Championing Responsible National Security Policy

Commission on DOE Labs Looks at Interagency Work

A commission to review the country’s 17 Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories met for the third time last week to discuss interagency work.

The Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories, or CRENEL, was established last year as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2014. The nine commissioners are charged with examining each lab’s mission to ensure there aren’t redundancies, and to ultimately determine if there are any opportunities to realign or consolidate the labs to ensure efficiency.

In the first meeting, staff members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development discussed their goal for the commission; the second meeting took a look back at previous commission reports and heard from representatives of the three lab groups: weapons labs, energy development labs, and science labs.

Last week the commission met for the third time to hear from representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, and the FBI on their use of DOE laboratories. An overview of the interagency work revealed that 16 percent of the DOE labs budget comes from “Work for Others” agreements with other departments.

Representatives from each of the other departments discussed notable projects completed at DOE labs as well as their general impressions of the lab system. Each department mentioned the fact that DOE labs, as a rule, cost more than working with other labs but that the capabilities and background knowledge makes them worth the extra cost.

Jamie Johnson, a representative from the Department of Homeland Security, listed several of the issues surrounding working with DOE labs, including: management (especially within the weapons labs), collaboration, coordination, and communication across the labs. He cited competition between the labs as a blockade toward better coordination and communication, though the Department of State representative, Rose Gottemoeller, stated that she thinks competition between the labs is a good thing.

Johnson also directly addressed the elephant in the room: this is far from the first commission established to study labs governance, and the same questions are asked over and over again without any problems solved. Commission co-chair T.J. Glauthier acknowledged that by their count CRENEL is the 55th or 56th commission established to review lab governance in the past 20 years.

The Project On Government Oversight has been pushing for consolidating nuclear weapons labs since 2001. It is POGO’s hope that CRENEL can be a step forward in reducing redundancy and waste in the DOE weapons labs and perhaps lead to a more formal process to realign and close unnecessary facilities.