—the senior people like Rob Kechum, he had been working on the Hill for 20 years, and some of the other senior people on other major committees, they were lifers. But a lot of the younger people, they were probably going to go over onto K Street. Or they were going to go back home and do something else.
And so the people in the organizations that come to the Hill, the best really know that they—you work with Hill staff and try to help them do their job, and try to help them help you. But maybe that doesn't always work. That’s what you get from the best. Now, mind you, there are some people, some of these big companies—and I think it has gotten worse over time—they live from quarterly reports to quarterly reports in terms of what they send to the agency. And so what they want is just getting their quarterly payment and any possibility of getting a bonus that they negotiate.
And they're not always so trustworthy. But my experience was not so bad. I mean, it was not so bad. I'm not sure what it would be like today.
What about the influence from the non-profit world? Universities and government—
You mean the contractors? The lab contractors?
Government contractors and also industries that were adjacent to the government/science constellation. What were some of the ways from the non-corporate side, that these institutions would—
Well, we would see lab directors all the time. The lab directors would come in. I saw most of the lab directors. And of course in some cases, Nobel Prize winners, right? Burt Richter! It was really a thrill! [laugh] At the time. And of course then they became more complete human beings, as I came to really understand what was happening at labs. But you had to be careful. They had their interests. You don’t always take them at face value. Partly because you were talking to DOE and you knew when they were in trouble.
For example, when the Isabelle accelerator was having trouble at Brookhaven, I think it was in the 1978 bill, but it never really got built. George Vineyard was Director and came to brief. And you listened—but Jack Wydler was the ranking member at the time, out there on Long Island. And it was very bipartisan, so you had to listen to them, but you knew they were in trouble, and you knew that the facility was in trouble. And you had to ask them hard questions about that. But it was a real education about what it takes at the lab level, at the university level, to make science happen in this country, or to support science happening. And I think one of the things I learned, and it’s part of why I was willing to come back to DOE, was—and it was part of what appealed to me—was it’s really hard outside of the government to get the kind of scope and impact that a big federal program allows you to have.
I first realized this kind of impact when I was learning about the uranium enrichment program in DOE. At that point, it was ERDA. And at that point in time, it was about a three- or a four-billion-dollar program, just to produce the uranium and to develop the next generation of technologies to fuel the hundred or so reactors that we had then, and fewer that we have now. And I realized this was a major industrial business that was being run by a group of about 50 or 60 people out in Germantown. The guy who ran it, a guy named Bill Voight, he wasn’t getting paid as much as he would in private industry, but he would never have gotten that kind of level of responsibility. And he really was a good engineering manager. He got in trouble later, but not because he was incompetent or anything like that. He just was a good engineering manager, but eventually Congress decided that they wanted to create a semi-private corporation, and he was not the right person for that job. But there, it was a kind of managerial scope.
But part of the reason, I think, that people go to places like the computing program in DOE is you start out doing certain kinds of computing research, pretty narrow, but if you have a vision, if you have a perspective on all the things that need to come together, and somebody brings you back to DOE and gives you $20 million or ultimately, maybe $500 or $600 million, whatever that program is right now, and you get to, with a lot of help from the best people in the field, you get to put that activity, all of that research together, it’s really exciting. If you have an inclination for the big picture—and sometimes maybe it’s just heterogeneous catalysis, but that’s much bigger than the particular research that you did in your lab with your students.
So it all depends on what your imagination scope is. That’s what I think you can do in places like ASCR, or even for high-energy physics, although I think, for example, high-energy physics, the scope comes in how do you make—for me, I keep reading in Science and Nature and a whole bunch of places. I try to stay nominally up. But we've still got the standard model.
There are some elements that are maybe sort of prying some room open in the program for new work. So scope there to me comes from enabling new ways—so things like the deep underground neutrino facility—considering those things and what makes that possible is where it’s fun to go in the high-energy physics program.
We're still in the years of the Science Committee. To what extent did the changeover to the Reagan administration change things on the Committee as far as you could tell?
[laugh] Don’t get you started, huh?
Oh, that was big. One of the things that was deeply frustrating for me—and it was interesting, and I never quite got it, and maybe it was partly because of Jimmy Carter being so much on the renewables and efficiency—new energy—and downplaying—and thinking that the fossil and nuclear were dirty, and going with the environmentalists—it basically divided the Republicans and the Democrats in terms of what energy options they actually supported.
And that has basically continued to this day, so that Republicans are basically for nuclear and fossil, and Democrats are for efficiency and renewables, and everybody is for science, kind of. Basic science; It’s OK. But for example, Reagan comes in and he’s for nuclear, and for fossil energy, for oil and gas. But he’s also for—he believes that energy is really a private-sector activity, so we don’t need all this big energy stuff. So he trims nuclear and fossil. And he creams—he cuts renewables and efficiency by 90%. Now, Carter and the Democrats had really increased everything, but they had also—they were trying to build the Clinch River Breeder Reactor. This was something that Carter had committed to. And the Synthetic Fuels Corporation had been created and had been signed onto by Carter at the end of the Carter administration.
So basically, Reagan came in and disestablished the Synthetic Fuels Corporation, and said it wasn’t going to do anything. They wanted the breeder reactor and kept funding going, but it became the archenemy for the environmental lobby. It took two or three years for Marilyn Lloyd, who had Oak Ridge in her district, to lose the battle for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor. And actually—so, yeah, Reagan came in and made major change to the programs that we had tried to create under Carter. It was painful. But what was interesting—and it changed a lot of what was going on in the Committee. The Reagan DOE would cut the budgets by 90%, but the appropriators basically restored the budget to about 50%, which was also a very significant amount of activity. And after the first term, DOE kind of gave up. But it wasn’t a lot of fun, to be there.
By ’81, I was the staff director of the Energy subcommittee. The Energy subcommittee.—I think we had put it all together by then, partly because it was not as much of an authorizing activity. There was no way that the authorizing activity that had been going on during the Carter administration—there was no way that that was going to continue. So a lot of what we were trying to do was to write authorizing bills that got through the House but never got through the Senate. And so once we got them through the House, we just basically started working with the Appropriations Committee and also talking to the people that were on the Senate side.
Now you knew, when you were formulating these bills, that they were never going to pass in the Senate. Was that part of the calculation?
Yes. We knew that—
Would that knowledge, that foresight—would that affect the ways that the bills were put together?
We would still wind up talking to the Senate authorization folks. Because we wanted to make sure—because part of the reason it never went anyplace in the Senate was because the same people who were on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee were also on the Energy and Water Appropriations. So the overlap between authorization and appropriation in the Senate is very, very strong, much stronger than in the House.
And so we wound up working or talking to both the authorization and the appropriations staff on the Senate side. Not as much as we did with the House appropriations, and part of that is because the House appropriation folks did not want us interfering with their relationship with the Senate appropriations staff. That was one of the best things and experiences I had, was getting to know the House appropriators, and the House appropriations staff. They know the programs and the Laboratories and they have to balance between DOE and all the other programs in their Bill, so their real expertise is intimidation.
And they are masters at it.
But if you know how to deal with them, it’s all tongue in cheek. Except when it’s not.
[laugh] So you just have to know when is when.
Yes, exactly. And this is where being trustworthy is really important, and telling the truth, and being able to deliver results and especially to make sure there are no surprises. And I was. But anyway, I was in the senior staff at that time, and so I saw more of members and had more responsibility for interacting. But my personal life had changed. I met my second husband. My current husband came to Washington to be a deputy assistant secretary for the nuclear weapons program at DOE.
Now where had he come from?
He had come from Livermore. And the person who was the assistant secretary was a guy named Duane Sewell, who had been deputy director at Livermore and knew Phil from that time. I had had responsibility in the Science Committee for the inertial confinement fusion program, and Livermore had a big program. Now the biggest facility is NIF. And at that point in time, Livermore was not only trying to sell it as a critical element of the weapons program, but also trying to convey that inertial confinement fusion, or laser fusion could be a clean energy source.
So I had met Phil there, but nothing had happened. When Reagan won in 1980, we thought he was safe. “Oh, he’s an SES. He’s a career guy. He’s gonna stay.” Anyway, it turns out—we didn't know it, but he had a non-career SES. Well, on January 19th, after—he no longer had a job. By the end of ’81, he had gotten a job back at Livermore in the weapons test program. And he moved back to California. He loved Washington. He would like to have come back. He would have been happy to come back. And he thought he might actually find a job, because he was registered a Republican, and that he got a job in the Carter administration was kind of like a fluke. So we had an agreement that whoever could get a job that the other one approved of could move. So things had changed a bit from my first husband to the second one. [laugh]
Right. I can see that. So Martha, before we move on to your tenure at Berkeley, just before we leave your work in the Science Committee, to an outsider to whom these things can be so opaque, what are some of the most important things that you can share for how the Committee works?
Members never forget that they are there because they represent 750,000 people, or whatever it is now, in a state. So if they may have larger visions about what’s important to the world, they may have philosophies of government, but they never forget that they are there because there are 750,000 people in a state to whom they have to demonstrate that they're doing good things. Not always necessarily the right thing, but good things, for whomever is—however the power structure of that 750,000, that district, works. And that’s all complicated. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. But you need to understand and respect that, because they will not always do what makes sense technically by the scientific or engineering standards that you've learned.
So what’s the larger story there? What do you think?
I actually think that’s why for me—that’s how I understand what the founders mean about the people’s house. I mean, this is really true for the House. And you would get something I think different from somebody who has served in the Senate. There, it’s different, and I wouldn't want to speak to it. But for members, connecting with the folks in their district, it’s very real for them. And actually that interaction with Al Gore was a really pivotal learning experience for me. And later, he became a senator, let alone the vice president. And at the level of in so many ways philosophically how he thought about climate change, thinks about climate change, how he acted for Oak Ridge, I think he actually is intellectually somebody that I'm very in sync with. But that was really important about the House.
Another thing is that the House and the Senate are really hugely different, in the way they operate. And you need to learn both of them, and you have to respect both of them, and you have to respect that they're different. And I listen to Nancy Pelosi a lot now. [laugh] I'm very proud to be a Californian with her as a speaker. But she says the two most important experiences she had that were formative for her were her service on Intelligence and on Appropriations. I can’t speak about Intelligence, but I do think that understanding the appropriations process and understanding the tradeoffs that are made, for example, between the water projects—in energy and water—the water projects and energy programs, whether it’s the weapons side or the energy side—water projects are what matter to members in any appropriations process. I guess NSF is in State, Commerce, and Justice Appropriations, right, for example, on the House side. And there are other agencies there.
So what’s happening in Justice probably drives more people than what’s happening in State and Commerce. And I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know how that trades off on NSF. But whoever works the NSF side of the budget surely knows. Because it’s not NSF that’s driving that appropriation. I mean, as much as science can contribute, there are many other things that members care about and have to look at, to take care of those 750,000 people that are in their district.
So I wonder, bringing it right to the present, obviously you're not nearly as engaged now as you were during the time, to state the obvious, but to what extent do you have a rough idea of your understanding of how things worked then is roughly continues to be the case now? Do you sense that the overall structure and process is more or less the same, or have you perceived major changes in these areas in the intervening years?
I think that when I was there, it was much more bipartisan, much more friendly. People talked to each other when I was on the Hill. My first exposure to the change was when I was in DOE. And in ’94, when the Republican—there had been a lot of change from about 1986 through—the Senate changed at least twice, Republican back to Democrat. The House hadn’t changed, but in ’94, for the first time, the House changed to Republican. And the bitterness of the Democrats, the way that Republicans took over, I think that, especially in the House, they just aren’t talking to each other.
There are some committees like appropriations that still look like they can get bills out. But I think the relationship among members has really changed from the way I remember it, even through the ‘80s and even into the ‘90s. That in the beginning, I was able to manage good relationships on both sides of the aisle, with the appropriations staff and with staffers. I dealt with members, too. And that’s the hard part. And I think maybe that reflects what’s going on in the country, too.
What you're saying is a microcosm of everything.
It’s part and parcel. So Martha, now let’s move on to Berkeley Lab. I know you touched on a little bit about your point of entry there, but I want to discuss first something that was happening before your tenure, and that’s of course the way in which the lab had come under fire when its director, when David Shirley had negotiated a deal with Presidential Science Advisor Jay Keyworth, to gain support for building the ALS.
Right. It came to the Hill in the FY1984 DOE Budget request in January 1983.
If the record is correct, you were generally aware of what was going on, but it was really Harlan Watson who had solicited community input on this. So I wonder if you could just sort of generally talk about your awareness of what was going on and how that might have influenced when you wanted to join, how you wanted to join, what it was that you thought you were inheriting, and how it affected what you were looking to accomplish there going forward.
OK. Well, by January of 1983, Dave Shirley and I had started to talk about my coming to LBNL. Because I was looking—for my side of the deal with Phil—for a job in California where, if Phil approved, then I could come out. And Dave got into trouble—
Who did he get into trouble with? That’s the first question. Who were the prosecutors in this, so to speak, controversy?
Well, let me see. I'm not sure I remember completely.
Was your sense that this was like a journalistic kind of scandal, or did this have ramifications in terms of the way that the policy process had played out?
Well, I don’t know how it actually worked with Jay Keyworth, OK. Dave told me in January that he had seen Jay Keyworth towards the end of the White House budget process in late 1982. I knew from Dave that Keyworth wanted to run with NCAM. And then it actually showed up tgere.
Any idea why? What was attractive about running with it, to him?
Not really. Other than Dave Shirley was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was director of Berkeley Lab. Jay Keyworth was from Los Alamos, another UC laboratory. I don’t know. I don’t know exactly. But, I think what he did was—so he intervened in the DOE budget. And so when it came over to Congress, we had a—NCAM project. It wasn’t the Advanced Light Source at that time. It was the National Center for Advanced Materials; it had two buildings in addition to the light source. So it was major construction, $300 or $400 million dollars or something like that, over a ten-year period. Berkeley eventually got the two buildings and the light source as separate projects, but here it was coming in one fell swoop.
And so from the perspective of the larger research community, it came outside of any peer review. First of all, Berkeley was known for high-energy physics and for chemistry, but not really for materials science. Brookhaven had the NSLS-I in the same wavelength region that Dave was proposing for what became the ALS. And I'm not sure, but I think—I forget—in terms of the higher energy x-ray range, it was at—Brookhaven had a conceptual proposal, which I didn't know about at that point, for the high-energy x-ray—a bigger NSLS, NSLS-II ring. And the original high-energy x-ray ring was actually at Stanford. And so immediately, the users at Brookhaven and at Stanford got really excited. And they went to—the mechanism at the time was the Solid State Sciences Committee at the National Academy of Sciences. And they went there. And I'm trying to remember—and I think that’s where some group from SSSC that went to see Harlan.
I understand this is your best recollection. It’s only your perspective. I appreciate that.
I think that’s how Harlan got involved. Because in fact, I knew about—actually, I would go to some of the—SSSC, meetings. Because they were always interesting, and you met interesting—I learned where the science was going.. That was one of the mechanisms. The National Academy has the Government-University-Industry Roundtable. I would go to some of those meetings, to sort of get the bigger picture on what was important to the research community. And then I think it was within the context of the SSSC that the Eisenberger - Knotek panel was put together. And they had a report that was scathing. By this time, somewhere—
What was scathing about it? What was their big issue?
I don’t remember exactly. I think among them was the science case was not strong for materials science. I mean, if this thing was being named NCAM, the science case for materials science was not that strong. And another part of it may have been that if it were going to go towards materials, the high-energy x-ray regime was likely to be more valuable than the lower-energy x-ray regime. And the lower energy x-ray regime was basically driven by the size of the Berkeley site. The fact that they wanted to put it where the 184-inch cyclotron was.
And did you see this more in political terms or scientific terms, this decision?
I saw it in institutional terms. And I think that’s part of what—I could see the value of it to Berkeley, because it had lost in the early 1970s—it lost high-energy physics. It had tried to reestablish itself through the Bevatron and the Bevalac in nuclear physics. That was running out. Because by this time, in ’83, they were trying to develop something called—what became the relativistic heavy ion collider, but there was a proposal that they were trying to develop for the Berkeley site, but it wasn’t going to work for relativistic heavy ions. So the idea of it being good for Berkeley—and LBNL, I should say—not Berkeley; LBNL—was apparent to me. But the way it came into the process was terrible.
Why? What was so bad?
Because—and DOE was not—DOE had [2:26:17]. But for DOE—and this is where I actually think the person you ought to talk to about this is Al Trivelpiece if you haven't talked to him.
No. I'll add him to the list right now! That’s a good one. [laugh]
Because he was a master. He was a master. So the thing is, DOE has the responsibility to run the programs that are appropriated, but it also is expected to carry them out in a way that best uses the capabilities of the US research and technology community as a whole – Labs, universities and industry. The DOE Labs are a particular part of DOE’s responsibilities, too. And DOE, especially the Office of Science and the Nuclear Weapons program, were struggling with managing the Labs as a “system” with near and longer term goals.
What do you mean, system? To have a bird’s eye view of all of the labs and have a unified sort of process?
It’s not easy, but yes, to be thinking about the future of the laboratories, together, rather than just letting them come in to whatever part of the government that they can make a case to, and just short-circuit DOE. Basically essentially what LBNL did. And I've never spoken with Al about what he thought—what his reaction to Jay Keyworth inserting NCAM into the DOE budget. I have never had that conversation with him. But it’s clear that he overrode DOE and Al Trivelpiece, and the folks in Basic Energy Sciences program at that time, too. So he did not make friends inside the agency.
But the agency had a serious problem about the future of all of the laboratories at that time. And it hung over—it also was an issue, a major issue for me, when I became the director of the Office of Science, too. But the Eisenberger - Knotek report was devastating about the scientific justification of NCAM for the material sciences. Afterwards Al put together another panel that was more—it looked at all of the laboratories, and looked at what the large facility needs were going to be for the DOE programs. And he had some real statesmen who were on that panel. And it was in that process that reactors, spallation neutron sources, high-energy x-ray synchrotrons and low-energy x-ray synchrotrons, also high-energy and nuclear physics facilities, and fusion—so he looked across—it was to look across facility needs across the Office of Science, then to look at how the laboratories fit into those.
And part of what came out of that was a—there’s at least one other study in that time, on synchrotron sources; I can’t remember who lead that. But what came out was yes, you could make a national case—the country needs more than one low-energy x-ray synchrotron, or can use more than one low-energy x-ray synchrotron. It can use more than just the high-energy synchrotron at Stanford. People like to stay closer to home. And so the third study was one about synchrotrons which is how do people live—small-scale scientists who do a lot of their work in their own lab, how do they work at these kind of user facilities that they go to for two or three weeks at a time? And I can’t remember what that study was.
That’s a good question that gets to sort of a broader question, again, from the beginning and during your entire tenure there. And that is, what was your role in the overall development of a scientific strategy for the lab? I mean, there’s the director and there’s you. Who are some of the other key players who are having discussions, really at an existential level, if that’s the right way to put this? But who was really involved in developing the strategy? What were the key issues? And what was ultimately decided as a result of those discussions?
Well, you're getting me now into the lab, and I want to—let me finish this one thing. So will you hold onto that for a minute?
Because what came out of this work—and it was really driven by Al and basically then played out from’83 to 1989, early ’89, when he left—it came out with the relativistic heavy ion collider for Brookhaven, and possibly at some point, NSLS-II. And it also put—so there would be a high-energy x-ray facility and a low-energy x-ray facility on the East Coast, and at the SSRL they put a new injector—an independent injector from SLAC and upgraded the beam lines at Stanford for SSRL, really creating SSRL as almost stand-alone. The Advanced Neutron Source, the reactor, at Oak Ridge. A Spallation Neutron Source was mentioned without commitment, possibly at Los Alamos, because it had the little one. And then the lower-energy synchrotron source at Berkeley. With no buildings.
So that the idea of new laboratory facilities, that were science-driven and user-driven facilities at the labs was something that was developed during the Reagan administration. And it all kind of got started in the hullabaloo around the ALS or NCAM, and then played out for the remainder of that decade and into the Will Happer time, during Bush I. The role of the Office of Science in dealing with these labs is really hugely important. But OK, so going back into LBNL, one of the things that—when Dave and I were talking about this—I was frank with him that this is—“That’s a really bad start!” [laugh]
And I should also say that I had come to know Hermann Grunder, who ran the accelerator division, who later became—oh, the other thing that came up in that facilities study was the Continuous Beam Accelerator Facility for Nuclear Physics, that was a whole different process of identifying the location and how that lab was going to be set up. But I had come to know Hermann Grunder, and that’s how I knew about the heavy ion work at Berkeley. And he was an accelerator builder, so it didn't matter whether it was nuclear physics or materials science or whatever it was going to be at the light source. He liked building machines. So I learned a lot about what was going on at Berkeley from him.
Now, for example, another person I talked to a lot was Alex Zucker, who was a deputy director at Oak Ridge, and that’s how I came to know what was going on there. So I found all of these people that helped me learn about each of the labs, and I really cared about all of them. That was my job. But I realized how complicated it was. But anyway, so the other thing that I knew that was coming up was that DOE was really struggling with how to manage the laboratories, especially the non-weapons laboratories.
What was the overall structural problem? When you say he was having this problem, this is not an issue-specific problem; it’s not even a lab-specific problem. Overall, what’s going on?
Well, before, in the Atomic Energy Commission, there was no oversight, basically. The Joint Committee on Atomic Energy paid attention and could hold everybody else at bay, in the Congress, as well as outside. When it came out—when ERDA became open to view, there were people who were trying to go after the weapons program because nuclear weapons were a plague. So there was a group of people at NGOs trying to go after the whole nuclear weapons programs including the Labs.
However, there was an equally strong kind of, if you will, cabal—that’s a loaded word, loaded word—not descriptive word—between the labs and everything that came out of World War II including the nuclear sides of the services and the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, who wanted to hold onto it. And the competition between the two design labs was still very, very strong. So the roles of those labs were—that part, they worried about it. They were totally paranoid at those labs. I mean, I listened to them all.
But they had a different set of issues than the non-weapons labs. And the non-weapons labs—Argonne and Oak Ridge had been first embraced by the nuclear reactor programs but in the meantime, they had also gotten science. PNNL was hardly in the picture at that time and was sort of in the middle of the technology at Hanford. But Brookhaven and LBNL were the basic science part of the system. It was kind of like the repayment to the scientific community for everything that it had done during World War II were those two labs.. Then there were the high energy and nuclear physics labs, which included Berkeley and Brookhaven, but the bleeding edge was at Stanford and Fermi.
And all the labs had an unusual contract distinct among other federal contracts. They all had this GOCO—government-owned, contractor-operated contract, which had no deliverables, no deep requirements. As DOE then went into being a cabinet-level department, the lawyers and the procurement specialists hated this contract concept because it was “irregular.” They started moving it towards something that—it was more like some of the contracts that DOD used. They also were offended by the fact that we never changed the contractors. I mean, by the mid 80’s these labs had been run by the same organizations for close to 40 years.
And then in the meantime, there was, in the late ‘70s, a sense in the industrial and university research communities, that the labs had unfair access to billions of dollars of research and other program money. By the late ’70s, NSF was maybe a billion dollars? NIH was bigger but not yet $10 billion. But still by comparison, the labs were so rich, and they didn't have to teach. And both universities and industry had much lower overheads; they would surely spend that money so much more cost-effectively. And so there were all these studies about, were labs really cost-effective? And what were their missions really? And they've got this highly irregular contract.
So the person who came in to the nuclear reactor program, they looked at Argonne and Oak Ridge and said, “We don’t want to deal with this anymore. Here.” You know, they're bigger than our program, and our program, especially in the Reagan administration—wasn’t growing fast enough. The Clinch River Breeder Reactor was in trouble. So they said, “Here, science, here Office of Science, you take them. And you've got high-energy physics. And you've got Berkeley.” And they're under attack from within and without. And some people like really don’t know—“Well, aren’t they really weapons labs? I mean, after all, Oak Ridge has all of this trash from uranium enrichment and everything.” And they did the uranium pits for the bombs. They do other things for the weapons program.
And so stewardship of the non-weapons labs became a major issue that became the responsibility of the director of the Office of Science, and finding a way to bring them back into a kind of partnership with university scientists. The connection for high-energy and nuclear physics was strong. That’s why the user facility concept, which some people had come to—again, and Brookhaven had developed it really well, I think, sort of throughout, although there were other problems with Brookhaven. So that’s a lot of what was in play. It was a problem for Congress, because the Science Committee had members whose districts included Labs—Marilyn Lloyd and Al Gore for Oak Ridge, Mike McCormack for Hanford, Jack Wydler for Brookhaven. The Chicago area always had someone paying attention to Argonne and Fermi. So the labs were an issue for the Committee, and so we paid attention to the labs, because they were important to somebody’s 750,000 people.
Martha, let’s bring this narrative a little back to a specific question about Berkeley Lab. Were you involved in the decision to decommission the Bevalac? And I understand that the immediate response is that it was an aging piece of equipment, but on the other hand, if you look at the alternating gradient synchrotron, this was a similar accelerator at Brookhaven, this was retained, and it’s now part of the RHIC facility there.
So I wonder if there were more factors at play besides simple, “This thing is getting old, so now it’s simply time to decommission it.”
I was not—I'm trying to remember when this actually—I believe that this thing that went on with Al Trivelpiece in deciding where the future was going to be, there may have been some—
Just to orient you, the ceremony for the decommissioning was February 1993.
Oh, gosh. Well, ’93—oh, my gosh. So February of ’93, so I was still there, and I hadn’t known that I was coming to Washington yet. Gosh. The whole issue of leaving nuclear physics was—of not rebuilding—building anything at the Bevalac site, that was an issue throughout the time I was at LBNL.
So this was always in the cards. It was always in the background.
That’s right. When I first got to LBNL, they were trying to make an argument for a RHIC-like facility on the Bevalac site, but the site was just too constrained. In this process of identifying needed scientific facilities for the Office of Science programs, the idea of a—I forget how it was called, but the relativistic heavy ion collider came out of that study that Trivelpiece commissioned. At least that’s my memory.. But a relativistic heavy ion collider of some sort came out of the process in the ‘80s [?]. There was probably some kind of a deal at the laboratory, between the Office of Science and the laboratory directors that split up some of these facilities among the different labs. What I remember actually was that it took—I think by that time, Nick Samios was the director of Brookhaven, and he was a high-energy physics guy. He had the facilities and land for the facility. The Lab had the human and intellectual capability to build the accelerator. But I don’t think Nick was entranced with the science, and so it took a while for Brookhaven to come around to wanting and owning the facility. That’s something that percolated in the ‘80s,
At LBNL, I think actually pushed first by Director Dave Shirley for the science case he saw, and then Hermann got behind it as he understood the technical challenges of making an x-ray synchrotron based on undulators and wigglers that fit well on the Berkeley site. By 1984-85, they were fully focused on the ALS. I was there to help improve laboratory planning and their communications and success within DOE first. Because they had started this long-range planning and development process that Toni Joseph ran for the Office of Science. And I don’t know if you've heard her name in all of this.
No, I haven't.
She was not a scientist. But she loved—she came to the AEC when she was probably 22, and she was just a really good bureaucrat in the best possible way. And she became the planner and analytical person to work things within the department and to make the science programs look good to other bureaucrats. And she created something that Al Trivelpiece signed onto, called the Long Range Development Plan, which the labs had to do and had to—and so I went out there to help LBNL do that. And within that framework, that was our opportunity to display to the DOE program managers what were our priorities. They didn't always like them, but they had to visit once a year and listen to our whole effort for DOE not just their own programs.
My work also included general communication. I had communications with Congress and with other parts of government science oversight. I would talk to people in OSTP and the National Academy and that kind of thing. I just worked the general science policy field that exists in DOE, to keep up—to make sure that Dave Shirley and the senior guys at Berkeley knew what was going on that was relevant to them. And the other thing I did was I picked up on what I think of as certain things that are orphans in DOE, like multiprogram facilities. Like you have a hazardous waste handling facility and you really need a new one; there’s no one who will care.
And it sounds like maybe it was your style to just generally be aware of where certain projects had dropped off the wayside, and you were interested in picking them back up.
Martha, can you talk a little bit about the development of the technology transfer office at Berkeley Lab? Where did that come from and what was your involvement in its creation?
Well, for a time, it worked for me, and then I think—yes, yes. For a time, it worked for me, but it was always between me and the legal office. Well, this goes back to Congress. It goes back to the passage of the—first, the Bayh-Dole Act, in 1980. And actually, the ramrod for the Bayh-Dole act was called the Stevenson-Wydler bill, and it came through the Science and Technology Committee. And so I was aware that it was changing the way that federally supported R&D was going to be able to become available to the private sector, and the motivations for that. And so then—ah! At that point, still, the Department of Energy wanted to hold off the—they wanted to keep control of anything that was coming out of the labs. But the university contractors were now getting more interested in technology transfer.
Why? What was the source of this enhanced interest from the university side?
Well, they thought they might be able to get additional money. That it would enable them to bring in funding from the private sector a little more easily than was allowed through the DOE contract—and with a lot less intrusive ratcheting by DOE. Because they just worried about, you know, losing control of the labs. So they tried to put all kinds of expectations for paying overhead and all this other stuff that really was—it basically turned the private sector off.
But anyway, by 1987 or 88, there were two more bills that essentially extended the concept of Bayh-Dole to the Federal labs – one for the Civil Service labs and one for the FFRDCs like the DOE labs. These bills created the CRADAs, the Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, to be negotiated by laboratory management . And so it was at about that time that DOE started to consider, “How do you measure this? How do you keep track of it?”
And so they started to have technology transfer programs set up at the laboratories. And so basically it was within the framework of the Long Range Development Plan planning exercise that we started thinking about it. I got somebody named Pepi Ross who may still be at the lab, to come from Stanford Research Institute to set up—she was a scientist who became a lawyer. A patent lawyer. And she came over and helped, and eventually she—I can’t remember when—we kind of said, “This is really a lot of legal stuff” and with a lawyer. So that’s how I got involved with that.
Martha, I wonder if you can reflect broadly, sort of a retrospective question—what did you see as your primary contributions during your tenure at Berkeley lab? And in terms of the overall things that you were looking to accomplish, what—probably the easiest way to say this is—what entities were the greatest blockages to those ambitions and goals?
Well, I think that I helped not standing forward but I think I helped to ease the way towards the light source in ways that—I had a major role to play with the light source.
So much so that you changed the trajectory of how that played out. Is that fair to say?
I helped them change. They knew how to do it. And they got the right people—I mean, getting Dave Attwood there to—who was a great x-ray light manipulator, a great scientist with x-rays, light [?]—and Hermann—we made the case, the scientific case. And Hermann and Dave did the right things with the other lab directors and with Trivelpiece. I talked with the Hill. I kept the Hill informed and told them what I thought, and they trusted me. And this was predominantly appropriations, because by that time, the Science Committee wasn’t doing authorizations, so appropriations counted more both on the House and the Senate side.
But the other things that came along that we did—you know, in the time that I was there—well, now, can I remember his name?—Charles—Charles DeLisi—basically created the human genome program at DOE in the Office of Science. And the first human genome centers were at Livermore, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Berkeley. And what remains of those three centers is the Joint Genome Institute out in Walnut Creek. This was another one of these things where that didn't start at Berkeley, but very quickly I saw the attacks coming, when Nobelist James Watson, discoverer of DNA, saying, “What are the weapons labs doing in the life sciences business? Why is DOE getting this money and not NIH?”
And so one of the things that we did was we worked with Vic DeFazio, who was on the appropriations committee and from Northern California, to argue for the program and for the role of the DOE labs. Not for LBNL. And it was a benefit to us, because if there had been no money, there would be no centers. There were a few buildings that came to LBNL, with the support of individual science programs, but which they couldn't get into the DOE budget on their own. And we made our arguments for why these facilities, like specifically the multiprogram laboratory facilities program, it never was big enough for all of the labs. And so we argued for how important this was, and so there was room for us.
So in some senses, really I cared about—oh, another thing I did—actually I probably did this—[laugh] I did this when I was in DOE—I mean, what’s coming out of this, I hope you really see, is I care about these places as institutions, and I find ways to get good things done. Sometimes they're small. The ALS was not small and it took a lot more work, [laugh] and it took the whole community coming together. And without Al Trivelpiece, a lot of what has happened in the labs over the last 20 years would not have been possible. And so I don’t know whether he'll—I actually don’t even know if he’s still alive. The last thing I knew, he was living in Las Vegas. That’s where he and his wife went to retire.
But anyway, so those are the things that I remember the most, I mean, that really had an impact—we were able to have an impact on the lab, and to also build something for other parts of the system. It was really apparent to me from the beginning what a great idea the genome program was.
What was your initial point of contact in the Clinton administration? Who reached out to you to make this happen for DOE?
I got a call on April 1st from Hazel O’Leary, the Secretary of Energy.
Oh, wow. Right from the top.
[laugh] And she wanted me to come to Washington, and I said, “I'll be there.” And then I hung up the phone, and I said, “Was this an April Fool’s Day joke?”
[laugh] But I had heard her speak, and so I thought maybe it wasn’t. And that’s what happened. And then we just were doing all the stuff that had to be done. I probably got my papers in by sometime in May. I was brought on as a consultant, still—
There was a three-month gap between the announcement and the formal submission of nomination. Do you have any idea what that gap was about? Was that just bureaucracy?
It was filling out all the paper, filling out all the forms. And the announcement and the actual nomination—a lot of it was forms and making sure we get past the lawyers and all of the conflict of interest stuff.
Was your time at Berkeley Lab, did that slow things down, or was that actually an asset for the paperwork, do you think?
I'm not sure I have any particular view of that, quite honestly. I don’t think it was a problem or necessarily an asset. I think that the conflicts associated with the lab were the easier part. The hard part is getting through the lawyers on your financial stuff.
What was the nomination process like? Was it sort of more familiar to you because of your legislative experience, or this was a brand-new thing for you?
Well, I knew all the staff on the House and the Senate side. I knew a number of members. It was pretty straightforward for me. I don’t think there was ever a question. I mean, I think I had good—pretty much all of the lab directors were OK with me. I mean, if any of the lab directors had had a problem, it was going to be—that would have made it very difficult, I think. And I didn't have a problem with any of them. Because I think they knew that I had not—I had wanted to help everybody, even when I was trying to definitely move Berkeley with respect to the light source. But anyway, so it was not—nothing was a surprise, and I think I was—I really liked the appropriator guys. I liked the members. I liked and respected the members. And the staff were really good friends.
I wonder if either during the process itself or in your early days on the job, if you had communicated at all with any of your predecessors?
I did not talk with Will [William Robert Graham]. In fact, I don’t think I ever—I've been in places with Will, but we've never really communicated very well. Al [D. Allan Bromley] and I—well, Al was director of Oak Ridge at the time. So yes, I saw Al a lot.
No, but I mean did you communicate with him within the context of you taking on this position as his successor?
I don’t remember doing it specifically. I think I knew pretty well what the job was. Now, I did consult with the Department, and so I wasn’t working in—you're not allowed to act in the job until you're actually confirmed, so I worked for whoever the associate director was. I mean, the undersecretary.
But I also was familiarizing myself—what I did most of the time was to go out to Germantown, talk with programs, to become familiar with the programs. Talk with people like Toni Joseph to get her bigger view of what was going on with the laboratory system. Talking with Jim Decker who was the acting director of science, on what was going on, from his perspective. I don’t think I met with the lab directors, per se, or had conversations with them. I think I had a pretty good idea of what the job was.
And I have to ask, what was it like arriving smack in the middle of the last showdown over the SSC?
Ah, yeah. Well, you know, the SSC conceptual design work was done at LBNL. So indeed, that was the one thing—that was what was going on and what Jim was very involved with, and the high-energy physics folks were involved with, while I was doing all the—just getting myself ready. I didn't talk with Jim about it, because this really was the acting in the job that I did not want to have any connection with, because those who wanted to get rid of the SSC could have used it to derail my nomination.
And so I really didn't. But it was really clear to me that it was not likely that we were going to save it. And so the question was, what were we going to do for the future, and what did it mean, institutionally again, for Fermilab, for high-energy physics in the United States, as we shifted to—so how was that going to play out. And how—could we convince—how were we going to negotiate with CERN?
So I was looking ahead.
Do you have any specific insight on the budgetary considerations that might have had an impact on the decision on SSC? I've heard it said before that the Clinton administration wanted to capitalize on the peace dividend, and so that made certain programs that might have been justified under a Cold War setting not as viable as they otherwise would have been. And so one of the issues or one of the theories is that between NASA and SSC, it was sort of a binary choice, and the administration went with NASA. I'm curious if you have any insight, if that line of reasoning sounds familiar at all to you?
Well, it wasn’t—no. [laugh] It doesn't. What was NASA—what were they doing with NASA at the time?
The space station.
Ah. That’s not my—it’s possible, but that’s not what was on our minds. Others may—I'm trying to think.
The question is, is it simply—from a budgetary perspective, is it there was just not the appetite to fund this? Or there was x amount of dollars that was going to go towards something in science, and it was either going to be this or something else?
I don’t think we ever thought about it inside the Department of Energy. It may be that some discussions like that went on in OSTP. At that point in time, that would have been John Gibbons, Jack Gibbons. But I don’t recall any conversation like that, and not with my budget folks. What I found quite frankly was that—and I'm not sure here, because, the whole thing got started under Al Trivelpiece. I mean, the whole move towards the SSC, it got started then. And he set up a pretty nice process, if I remember, with the site selection being in the National Academy and all of that stuff.
But what really deep-sixed the SSC was the continuing increases in budget. The overruns became—first of all, this was the first really multibillion-dollar facility that was being built by the Office of Science, by DOE. And it went from 3.5 or four-something—from the conceptual design—to I think nine, and by the time we—$9 billion or something, and then it was up at 11 or 12. I don’t remember the last one that went to Congress. And they just never made an effective enough case to Congress. And I don’t know why. After it left Berkeley, I wasn’t paying attention very much. After it went I think from Berkeley to Texas, because they basically—after the site selection. I guess—did they stay at Berkeley? They did for a while. Then they made the site selection, and then they went to Texas.
And we didn't have a lot of insight. We were worried about it, because we still were expecting to do a lot of work on the magnets and the detectors. But it was opaque to us in Berkeley what was happening, and the relationship between the SSC and DOE. And it continued to be opaque to me while I was waiting. And then by the time I finally got in, which was in November, it was pretty clear that it was not happening.
So, let’s see. So this was ’93. The budget that went to the Hill had the revised budget in it. It had the revised total cost number. And so whatever they might have been thinking about, about trading off, was going to be for the following year. Now maybe there was something that was done in background about that, but I didn't know anything about it. Jim Decker might know something about it. But basically what I saw was how upset people on the Science Committee and in the appropriations committees were with the SSC. And it was basically about mounting cost estimates, and not being able to trust the Department of Energy or the high-energy physics community. That’s how I saw it.
Let’s talk a little generally now about your work there. What was the status of the Office of Energy Research within the Department of Energy? Do you feel like by the time you got there, that its status was about where you wanted it to be? Did you feel like you had to raise its profile institutionally?
Hmm! Well, there was the issue—and I think they changed the title of the office from director of the Office of Science to assistant secretary for science, at the end of my term. I think that’s how that—there was concern outside that being a director of the Office of Science was not as good as being an assistant secretary.
And that was always interesting to me, because when it was created, everybody wanted it to be the director of science so it sounded like the director of the National Science Foundation. Nobody realized that within a cabinet-level agency, even if you have an executive-level IV appointed position, you're a director, and so you come at the tail end. You may be the first of the directors, but you're the last of the assistant secretaries. And so always in precedence, you're lower.
But I knew coming in that the things that were going to be on my plate were whatever came after the SSC, finishing and being credible on the facilities that were underway, getting the advanced neutron source started at Oak Ridge. Working with the NIH and the human genome program and the climate change program was also—so that’s kind of what I knew coming in, that were important things. The climate change—the neutron source was important because of Vice President Gore. Because it was still in his head that that was in his district.
[laugh] Once a senator, always a senator.
Right. And then the climate change I knew was going to be an important role for us, within the Clinton administration, and because I knew where Gore was forever and ever on that. And it was also important to me. But that was not important. [laugh] The thing about the genome was that was another really grand, grand vision that we needed to deliver on. And we actually did, by the end of the Clinton administration. I was gone, just slightly, but that was really great.
And that’s really an underappreciated story, too, I think, generally in the literature. The genome project –
The NIH and the biology community have never wanted to acknowledge what happened at DOE. But if Charles DeLisi and then—oh, gosh, David—David Gallis—if he hadn’t—he basically pushed it. He really made it happen. And then Ari kept a lot of things smoothed along—Ari Patrinos—during my time there. I knew that those things were on my plate.
The other things that came along were the Clinton administration really cared about getting something done on the clean energy side. And so finding ways to develop—and on climate-friendly kinds of advancements, trying to develop effective relationships, more effective relationships between the technology programs and the Office of Science was really of interest to me. And I made some minimal kind of progress, here and there. But I paid attention to it. It was very frustrating that we couldn't see more of that when I was at LBNL, because I think there were real opportunities in the battery program and materials, but it was really hard to work between the Office of Science and the technology programs.
That leads me to my next question, which is if you can talk a little bit about—the Office of Energy Research, what was its relationship with the applied R&D programs and the national security programs, generally? Was it front and center in those discussions, or was it more sort of distant?
Well, for the weapons programs, it was often through the labs. We made investments in those weapons labs where we were taking advantage of some kind of capability that was there. So for example, we made investments in Livermore in climate modeling. The Sandia Combustion Research Facility was important to us. At Los Alamos, the spallation source was there, the little spallation source, which the neutron—I forget what it’s called now, but we supported that for non-weapons users. It’s also kind of integrated with some of their own weapons neutron research, too.
I think that part of what’s happening since—I think it started under maybe Bush, Obama. Some of the work that I noticed—and I'm not going to get the words right here—but high-density research, that all started—and that’s a mix between the weapons programs and the Office of Science—some of the heavy ion confinement, inertial confinement fusion, which that was kind of between the weapons program and the non-weapons programs. This quantum information science that’s going on now—I mean, I think they're finding, I think that the weapons program per se is finding more value, and I think this is one of the things that’s a consequence of having an undersecretary for science, that indeed did not happen when I was there.
I should share with you that I spoke a lot about this issue with Ray Orbach.
Ah. Mmhmm. Well, I think things happened more in the Bush—with Ray and with Steve Koonin being where they were. But I felt I had plenty to do. I wasn’t worried. And the Clinton administration—let’s see. You think about what was happening. The weapons program, it wasn’t that Vic Reis and I couldn't talk. The weapons program at that time—this was—the CTBT—the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was signed at the end of the Bush I administration. Vic Reis—we weren’t going to have testing, and he needed—so the strategic—S…Strategic Science—SS—yeah, he had this whole thing about using—recreating, restarting the weapons programs, based on simulation and on low-yield, very low-yield experiments that required really rethinking the three labs.
And so that was what he was focused on. He wasn’t looking for something on the margin. And it wasn’t that we didn't have anything to say to each other, but he had an even bigger set of problems, I’d say, than I did.
What was the office’s responsibility to basic research versus feeding into technology development or addressing broader problems like the environment? Did you see those as competing portfolios in terms of time and resources, or was there room to accomplish progress in all three or even more areas?
Well, hmm. For the most part—let me put it this way. Oh, the other big problem that I had—I'm going back for a moment—was fusion. Fusion has always been a problem, but it was a big problem that I knew I was going to have.
But going back to the question you just posed me—except for big initiatives like human genome, like facilities, the base of your appropriations is pretty—it just goes slowly with—and they don’t like to move money around. They don’t really let you move money between appropriations sub-accounts. So for example, unless I have a big chunk of money, a big initiative that I want to get started, it’s really hard to argue for new money beyond cost of living. That’s an appropriations issue. It’s also something that goes in line with OMB, too.
And so within cost of living—so that means things like the climate change program is usually protected and doesn't take away from starting something grand in basic energy sciences. For example, we were able, by working the interagency process, to get a fairly substantial increase by the end of my time at DOE, for nanoscience and technology, and for the EFRCs. That was new big money that didn't come out of any of the other programs. But that really was working the Energy research centers—Frontier Research Centers.
So I didn't feel—I didn't necessarily feel like I had to make really hard choices between the more what I think of as applied science programs like BER, the Biological Environmental Research programs, and, say, high-energy physics or something like that. And certainly by the time I came back in DOE and especially towards the end—and I think it has been sustained, even though Congress and the appropriators are always itchy about this—that big facilities are part of our nameplate in the Office of Science, and we do them as well or better than any other part of DOE. Even by the end we had gotten over the debacle of the SSC, because we had been building these other programs, the other facilities on schedule and on budget. But anyway, I'm not sure I answered your question there.
Well, there’s a lot there. Just generally, how much interest did the Clinton administration show in DOE science? And what was your relationship with the OMB during your tenure there?
I'm trying to remember. My very best girlfriend, who I met while I was on the Hill, went over to OMB at the beginning of 1979. So I got to know OMB when I was still on the Hill and had relationships with people on the Hill. I knew OMB folks when I was at LBNL. So that was part of the general connections that I maintained in Washington while I was at LBNL. I kept them up when I was in DOE. I believe you really have to work at the lowest level where people have responsibility and had sometimes disagreements but basically pretty good relationships with OMB. They didn't always want to give me the money, but basically it was not a bad relationship. I also had to work with OSTP, particularly wherever there were foreign interactions. So negotiating with the LHC required working with OSTP. Working in fusion was a big interest in OSTP and Department of State.
And I want to ask, are you specifically thinking about Ernie Moniz during this collaboration when he was an OSTP staff member, or you're talking even before his tenure in 1995?
Even before. Because we did the LHC negotiation before Ernie became the assistant director for science at OSTP. M.R.C Greenwood was the first associate director for science. And so we started beginning in ’94, and Ernie wasn’t there until I think maybe the later part, maybe ’95, maybe ’96. So that’s how I remember it.
When Ernie came on board, did that change the way you had interfaced with OSTP?
Not terribly much, as I remember it. Ernie and I knew each other from when I was on the Hill. I think. I think. Is that fair to say? We were both pretty young, then. Maybe not. Maybe I met Ernie when I was at LBNL, at least. Ernie and I knew each other way before the Clinton administration. And so we had run into each other. He ran the Bates Lab when he was pretty young, which was supported by the DOE Nuclear Physics program, and I think I may have run into him toward the end of my time at the Congress. But we knew each other before I was at DOE, and I probably was skeptical on some of the desires from the nuclear physics community. But we respected each other.
Anyway, but yes, I had no problem keeping him in the loop at OSTP. Then he came over to DOE as undersecretary, towards the end of the Clinton administration. He was again from my perspective very engaged and he knew the Office of Science pretty well. He knew the programs. We didn't have much in the way of problems with each other or with our view of how the programs needed to go. And he was very involved. I saw him as very involved with the weapons program, especially the Life Extension Programs (LEP) for specific nuclear weapons. But I saw him as paying a lot of attention to that kind of stuff. And he may have been involved with the technology programs as well. So Ernie and I worked together well.
I'm curious if you ever saw him as a future energy secretary.
I wasn’t surprised, because he was very interested in the energy issues of the Department and experience in the weapons and science side. His breadth of interests was clear from the very beginning. He was OSTP and then undersecretary, so when he popped up after the Nobel Prize winner, Steve Chu, I wasn’t surprised at all. And I thought actually he was better prepared for it than Steve Chu.
Who in your staff—and you can include yourself in this, if that’s relevant—was most engaged with dealing with Congress? And what kind of direction did you give in terms of the kinds of issues that you thought were most important to emphasize on the Hill?
Obviously I'm asking this within the context of probably no predecessor had your level of direct experience in terms of—
—how things actually worked. And so I’d be very interested to hear how you put that experience to most productive use in this particular role.
I would say that most of the people were afraid to go up to the Hill, and especially to appropriators. Not so much the authorizers. So if the science committee called—I would let people like Jim Decker go, who was always cautious and never made a mistake. The people that I trusted particularly to talk about programs were people like Pat Dehmer—my associate directors—Pat Dehmer, Ari Patrinos, , Bill Hess, and Ann Davies. The high-energy and nuclear physics program were led by John O’Fallon and Dave Hendry.
I mostly would go to appropriations. I basically didn't want anybody hearing something from appropriations that I didn't hear with my own ears, too. It wasn’t that I didn't trust them, but I wanted to know what the appropriations staff were saying, and especially, as I put it, since their stock and trade is intimidation. And I probably was not quite so blunt as what I am saying here, but I would tell my DOE staff to be prepared for that intimidation. It’s part of the way they do their job for their members, because everybody comes to them with their hand out, and so they need to put you off. They need to be able to hold you to account, and they need you to be afraid. And they deliver. [laugh] Believe me. And after that, you will be afraid.
So I worked very hard to have straightforward relationships with them. I told my staff never to lie, because they'll catch you up, and it will be to your disadvantage. But for the most part, I really was—I went—if people needed to go to appropriations, if the program needed to go to appropriations, I went. There were some cases in terms of testimony before the committee—if it were very programmatic, like on climate change, Ari would go. And that’s the sort of thing that I remember. I would let Ari and the genome program manager go on genome. And it was those things that they were generally interested in, more than high-energy physics or—there were a couple of hearings on fusion, where I got reamed by James Sensenbrenner. I thought that was what my job was supposed to be. I was supposed to take it, not put the regular employees on the spot.
What was the impact of the 1995 shutdown? Did that really mess things up for you?
Golly! I don’t even remember it.
We've had so many shutdowns since, right? [laugh]
Was it over Christmas or something like that?
I think that’s right. I can Google it, but I think that’s about right.
It wasn’t very long.
But I guess that’s your answer. If you don’t really remember—
Right. It wasn’t very long.
There were, around this time, proposals to dissolve the Department of Energy, if you recall that. I don’t know how hairbrained they were, but I wonder if that was on your radar at the time.
Well, remember, this was—I wasn’t worried about it. Because the appropriators weren’t interested in it. This was the first year of the new Republican Congress. This was when they were all feeling their oats. But it didn't have much of an impact on personal life inside the agency or programmatically. And this situation was—they were going after—this was another example of where on the House side particularly, at that time, the House Republicans wanted to increase fossil and nuclear, and they wanted to decimate renewables and efficiency. But they didn't mind science. They liked science. They liked basic research. Republicans, conservatives, at that time—it was OK if it didn't have anything to do with the economy. That was OK to spend money on. So we weren’t so much of an issue.
I know we touched a little bit on SSC, but I want to go back to it from the perspective of the HEP community. In the wake of the SSC decision, what did you see as the impact to the HEP community? Was this an existential problem? Was this a time for retooling, for reconsidering new endeavors? How did you see things at this juncture?
Well, I saw a near-term and a long-term problem. I saw the near-term problem was—but all of these were long-term problems, because remember, this was like ’93, right? ’93. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC} wasn’t coming on until 2007at the earliest. And then there was a delay, but it was probably post 2010 before it came on. So that was not exactly short term. But the near-term part was getting commitments to US researchers and our engineers for magnets, for detectors. Keeping the university students and faculty at work in the DOE and NSF supported institutions, this is what needed to keep on going.
So we needed to get underway, and we did, I think, in January of ’94. And because we had to involve OSTP and State—especially State, because CERN was an international facility itself, so State was still very involved—I let Jim do a lot of the details and the initial work. But I was mostly wanting to make sure that the CERN and DOE folks had early confidence that we were going to help to move this and to get commitments and to make our commitments.
So the other thing that was novel about this was we brought in Bob Eisenstein from NSF. The Nuclear Science Advisory Committee had been a joint committee with NSF for a very long time. And it was at about this time that we made a commitment that we were going to start to do integrated planning between DOE and NSF with HEPAP and make it a joint committee, not just a DOE committee. So that was kind of first up.
But I had long-term institutional concerns about Fermi and Stanford/SLAC. I knew from conversations with Burt Richter, and with what I knew about putting the new injector into SSRL—the idea of the upgrade for—and then we had begun to talk about the pre-electron laser based light source. It was clear to me that there was a future at Stanford. But I was worried about Fermi. And in a sense I still am, but I think they—it’s interesting that they've got the computer and the underground labs. But it’s not American to not be in control.
[laugh] That’s great. I think that’s the tweet. For when we publish this interview, I think I have the tweet all set for the big Martha Krebs interview that we're about to publish. I like that.
Oh my gosh. Are you going to publish this?
Oh, this is going in the Niels Bohr Library. Absolutely. For sure.
So Martha, let me ask about the Drell report, 1994. What did you see as the impacts of the Drell report?
I don’t remember what the Drell report is.
That’s fine. Then you know what? If it’s not in your memory, then we're going to move right along. Let’s talk about the decision about joining the LHC at CERN. I jump to this now because it’s not—the idea that it’s not American to be in charge—
It’s not American to be not in control.
Right, exactly. So obviously purely scientifically, it’s got to be a no-brainer to join in with CERN with the SSC. I mean, there’s no other choice, right?
But from the political perspective, from the America perspective, was it hard? Maybe not for you personally, but institutionally?
It wasn’t hard for OSTP or—there were budgetary issues. We needed a strong, firm commitment and agreement from NSF and DOE of how we were going to carry this out. We had to get it cleared with OMB. We had to get it explained and agreed to with the appropriators. And so I don’t remember any—[laugh] I do remember a conversation with Joe—oh, who’s the guy—hmm—he’s the congressman from Texas who had the SSC in his district. Joe Barton.
Barton. Right, right.
Yes. And I remember Joe Barton had spent part of his early time on the Hill on the Science Committee, and I knew him. I was there when he first came to the Hill. But in 1993, he was on Energy and Commerce at the time, and he was a subcommittee chair. I can’t remember of which subcommittee. But I went to visit him to tell him that we were—at the end and when we were going to be doing this negotiation, or we were in some part of the progress of the negotiation, I went to visit him. And he told me, “As long as I'm here, we will never build another high-energy physics accelerator, unless—because I've got a hole in Texas that you can fill.” But that’s actually not a direct quote, but it’s close. But that was the intent. So we had to do a lot of letting people know. And nobody wanted to kill the program.
Except the people who didn't fund it.
The appropriators just didn't trust that the community was building this one right, and with the right cost. But they didn't want to kill the program.
Let’s talk about the collapse of support for the Advanced Neutron Source, and then the pivot towards the spallation neutron source. What was your involvement in that?
Very substantial. This was meant to be the crowning facility—this was what Al Trivelpiece—that was the future of Oak Ridge, in some respects. And it was also going to be a major challenge because it was a multibillion-dollar—it was going to be a multibillion-dollar facility, so it was a big charge. And when it became clear that in some respects neither the administration—I don’t remember when that decision was made. Do you have that on the timeline?
No, I don’t, actually. I could definitely look this up.
It was reasonably early in my tenure, maybe in ’94, maybe by ’95. But it became clear that we were not going to be able to site it. We were not going to be able to get it through all the reviews that needed to happen, and then maybe not even get it passed on the Hill. What we decided to do—and I believe all of this, we had these conversations with OMB, with OSTP—we decided that we would build the spallation neutron source at Oak Ridge. That was one that, from our perspective, had been identified in this report that I told you about earlier, and it was nominally to advance and replace the little spallation source at Los Alamos. And it was going to keep us competitive in neutron science.
And the reality was that it was going to require participation by multiple laboratories for different components of the source. So this was not something that could be done by Oak Ridge alone. They did not have all of the technical capability to design and build everything. So it really required a commitment from the other laboratories. And one of the laboratories in particular that was needed—in this case, it wasn’t something like it was just going to be the non-weapons laboratories, because Oak Ridge—excuse me, not Oak Ridge—Los Alamos was the only lab that had—and Argonne also had a spallation neutron source. And so we needed their involvement, especially with the injector, the creation of the neutron beam.
And so that was probably my challenge, was sort of wrangling the lab directors to be citizens, when an important lab had been sort of left up in the air. So they were all great, and we basically parceled out—well, amongst them, they knew sort of what was needed. And then they basically assembled a senior team that would better define how we moved forward.
When the Brookhaven high-flux beam reactor, when there was that leak, what was your involvement in the decision to shut it down? Were there questions about could it be saved? Was this time to retire this anyway? How did that play out?
Hmm! That was another exciting—let’s see. This was ’97, I think. Wow. And Federico Peña was secretary of energy at the time. I'm trying to remember. We had Hazel, Secretary Peña, and then I can’t remember—who was the last—oh, Bill Richardson. Right. Peña was very active in this, and it was really his decision. At that point in time, the environmental waste management program had been created after Rocky Flats and all of this other stuff in the Bush I administration. They had pulled off a lot of the cleanup activities from the nuclear weapons program and then created some new programming for cleanup at the non-weapons sites, too.
And almost all of the non-weapons laboratories had some kind of cleanup to be done. Not all super urgent. But because of the reactor and some of the other materials, I think because it was a former air base, Brookhaven had its share of cleanup money from EM at the time. And it didn't necessarily have the greatest reputation. I went up on one of our annual long-range development planning meetings we had—and I had a meeting with the BNL environmental clean up managers. And I raised some questions, and I was critical, I have to say. I was concerned about what was going on. And so I had some worries about this part of the BNL’s programs.
After the leak became known and all of the hoopla that went on up at Brookhaven, most of that was handled out of the front office, especially the interaction with the press. I was called down to the office by the Secretary. And Jim Decker and I, and the folks out in Germantown who were—because I think we talked with the reactor folks, and we talked with the people who were doing lab management, and the question was, “Is this problem enough to remove the contractor?” And I didn't want to do it. Although I had reservations, I didn't think this was the right thing for the lab. But when I went in to see the secretary, he was firm. He had already made a decision. There was no question.
And I have to say I really respected him for this decision. It was not an easy decision. And I personally came to see Peña, among all the secretaries I served, as somebody who was really an experienced public manager. As mayor of Denver, and having watched before—he was basically mayor when Rocky Flats was invaded by the FBI and whoever else. And so he had his own set of experiences that shaped his tolerance for how people should be taking care of their environmental responsibilities.
Staying in Brookhaven, what do you have to say about the relativistic heavy ion collider during this time? Were there ever questions about shutting that down as well before it was completed?
No. It wasn’t going to be the same kind of risk as the—it wasn’t a reactor, so people saw that differently. We didn't talk about—not inside the department, not from outside did that become an issue.
What was your sense of the fusion community, especially with regard to pulling support together for ITER?
That was my big cross.
That one hit home for you?
Well, fusion is such a difficult thing. It’s beautiful science, tough engineering, a field that has so many—I mean, plasma physics is what I'm talking about here—has so many opportunities to contribute, whether it’s in atmospheric or just outside the atmosphere science, in astronomy, all of this. And DOE has the obligation and responsibility to sort of be part of the support for that field. But it has been going now for 70 years, and it’s really hard to sell.
In particular, I think at that time—and I forget when this was exactly—but the Science Committee had really—it may have been after the Republicans came in and they were looking for something to cut. And ITER was—stopping ITER, stopping our participation in ITER was their target. The appropriators found it easy to give them what they wanted. So we lost it.
Moving toward the end of your tenure, can you talk a little bit about the National Nanotechnology Initiative? This began coming together near the end of your tenure.
I'm curious if you had a founding vision for this. In terms of looking ahead to the next steps in your career, I wonder how formative this particular initiative was for you, thinking about what your next move was.
Well, it made me hopeful about the next move. Pat Dehmer came to work for me. I consider one of my accomplishments as the director of the Office of Science was to identify Pat Dehmer and to get her to come to DOE. I don’t remember precisely, but we were talking not about nano, but about some kind of area for condensed matter science. Some way of striking out in a new area for BES and solid state science, condensed matter, whatever. We talked about sort of mesoscale—so between microscopic or atomic and bigger scale materials. And she worked with—if you look at the time back there, there was some effort by BESAC—the Advisory Committee—to sort of start mapping some of those things out. And we were looking about a way to try and put something in the budget. Not big, though.
But Pat, because of her connections in NSF, knew what—oh gosh, what’s his name, but the guy who helped create the NNI—and she said, “There’s an opportunity.” She came to me about the opportunity and I said, “Oh, great! Let’s get our piece of it.” [laugh] And so that’s all I did. And then she just did the rest. She made it happen. Because basically it was probably about the middle of ’99 or spring—we were starting to do the budget. We were starting to do the budget internally. And she came with this information. And it was not only NSF, but—what is that guy’s name? He was working this problem in the NSTC, and in the interagency business, too. And so that was perfect. And I thought, “Great.” And then they got it.
When the office was renamed from Energy Research to the Office of Science, was this a non-substantive sort of reorg kind of thing, or did it really indicate that the office was expanding its purview?
I mean, if you look at your career there, it’s obvious that you weren’t just doing energy research, right?
So the name had sort of outgrown itself. But I wonder if self-consciously the renaming sort of indicated something beyond what had already been happening without the name change.
The renaming really happened from the Senate appropriations. It was Pete Domenici and Proctor Jones.
Domenici—he’s all over the place. It’s remarkable.
Yes. Right. So Pete Domenici and Proctor Jones, and—no, not Proctor. The guy—it was Pete’s staffer. Young man at the time. Not so young anymore. Alex Flint. And they first of all wanted to make the position officially an assistant secretary among assistant secretaries, so that there was no doubt that we were on par. And I think he wanted to acknowledge the fact that DOE was a force in science, not just for energy research. And I think—
Who needed to hear that message? Other government agencies? The public at large? What was the intended audience for that?
I think maybe even—I believe this was after the House had changed, so I think some of it was the new Republican House majority, and maybe whoever would come later in the department itself. Because secretaries never know just what they're getting. Energy secretaries. Each of them. Some of them are more surprised than others about what falls into their laps. But they don’t know that they're one of the biggest basic science programs in the federal government. Most of them have not—they don’t sign up for being secretary of energy because of that. Ernie and Steve Chu were probably among the few who did.
So now let’s go slightly to the personal side. Why did you step down in 1999? Why not serve out through the rest of Clinton’s second term?
I was ready. I needed to start changing my perspective on what I was doing. I had served long enough. Al Trivelpiece was my model; I wanted to serve at least as long as he did. You can do a lot in 6 years.
And I had. And it was just the right time for me, I think. And this all gave me a chance to look around. I worked for a while—
Did you also want to get out of Washington? Was that part of it also?
Oh, definitely. I do not want to disrespect people who are in the shadow cabinet, because these people are—it’s really important. I was really glad that I was able to get a job in California, because I learned so much about a very different place. I would not have had a good time being at some other place after having been in the middle of things like I was on the Hill. I knew that once I left DOE, I wanted to be someplace else. And going back to California was good, because two of our kids were there. We’d be closer to them. I knew the UC system. I thought that would be enough. But the UCLA job was really different. And it was a collaboration between UCLA and UC Santa Barbara.
So you split your time equally? Is that how that worked out?
Well, we lived in L.A., which we loved. And I went to Santa Barbara for a few days every other week or so. This whole arrangement was—basically, Gray Davis wanted to invest—I forget exactly how much it was overall, but it was I think less than a billion dollars, but it was mostly for facilities. It was for the UC campuses. And it was meant to support intercampus, interdisciplinary work. And I'm not going to get this completely right, but there were a couple of biology, a couple of computational, and then one of the biology was kind of a nano—also included nano. And then the UCLA, UC Santa Barbara one was the nano—CNSI—California NanoScience Institute.
NanoSystems, right. And it was—
Let me ask you this, Martha. Was your decision here—this is something I wanted to return to. To go all the way back to Catholic University and the PhD, that’s possibly an academic trajectory. It’s possibly a research trajectory. It’s unlikely that it’s a policy trajectory. So I wonder, in terms of where your career ultimately went, when you went back for CNSI, if this was an opportunity to get back more into the research and the academic environment side of things?
No. I was meant to be—this is more of what I think you would call an executive director kind of a job. I was supposed to make the trains run on time. Be technical enough to be able to help people identify like target opportunities. The thing about this that I don’t think any of us quite understood when we got started was you were going to get—each of the campuses were getting some kind of facility out of this, but they were not getting research money. And so the need for really going after research money was not clear when the whole solicitation was moving along. And they brought me in sort of in the middle of—not at the very beginning, but sort of when they had gotten first reviews back, and there had been some concern about whether the faculty members had enough management experience.
So I came in on the management side of things. And I saw this as an opportunity to keep working within the UC system, which I valued and admired, and to come back to California, even if we were 400 or 500 miles away from our old place. And I thought I had a lot of experiences and capabilities that would be valuable for them. It was not a long-term thing. And then Art Rosenfeld, one of the last things he did was commissioner at the California Energy Commission. And they had an applied research program that was at I think about 120 million and later became close to $200 million that Art didn't think was doing the right stuff. And this combined the policy with the management and the program development stuff that I really liked. So that led us back to Northern California.
How forward-looking was the California Energy Commission? Was this an opportunity to really—we're in the 21st century now. Are we moving beyond fossil fuels? How central was that to the initiative and perhaps your attraction to joining?
Well, California—let’s see. I don’t know where they exist right now, but they started really progressive—and by that I mean, year by year, or every three years by three years, regularly advancing energy efficiency standards.
We're talking across the board. We're talking about fuel efficiency. We're talking about home efficiency. Everything.
Well, in fuel efficiency, yes, they basically—there the energy—excuse me—CalEPA, they've been doing energy—fuel efficiency standards. But I'm talking—the California Energy Commission—actually this program is funded out of a set-aside for the electric and the natural gas utilities. So the research that you're doing is really associated with utility-related kinds of technologies, both in front of the meter and behind the meter. And so they put in standards that basically required high-efficiency windows, double glazing, triple glazing, in new homes, beginning in the ‘90s.
This is very applied research, so they want to see things in the market, in demonstration, in two to five years. So it’s not basic research at all. It’s very, very different. And so that part was really interesting. The other thing I will say is I came to the Energy Commission shortly after Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected.
I remember how excited he was over hydrogen fuel cells for cars.
Well, with Hummers, right?
Yes. But, what he also did was working with the legislature, a predominantly Democratic legislature, he basically put in place a plan, and delivered on the first part of the plan, for reducing greenhouse gases in California. And everything that we are doing now in California was envisioned within those plans. And the California Energy Commission had the research dollars. We actually had more money than CalEPA did, for this kind of research. And so these funds have been spent in conjunction with the planning exercise that was put in place by Schwarzenegger and his people.
And it’s actually very exciting, I think, to see what has been happening in California, on climate change. And this research funding—there are some issues about—the federal government at least has—it has a part of its procurement code that reflects the fact that when you order R&D, you don’t necessarily know what you're getting. The state of California thinks that R&D is no different than pencils and computers, and that’s a little frustrating.
How is it that Pennsylvania beckons you back to the East Coast? How did that come about?
Well, that was another one of these things. I had just retired from UC Davis, which is where I spent the last three years or so. I had some money from the Energy Commission to continue helping them, but I also worked with the—the state of California has put quite a bit of energy, R&D money, into UC Davis, and so I worked with some of their folks. But I just retired because it was—the numbers were right. And Penn State was looking for somebody to get the building efficiency hub on the right path. Steve Chu set up five energy hubs with five year grants subject to renewal.. And Penn State with a big collaboration had won the building efficiency one. It was focused on small- to medium-sized commercial buildings. And they had placed it at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. And they had gotten into trouble.
As a sidebar, my husband and I have been going back and forth between California and the East Coast since our last child left home – sometimes together and sometimes separately. When I went back for DOE, I was back there for a few months by myself, and then he came back, and he got a job at DOD. In 2009, he was nominated as OSTP Associate Director for National Security, working for John Holdren. I stayed in California working for the Energy Commission and UC Davis. He stayed for a year and a half in an apartment downtown so that we had a wonderful time exploring DC whenever I would visit. When I got the Penn State opportunity, it wasn’t clear that it would be long term. And we wanted to stay in Sacramento in the long term. California at the time. He came back often and we explored Philly, which is truly a great and historical city.
The thing for Penn State was really interesting. And just to go back, it would have been natural when I was leaving high school—if I hadn’t had to go to a Catholic school, in my mind, Penn State would have been the place to go. I mean, it was in central Pennsylvania. It was where a lot of kids in my neighborhood actually went. And so it was interesting to be part of it.
That’s great. Well, Martha, this has been a marathon packed full of unbelievable levels of detail. I'm so thrilled we were able to do this. I want to ask you two final questions. One is broadly retrospective, and then one is going to be looking toward the future. First, as I alluded to before, you did experience something of an interesting career turn when you first got that opportunity in the House. So I wonder, throughout all of your policy positions, in what ways were you best served with your academic background in physics? It’s always nice on the resume, but in what ways substantively were you most empowered by being able to draw on your academic expertise in physics, for any of these positions?
Well, there’s a certain kind of precision, an appreciation of precision and the ability to distinguish between precision and accuracy that you get from studying probably almost any science and engineering discipline, but physics takes you into really abstract realms sometimes that at least I haven't seen in the other disciplines. That I think really helps you understand when you're seeing real novelty, and appreciate that, and know that’s a direction that needs to be supported. It also helps you to think in different ways, from a perspective of logic, so that you can be critical when you're faced with some of these emotional sorts of things that you get faced with, when you're dealing with politicians.
But the truth is, my scientific background has helped me when I'm trying to understand the genome, climate science and what do you support, how do you explain it to somebody. So what’s the important things to talk to with a person who has to make a decision. I would not have been as able to be successful in these different responsibilities if I hadn’t had the kind of science training that I had.
And I love science. I mean, let me see. Right here, on the floor of my office, here’s the latest edition of Nature, and Science. And I pretty well get through not the articles per se but the Perspectives section. And I can still recognize, “Oh, this is really good” as opposed—and I wouldn't have a sense of when something was breaking ground without having done the physics I did.
Martha, looking ahead, in all of the insight and experience that you've garnered over your long and varied career, science policy is facing so many challenges right now—coronavirus, climate, energy, all of these things. What do you think are the most important things that scientists need to be engaged in, both within their discipline and in interfacing with the public at large, that’s going to put the United States on the best possible footing for the next ten, 10, 30 years?
Mm! Well. Oh, golly.
That’s why it’s the last question, Martha. It’s the big one!
[laugh] Yes, yes. my husband and I have both been going through piles and piles of stuff. The first work on climate modeling was supported in the Department of Energy—
—by Senator Bennett Johnston. So we've had that with us for 42 years. And, of course, you go back to Roger Revelle, the measurements out in the Pacific, to the mid-1950s, so we've had it with us for 60 years, 65 years. And none of the things you mentioned are new. These are problems that in some way, shape, or form are going to be with us. They are problems that relate to fundamental human needs.
So you can pursue science, and some people really are able to pursue science without getting distracted by the larger human frame in which we exist. But the people that are going to be making these decisions for the most part—you don’t have too many Steve Chus or Ernie Monizes—are going to be people who are not scientists. And so you really have to learn to communicate and care about the human issues that they respond to. And you have to be able to put the purposes of science, the contributions of science, in those kinds of contexts. And that’s not easy. We're not necessarily trained to do it.
And when I was discussing earlier about the insight that the members of the House are always thinking of the 750,000 people that they represent—and they have a way to average that view. Sometimes aided by people who contribute to them in their district, or who contribute to them from PACs, but they are always making some kind of a—they're doing their own kind of averaging for how they're going to vote. For whatever your issue is, you have to at least figure out how some of these members are making those averages, so that you can talk to them better, and have them value what you do, and value what science needs to be done. So, that’s as good as I can do.
Martha, that’s more than good. I really appreciate our time together. This has been absolutely phenomenal, a wealth of information. And this is a very important perspective to get into the historical record. So I really want to thank you for your time.
Sure. Well, thank you. It was really interesting. Not what I expected at all. Well, some of it was. Some of it was.