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Review of Doe’s Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program
Finding 5-4. A much more transparent, structured, and jointly supported (by NE, ID, and INL-BEA) planning and budgeting process is needed. This will ensure that all parties are in full agreement about the long-term plan and that budget decisions are made more carefully and on a more balanced basis. It will also enhance the credibility of the budget and its bases to reviewers in Congress and the Office of Management and Budget and will, in the long term, provide more stable and effective funding for the agreed-on plan.
Finding 5-5. NE has limited experience of being the PSO for a national laboratory. As such, its procedures for this responsibility are not yet well defined. NE could benefit from discussions with other organizations at DOE (e.g., the Office of Science and NNSA) with longer-standing, more mature PSO efforts.
The committee’s recommendations fall into three broad categories: improve the NE organization to better discharge its responsibility as the lead PSO for INL; establish a joint baseline vision and plan for INL; and modify the form of the INL facilities budget documentation to improve credibility and usefulness.
NE as the Lead Program Secretarial Office for INL
Recommendation 5-1. NE should set up and document a process for evaluating alternative approaches for accomplishing NE-sponsored activities, assigning the tasks appropriately, and avoiding duplication. For example, although INL is identified as the lead laboratory for nuclear-energy-related tasks, this does not mean that all such work is to be assigned to INL. Rather, NE should take into account the existing skills and facilities and make best use of available and new resources. The basis for the decision should be clear to INL and the other laboratories and facilities.
Recommendation 5-2. NE should set up a formal, high-level working group jointly with ID and INL (BEA). Consideration should be given to also having one or more knowledgeable outsiders participate on an ongoing basis to provide a wider perspective. This joint group would review the long-term project plan recommended below and serve as a forum for discussion and resolution of issues, such as changes to the plan and the best way to make the inevitable adjustments that will be needed. It will also be a ready source of informal, expert advice to NE senior management on INL facilities management.
Recommendation 5-3. NE should meet with DOE and NNSA organizations that are PSOs for other laboratories to review and discuss their practices and processes. Based on the lessons they learned, it should develop and document its own internal processes and procedures for discharging its responsibilities as the PSO for INL.
INL Facilities Baseline, Vision and Plan
Recommendation 5-4. NE, ID, and INL (BEA) should establish an agreed-on multiyear, resource-loaded, high-level schedule and plan for the INL facilities, such as the Primavera Project Planner (P3). This plan should establish the level of funding needed from NE, recognizing the contributions expected from other agencies that use the site and funding from projects located at INL. It should be based on funding levels that are practical for the foreseeable future, not a wish list. It should be used for developing an annual budget for the INL facilities and should be updated annually as part of the budget cycle. This will support directly assessing the effect of annual budget changes and answering questions on the impact of additional money or the effect of shortfalls.
Recommendation 5-5. The initial version of this plan should be based on the current BEA baseline assessment, vision, and supporting Ten-Year Site Plan. This does not mean that the committee gives the BEA plan and documents across-the-board endorsement. Rather, these documents appear to contain the most complete and up-to-date information available, and their structure is such that there is reasonably good traceability from objective to needed funding. They should pay attention to the connections between major programs and facilities. In particular, the capability and timing of facilities should be tightly tied to the program needs.
Recommendation 5-6. For INL to accomplish its expected mission, a number of large, sophisticated, and unique facilities will be needed. These could include large hot cells and associated laboratories for postirradiation examination of materials and test reactors such as the ATR. The intent is for INL to have magnet facilities attracting researchers and industrial users. For these facilities to attract users, the full costs cannot be charged, and the user would pay only the justified incremental costs associated with use. This arrangement is typical of user facilities in the Office of Science laboratories. The result is that the user facilities must also receive dedicated funding from the PSO. NE and INL have begun work to make the ATR at INL into such a user facility. The committee endorses this approach for ATR and recommends as follows:
NE should promptly address the inclusion of needed funding to support the base costs of the ATR in the INL facilities funding and develop an equitable basis for allocating justified user costs over the longer term.
As they develop a long-term plan for INL facilities, NE and INL should consider hosting other key capabilities—say, hot cells—as user facilities. Any such user facilities should be separately identified.
NE and INL should include LRDR tasks associated with establishing and strengthening INL personnel capability in the INL baseline, vision and plan.