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DOE Labs Commission Holds First Meeting

A commission created last year by Congress to review the effectiveness of the nation’s 17 energy laboratories held its first meeting in mid-July.

CRENEL, short for Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories, is somewhat behind schedule—its members were announced in May, long after Congress’s initial deadline of January 1—but the initial sit-down offered hope that the Department of Energy will finally do something about its wasteful laboratory system.

President of Taxpayers for Common Sense Ryan Alexander attended the meeting and summarized it for U.S. News & World Report

The public gathering opened with a statement from Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. According to Alexander, he told the group “he sees the commission as providing a strategic view of how the labs and the DOE work together to advance the missions of five issues: nuclear security, energy, core science enterprise, remediation and major parts of the science and technology enterprise. He asked the commissioners to think strategically about what DOE needs to accomplish.”

The initial meeting also included a discussion with staff members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development about what the initial goal of creating the commission was. The commission was established via mandate in this fiscal year’s DOE spending bill, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2014.

Alexander listed five major issues mentioned by the staff that she believes must be addressed to cut wasteful spending by the laboratories:

1. DOE labs have had the same structure for 50 years. There are now 17 DOE laboratories. If the commission can’t agree on recommendations for consolidations of facilities or management efficiencies, Congress needs to know what alternatives were considered.
2. Revisit what the labs do and articulate why that still needs or does not need to be done.
3. Think big and worry less about the minutiae.
4. Think about long-term efficiencies.
5. The DOE mission has changed over time. The labs have served us well, but will they still be competitive for the next 50 years as the nuclear stockpile continues to shrink?

With CRENEL, the Energy Department is following in the footsteps of the Defense Department’s BRAC process. BRAC, or Base Closure and Realignment Commission, is tasked with reviewing and recommending closures of unnecessary military bases. The DOE Inspector General has suggested the implementation of a BRAC-like system on multiple occasions, and the Project On Government Oversight has been suggesting it since 2001. Although CRENEL’s formation happened more than a decade later, POGO is hopeful that the commission will finally bring much-needed improvements to the DOE’s wasteful laboratory system.

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman At the time of publication Avery Kleinman was the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Nuclear Weapons Complex Oversight

Authors: Avery Kleinman

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