Until the late 1990s, significant discretionary funding was provided through WSR. For example, WSR at LLNL was more than 8 percent of the budget in 1977, declining more or less steadily to zero in 1997.12 Similarly, in FY81 WSR accounted for 14 percent of the budget of the LANL Chemistry-Nuclear Chemistry division.13 When the WSR program was cancelled, the LDRD programs at both LANL and LLNL were partially re-directed to serve this function. As a result, there was a concomitant reduction in LDRD available for projects outside the weapons programs—the traditional focus of LDRD—and an overall reduction in the amount of funding available for “blue sky” research at each laboratory.
A high-quality S&E enterprise requires a base of fundamental research. LDRD programs at the three national security laboratories are important for supporting and maintaining this base. However, LDRD alone is not sufficiently robust to maintain this base.
Finding 3.5. LDRD is critical for attracting and retaining high quality technical staff and thus for assuring long-term viability of the laboratories and their ability to carry out their mission in the future.
Recommendation 3.2. The study committee recommends that Congress and NNSA maintain strong support of the LDRD program as it is an essential component of enabling the long-term viability of the laboratories.
Several laboratory staffers told the study committee about the increase in the number of budget reporting categories in the Nuclear Weapons program, which constrain the flexibility of laboratory managers to direct S&E work. They also add to overhead. A senior manager at SNL said his center used to be able to use about 15 percent of its budget for discretionary investments, and now it has none because the money is managed more closely. For example, one $40 million program is broken into 7 “B&R codes,” each of which is tracked by Congress and directed to a particular near-term task. Each of these codes is monitored by a federal program manager who sets specific deliverables and expects quarterly reporting against pre-determined milestones. Another SNL manager is concerned whether the nation is actually getting less value, because there is more overhead work, some taken from the time of the people who could otherwise be producing S&E progress. He estimated that the daily activities of those technical people now include at least twice the overhead burden as in the early 1990s. In addition, more financial managers have been added because of the increased reporting requirements.
Additional B&R codes add more control in the governance structure at the expense of moving control away from the technical staff. Whatever advantages may be derived from having multiple B&R codes, it can impede the ability of laboratory management to develop necessary S&E capability.
Recommendation 3.3. The study committee recommends that Congress consider reducing the number of restrictive budget reporting categories in the Nuclear Weapons Program and permit the use of such funds to support a robust core weapons research program and further develop necessary S&E capability.
12 See “Review of the Department of Energy’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program,” DOE Laboratory Operations Board, January 27, 2000.
13 See “Progress Report: Chemistry-Nuclear Chemistry Division,” October 1980-September 1981, at .http://www.osti.gov/bridge/servlets/purl/5067196-cgsI2T/5067196.pdf.