Panel kicks off probe of national labs’ effectiveness

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 21, 2014

With the Energy Department’s national laboratories system under siege from critics, an independent panel today launched a review of the 17 federal energy labs.

The Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories kicked off its first public meeting this morning at a daylong meeting at DOE’s headquarters at the James V. Forrestal Building in Washington, D.C. The new panel — which consists of nine members selected by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — is hearing presentations today from Capitol Hill staffers, members of the National Laboratory Directors Council and the public.

The panel’s task: to determine whether the national labs are efficiently and effectively doing their jobs.

The commission will conduct a two-part study of the labs, with the first phase due for completion next February, DOE has said. Congress mandated the commission in the fiscal 2014 appropriations bill.

The commission has been asked to determine whether the labs are aligned with DOE’s strategic priorities, have clear and balanced missions that aren’t redundant, can meet energy and national security challenges, are properly sized, and can support other federal agencies. The panel has also been tasked with determining whether there are opportunities to more effectively and efficiently use the labs’ capabilities, including potential consolidation and realignment.

In May, Moniz announced his picks for the panel, which is co-chaired by Jared Cohon, president emeritus and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and T.J. Glauthier, president of TJG Energy Associates LLC (E&ENews PM, May 20).

“The Energy Department’s national laboratories are a leading force in driving U.S. scientific and technological innovation and advancing the department’s science, energy, environmental and national security missions,” Moniz said when he announced the commission’s members. “I want to thank the commission members for their expertise and look forward to working with them to ensure we leverage the national laboratories’ unique capabilities to fulfill our missions.”

DOE and the labs have been criticized for creating too many bureaucratic barriers to promoting the spread of innovation and technology, especially in partnerships with the private sector.

In Congress, a bipartisan, bicameral effort has been launched to reform management of the national laboratories. Legislation in the House and Senate to overhaul the labs is partly in response to a report last year from the Center for American Progress, the Heritage Foundation and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation that criticized management and goals of the national labs as “outdated, inflexible, and weakly connected to the marketplace” (E&E Daily, July 17).