Government ownership and operation of the national labs does not work well. The Department of Energy must become a "world class customer" of the national laboratories and pay for results without telling the labs how to do things.
This is one of the principle messages of the report by the Task Force on Alternative Futures for the National Laboratories. Better known as the Galvin Report--for Task Force chair Robert Galvin, former head of the Motorola company--the 60-page document is the result of a 10-month study commissioned by Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary.
Touching on a variety of issues regarding the roles of the laboratories in science and engineering, national security, environmental cleanup, and the economy, the report makes no recommendations about the possible closure of specific labs.
"We do have a general view that all of the national laboratories should be subjected to a regular process of comparative validation ... to judge options for closure, consolidation, and even expansion of programmatic activities and facilities," the report states.
The Task Force was most critical about the issue of "governance and organization," calling for an alternative structure that gives the labs greater independence from DOE. It said the concept of GOCOs--Government Owned-Contractor Operated--laboratories has steadily evolved into a system of GOGOs--Government Owned-Government Operated facilities.
"It is the Task Force's position that top-down, command and control bureaucracies are counterproductive for these laboratories. Something really substantial has to be done soon or the vitality of the laboratories will founder."
The Task Force recommended that the laboratories be "corporatized" into a private-sector style of management. One proposal called for the creation of a not-for-profit R&D corporation to oversee the national lab system. This corporation would be governed by a Board of Trustees consisting primarily of distinguished scientists and engineers and senior executives from industry who would be appointed by the President of the United States.
Galvin's Task Force praised the research role of the laboratories as "an essential, fundamental cornerstone for continuing leadership by the United States." It also noted that technological progress often demands "extraordinarily sophisticated multidisciplinary teams using sophisticated instruments and tools" and that this demand justifies the existence of the national laboratories.
However, the Task Force expressed concern that "most citizens do not know enough about the laboratories" and that the labs too often get typecast on the basis of a few highly publicized discoveries. Recommendations called for DOE to strengthen its efforts in fundamental science and engineering, and improve the integration of its applied energy and basic energy research programs.
The Task Force also called on DOE to establish "clear mission statements" for the labs that can be used for budget decisions and long-term strategic planning, and to establish "lead laboratories" and "centers for excellence."
Regarding technology transfer, the Task Force said the national labs should concentrate their efforts on industries and technologies that contribute directly to primary DOE missions. Otherwise, the report states, "DOE will allocate public funds and the technical and human resources of the laboratories in unfruitful ways."
In her initial response to the Galvin Report, Secretary O'Leary said: "We welcome the Task Force's bullish stance on DOE's fundamental science mission and we share the view that energy and environmental R&D at the labs must be more closely integrated."
Commenting on criticisms of DOE "micromanagement," the Secretary said, "The Department concurs that the existing system of management of the laboratories is costly, bureaucratic, and inefficient. DOE orders are excessive, redundant, and vague. We are eager to work with the labs, Congress, the GAO and others to achieve dramatic improvements in the cost-performance of these institutions, while also meeting environmental, safety, health, and fiscal accountability requirements established by statute."
The bottom line, said Secretary O'Leary: "I welcome the Task Force's report and am heartened by their strong validation of the R&D functions of DOE and the national labs."