I. Serving National Needs: An Overview of the DOE Laboratories

A. Introduction

The Department of Energy (DOE) manages the largest laboratory system of its kind in the world. With origins in the Manhattan Project, the DOE laboratories have evolved over the past 50 years to become a major component of the nation's infrastructure for maintaining U.S. leadership in scientific discovery and knowledge generation. Programs conducted at the Laboratories have consistently challenged our basic understanding of the world around us and driven new fields of scientific inquiry and technology development.

Contributions from the Laboratories in the future will help meet the National goals of environmental quality through clean energy sources and pollution-prevention technologies; enhanced security through continued reductions in the nuclear threat; continued leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge; and a growing economy fueled by technology innovations that open new markets, increase U.S. industrial competitiveness, and create high-skill, high-wage jobs for American workers.

The most valuable assets which the DOE Laboratories have brought to their mission assignments in the past -- and which will be dedicated to future missions -- are their human and physical resources. These assets are characterized by interdisciplinary teams with the skills to tackle national problems of great complexity and scope, and sophisticated and often unique scientific facilities that enable researchers to explore new scientific frontiers, to model and simulate processes and solutions to problems, and to achieve new understandings of how the world works and how technology can better address national needs. These resources have helped train generations of scientists and technologists who have carried the capabilities of the Laboratories to industry and academia.

Innovations and capabilities from the DOE Laboratories are behind innumerable technological achievements that have affected the nation's security, environmental quality, knowledge base, prosperity, and quality of life. Examples include:

The scientists at the Department of Energy laboratories have served as invaluable consultants, experts, and hired researchers to the Government at-large throughout the past 50 years. For example, scientists of the DOE laboratories.

These examples of laboratory activities illustrate the enormous variety of research underway within the confines of the Department of Energy laboratories. They also indicate the extent to which these laboratories truly are national assets -- serving national needs which extend far beyond the traditional mission boundaries of the Department of Energy. Although the Department of Energy laboratories had their origins in the Cold War, and their growth was fueled considerably by national security requirements, the resources of these facilities now are available for a much broader application to national needs. The existence of this national science and technology asset is one of the enduring legacies of the Cold War. Optimizing the utilization of these laboratories toward meeting the national security, energy, environmental, and economic needs of the future will be among the nation's major challenges -- and opportunities -- in the post Cold War world.

B. Who We Are

The Department of Energy laboratory system consists of 30 laboratories in 16 states, with combined budgets exceeding $6 billion and a scientific and technical staff which numbers close to 30,000. These facilities range from small, specialized laboratories with annual funding of less than $5 million per year, to large, diversified laboratories with annual operating budgets exceeding $1 billion. Nine of the major laboratories are multi-program laboratories, receiving funding from several different programs within the Department. Collectively, the laboratories are the major operational arm of the Department, performing much of the research and development which Congress directs the Department to perform through authorization and appropriations bills.

The Department of Energy Laboratories initially were established to direct the nation's efforts both in nuclear weapons and the peaceful use of nuclear energy, including nuclear power and later nuclear medicine. They also were given the mandate to support fundamental research in high energy and nuclear physics. In pursuing these objectives, the scientists and engineers at the National Laboratories explored scientific and technical boundaries across a range of disciplines, including materials science; advanced mathematical and computing techniques; frontier areas of physics, chemistry, health and environmental sciences, and geology; as well as newly emerging areas such as environmental impact assessments, systems analysis, and innovative engineering design. Today, the workforce of the National Laboratories displays a depth and breadth of scientific and technical competency found in very few institutions anywhere in the world.[Note 1]

The Department of Energy Laboratories are government-owned, but are operated by private contractors selected from industry, academia, and university consortia. This government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) approach to laboratory management began in the 1940's to meet pressing wartime needs, and today provides flexibility in the assignment of resources and facilitates quick responses to a wide variety of program needs. This approach enables private sector and university-based R&D management experience to be brought to bear on government work. The GOCO system has offered significant advantages in attracting and retaining world-class scientists and achieving scientific excellence.

In recent years, the GOCO system has been the subject of significant concerns regarding administrative and business management issues.[Note 2] At the same time, however, there has been a growing recognition that the GOCO approach utilized by the Department of Energy had resulted in generally superior technical performance than is found at government-owned, government-operated (GOGO) facilities.[Note 3]

The quality of scientific performance demonstrated at the Department of Energy laboratories can be measured in many ways, including numbers of technical accomplishments; scientific awards and peer recognition; patents, licenses, and commercialized technologies; and satisfied customers. In each of these areas, the success of the DOE Laboratories has been strongly validated. For example:

C. What We Do

The Department receives direction from Congress and the President to meet specific mission and programmatic objectives in areas ranging from alternative engine research to nuclear weapons dismantlement to nuclear waste clean-up to development of solar energy. Approximately 40 percent of the Department's overall $19 billion budget supports work performed at the Laboratories. The balance of the DOE budget supports researchers in academia, cost-shared research directly performed in industrial laboratories, the DOE weapons production/dismantlement complex, contractor support for environmental clean-up, the Energy Power Administration, and departmental operations.

Congress provides specific direction regarding how and where much of the Department's budget should be spent. In R&D areas, DOE program managers are responsible for establishing programs and determining where the best performance will be achieved for meeting programmatic goals in the Department's major mission areas of energy, basic science, national security, and environmental stewardship. Systematic planning and program reviews, including by independent advisory boards and peer review panels, serve as essential inputs for program development and funding decisions. Partnerships between the Laboratories and academic and industrial institutions are established as a means of helping meet the mutual goals of all parties. In addition, the Laboratories perform more than $1 billion in work for other government agencies.

Energy: Programs that Drive the Economy

The Department of Energy was formed, as a successor to the Atomic Energy Commission and the Energy Research and Development Administration, in response to the oil embargo and energy shortages of the 1970s. Contributing to the nation's energy security through creation of flexible, clean, efficient, and equitable energy supply and end-use technologies remains a major national challenge. U.S. consumers spend $450 billion annually on end-use energy commodities such as electricity, gasoline, and natural gas, and we spend $45 billion annually on imported oil. Although energy fuels growth, development, and improved standards of living, its use is one of the major contributors to the world's environmental problems, including urban air pollution, acid rain, and global climate change. As a result, environmentally-sound energy technologies such as renewables represent a major international need, one of the biggest emerging market opportunities worldwide, and thus a strong focus for the Department of Energy and its Laboratories.

The National Laboratories have contributed significantly to boosting energy efficiency performance of commercial and residential windows, lighting, and appliances; developing cleaner-burning fossil-fuel technologies; developing nuclear reactors and enhanced nuclear reactor safety; improving efficiency and reducing CFC emissions from air conditioning and refrigeration systems; heightening the efficiency and effectiveness of oil drilling and recovery operations; and reducing the energy necessary to make important industrial chemicals. Together, these advances are resulting in billions of dollars worth of energy savings annually. [See Energy Efficiency box.] The DOE laboratories conduct about $800 million of energy technology R&D annually.

Basic Research: World Leadership for Science, Mathematics and Engineering

The Department of Energy Laboratories have a rich science and technology base and a tradition of pursuing knowledge at the absolute frontiers of science. As a result, many major scientific accomplishments, from the subatomic to the cosmic scale, trace their roots to research conducted at the DOE National Laboratories. Large and unique world-class research facilities have enabled scientists to probe the fundamental building blocks of nature, decipher the forces of molecular biology, survey the surfaces of all forms of materials, and explore developments of the universe tracking back to the Big Bang.

Through the development and operation of particle accelerators for high-energy physics, the Laboratories have pioneered the development of powerful synchrotron radiation sources[Note 4] for materials, chemical, and life sciences research. These facilities host large research programs involving thousands of academic, industrial, and government investigators. Research interests range from mapping the structure of materials' surfaces to visualizing the interior surfaces of arteries.

The Laboratories also operate facilities that utilize powerful beams of neutrons for studying materials such as the liquid crystals used in portable computer displays, metals and semiconductors used in electronics, industrial polymers, structural studies of biomolecules, and high-temperature superconductors. Virtually everything now known about certain vital characteristics of materials that are strong candidates for superconductivity comes from neutron scattering studies performed at the DOE Laboratories. These materials may revolutionize transportation and telecommunications.

Scientific inquiry at the Laboratories has proceeded along pathways that have resulted in developments that could never have been anticipated. Radioisotope separation science in the 1940s, for example, sparked the field of nuclear medicine, which today affects the lives of millions of people annually through cancer treatment and other radioisotope examination and treatment procedures. Studies into the causes and effects of radiation damage in reactor materials led to toughened structural ceramics for advanced diesel engines and gas turbines. And the combination of sophisticated computational capabilities and research in molecular biology at the Laboratories resulted in the development of the Human Genome program. This program has now grown into an international effort to map and sequence the entire human genome, which comprises three billion DNA base pairs. Deciphering the human genome, literally the blueprint for life, will provide unparalleled insight into the molecular basis of the thousands of genetic disorders that afflict humans -- providing the foundations for innovative medical diagnostics, genetic counseling, and ultimate mitigation of these disorders.

DOE laboratories have been instrumental in advancing entire fields of scientific research, including high energy and nuclear physics, plasma physics, nuclear medicine, nuclear engineering, supercomputing, and global climate research. Other examples include systems ecology founded on energy and nutrient studies using radiotracers, bioenergetics to trace the pathways of plant photosynthesis, and animal metabolism using related radiotracer techniques. The Department of Energy Laboratories perform approximately $3 billion in basic and applied R&D annually.

National Security: Reducing Nuclear Danger

National Security R&D in the Department of Energy is dedicated primarily to nuclear weapon activities, including:

The nuclear weapons R&D program provides the science and technology infrastructure, including technical expertise and facilities, required to support a broad spectrum of DOE Defense Programs activities, which include design, engineering, prototyping, testing, and evaluation of nuclear weapons; stockpile management; weapons dismantlement; arms control; and nonproliferation. Stockpile stewardship involves quality assessment and engineering, stockpile surveillance, and an independent nuclear safety assessment function.

Major thrusts in the nuclear weapons R&D program include: developing advanced predictive capabilities and above-ground experimentation facilities in light of the existing nuclear weapons test ban and developing advanced manufacturing technologies to provide a smaller and more efficient weapons production complex in response to decreasing defense budgets. These activities all rely upon the weapons R&D base, including a sustained competency in nuclear weapon design, for their successful accomplishment.

The three multiprogram defense laboratories work closely with DOE's production complex to design safe and efficient dismantlement processes. Automated processes using robotics and computer modeling are being developed by the laboratories to safely and cost-effectively handle the dismantlement of up to 2,000 weapons per year.

Assisting Russia and other former Soviet republics in reducing the size of their nuclear weapon stockpile is an important part of this activity. The laboratories are involved in several agreements with Russia for collaboration on the safety, security, and dismantlement of nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union, and also assisting Russia in planning for the disposition of nuclear weapons-grade materials. Reducing the threat of nuclear weapon proliferation requires competence in nuclear technology and comprehensive and effective cognizance of international weapons developments.

The National Laboratories conduct some of the nation's premier research, development, and analysis for intelligence, proliferation detection, arms control, and verification technology. The Laboratories have developed instrumentation to verify compliance with the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START). The Laboratories perform more than $2 billion in national security research and technology development directly for the Department of Energy, as well as nearly $1 billion in additional defense-related work for the Department of Defense.


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