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The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has its sights set on the Department of Energy and its national laboratories.
Somehow, the people at POGO got their hands on a leaked Department of Defense memo, which reflects DOE’s refusal to downsize, despite the end of the Cold War. It presents the arguments of a number of experts who have said DOE’s laboratories should downsize, rather than expand their mission. It also compiles evidence of DOE’s ongoing efforts to circumvent the congressional appropriations process.
POGO investigator Pete Stockton said he could not disclose how the organization got the memo.
But he did say, “it’s quite damaging for DOE.”
POGO Executive director Danielle Brian drafted a letter to high-ranking U.S. House and Senate members last week, pleading with Congress to rein in DOE. The letter was sent before LANL director Charlie McMillan and his counterparts at Livermore and Sandia testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Wednesday. None of the senators asked a question concerning the leaked DOD memo or the POGO letter.
Here is the first paragraph of the letter.
“Since the end of the Cold War, the Department of Energy (DOE) has ignored calls from a past Administration, a couple of congressional agencies, and several non-governmental entities to downsize its sprawling nuclear weapons laboratories to a scale that reflects the realities of the 21st century. Now it appears that even the Pentagon wants to blow the whistle on the rogue relationship between DOE and its labs. POGO has obtained a leaked Department of Defense (DoD) memo from November 2011 that details waste and redundancies within the DOE’s privately operated lab system, and details evidence of DOE’s ongoing efforts to circumvent the congressional appropriations process.”
NNSA spokesperson Josh McConaha said, “We do not comment on specific internal reports, and have no comment on the memo.”
McConaha, however, did say that “NNSA is an organization that has continuously improved the way we do business, and we’re going to keep looking for ways to operate more efficiently, maintain effective oversight, and work as one NNSA. We’re proud of our leadership in developing a new vision for interagency strategic cooperation and our efforts to improve governance at our national laboratories.”
McConaha then said the NNSA is working to reshape the relationship between the labs, sites and headquarters.
“We are actively working toward a series of management reforms intended to both improve the way we do business and increase the efficiency of our operations.
“We created an Acquisition and Project Management organization to help institutionalize our commitment to improving the way we do business, we are improving our business processes by implementing the ISO 9001 international standard and pursuing directives reform, and we are looking toward the future through a workforce analysis, and improving efficiency through consolidated contracts.”
The letter went on to quote the DOD memo, which was written by Don DeYoung of the Laboratory Joint Analysis Team (U.S. Navy) to John Fischer, the chair of the analysis team, that raised the following concerns.
• DOE labs cost more than other labs. As the internal memo notes, the prestigious JASON science and technology advisory panel found in 2009 that Work For Others (WFO) agreements at DOE laboratories are “more expensive per FTE (full-time equivalent) than elsewhere.” The internal memo further notes that DOE laboratories cost, according to the non-profit Stimson Center, “an average of two to three times more” than other industrial firms. Fees paid to two of the DOE laboratories, according to the memo, “have swelled” by 850 and 600 percent after their conversion from non-profit to for-profit operation.”
• DOE’s refusal to downsize contrasts with the DOD’s history of downsizing. As the memo notes, unlike the DOD, the DOE has chosen to “maintain its ‘oversized’ Cold War infrastructure.” By contrast, the memo notes that the DOD “reduced excess capacity within its laboratory system,” by conducting five Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) rounds from 1988 to 2005, closing 21 laboratories.
• Do DOE labs promote scientific excellence? The quality of science at DOD labs remains excellent despite the downsizing, according to the memo, which uses DOD membership in the prestigious National Academies as a metric. For instance, as of December 2010, the memo counted 10 National Academies members out of the DOD’s Naval Research Laboratory workforce of 2,500. By contrast, the memo found only 15 National Academies members among the DOE’s three nuclear laboratories’ total workforce of 27,000. The memo also cites a nuclear culture expert, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who notes that the contractor-run management at Los Alamos National Laboratory “focuses more on personal bonuses than on scientific achievement.”
• DOE is trying to circumvent the existing merit-based competitive funding process. The memo includes a May 2011 DOD and DOE Science and Technology Governance Plan, which notes that “the strategic relationship between DOD and DOE should commit to a stable and long-term vision,” calling for an annual cycle of planning in which the two departments evaluate which DOD work will be performed though WFO agreements at the DOE’s National Laboratories. In other words, the labs would get a steady stream of funding outside congressional appropriations or competitively awarded funds. The memo raises the concern that, with this interagency agreement, DOD and DOE are “bypassing the services’ competitive funding with an institutional entitlement.” As the memo stresses, “When millions of R&D dollars are at stake, the public must be confident that the government’s funds are awarded on merit, not steered by influence.”
• Previous administrations believed the DOE lab complex is “bigger and more expensive than it should be.” As the memo notes, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report in 1995 that found that “the DOE laboratory system is bigger and more expensive than it needs to be” and that there is “excessive duplication of capabilities among the labs.” Furthermore, the report noted, “In part, [the laboratory system] reflects political considerations that inhibit lab consolidations and restructuring.”
• DOE lab directors’ lobbying has pushed lab funding above Cold War levels. Despite past White House support for DOE laboratory downsizing, the Obama Administration seems to be heading in the opposite direction. According to the memo, the DOE labs have undertaken an apparent lobbying campaign in recent years, pushing to dramatically increase their funding:
“The DOE’s push to expand the mission of its national labs flies in the face of all reason—both from a strategic standpoint and a fiscal one,” said Stockton, who specializes in nuclear security and safety. “When the U.S. is locked into reducing its nuclear arsenal, it makes no sense to be expanding the DOE’s nuclear weapons production facilities.”