Energy Secretary Announces Commission to Study National Labs

This week Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced the nine members of a new Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the Energy Department’s National Laboratories. This review will be the first step toward eliminating waste and redundancy in the laboratory system, which have so often been a sinkhole for taxpayer dollars.

This Commission will review the country’s 17 energy laboratories to make sure that their missions are not redundant, that they align with departmental priorities, and that they are appropriately sized to accomplish those priorities, according to the mandate in the recently enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2014.

The Commission will be co-chaired by Jared Cohon and T.J. Glauthier. Cohon, currently President Emeritus and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, brings an expertise in environmental energy systems; Glauthier was formally the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the Energy Department and currently serves as President of TJG Energy Associates, LLC, an energy consulting form.

The rest of the panel is composed of similarly experienced scientific experts. For instance, Retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine and former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Meserve will once again lend their nuclear expertise. In late 2012, following a break-in at the Y-12 nuclear complex, Augustine and Meserve were asked to review physical security at U.S. nuclear weapons facilities. Their review ultimately concluded that significant changes to the Energy Department’s approach to nuclear security were necessary, though the changes they suggested have not been put in place. Augustine and Glauthier also recently worked together on a panel to study governance at the National Nuclear Security Administration.

This Commission could be the first step toward a more formal BRAC-like review of Energy labs. BRAC, or Base Closure and Realignment Commission, is a process used by the Department of Defense to review and realign or close unnecessary military bases. POGO has been recommending a similar process for DOE labs since 2001.

The Department of Energy’s Inspector General, Gregory Friedman, has proposed to both the Department and Congress that a BRAC-like program is necessary to analyze, realign, and consolidate national labs.

Furthermore, a Department of Defense memo that was leaked to POGO in spring 2012 harshly criticizes the DOE’s reluctance to downsize the nuclear labs. The memo highlights the fact that DOE labs cost more than other labs, that the agency has maintained the over-sized infrastructure developed during the Cold War while the DoD has performed multiple BRAC rounds and closed 21 laboratories, and that previous administrations have found the DOE lab complex far bigger than it needs to be, noting a 1995 report which states there is “excessive duplication of capabilities among the labs.”

There is waste and redundancy to be eliminated in DOE’s lab complex and it is our hope that this Commission will be able to identify problems and develop practical solutions. But we have seen far too many Commissions formed with the best intentions whose recommendations are never implemented. It will be our goal to ensure that this Commission and their recommendations remain in the public eye.