The National Institutes of Health operates peer review by 19 formal advisory committees, termed boards of scientific counselors, one for each of the institutes. Their duties are described as follows: Boards of scientific counselors serve a dual function in providing expert scientific advice to scientific directors regarding particular employees and projects, and providing the NIH as a whole with an assessment of the overall quality of its intramural efforts. The Committee Management Office at NIH tracks these and many other NIH advisory committees. The office stays in contact with the FACA Office of the General Services Administration. The NIH process is the most formal type of quality review discovered in interviews for this study.
The National Security Laboratories of the Department of Energy—Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL)—are government-owned, contractor-operated facilities under the DOE. Interviews at these three laboratories revealed very similar processes for peer review. The Department of Energy’s NNSA contracts for LANL and LLNL explicitly call for regular peer review; Sandia’s contract contains similar language. LANL and LLNL are operated by a consortium of the University of California and the Bechtel Corporation, with additional partners from the Babcock and Wilcox Company and the Washington International Group. Two limited-liability corporations have been created to manage the contracts: Los Alamos National Security LLC and Lawrence Livermore National Security LLC. There is a joint board of governors for the two LLCs. The board has a Subcommittee on Science and Technology (the S&T Committee) that oversees and controls peer reviews of S&T at both laboratories. The S&T Committee makes the appointments to the peer-review panels upon nomination by the laboratories. The panels are independent and balanced. Each does both review and critique. The panels have 8 to 10 members, drawn from academia (about half), industry, and other laboratories; there are some University of California faculty, and some from other national laboratories. The operation of the panels does not come under the FACA.
Los Alamos National Laboratory conducts three kinds of review. The first is strictly concerned with the quality of scientific activity and is focused on capability areas rather than on scientific disciplines. The other reviews are on weapons design and customer programs. Typically, these capability areas are crosscuts from the discipline areas, such as weapons science and information science. The reviews cover eight capabilities per year; each capability area is reviewed every 3 years. The review panels meet for 3 or 4 days. (In earlier years these reviews were run strictly in-house and covered only scientific disciplines, not capabilities.) The panels also look at the adequacy of the laboratory infrastructure, the morale of the staff, and the research environment. The design reviews are done internally by DOE weapons design teams; the customer reviews look at quality, relevance, and performance against the mission. Customer reviews are set up by the laboratory subject to approval by the board of governors’ S&T Committee.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory follows a similar assessment process. At LLNL, there are four principal disciplines and three major program areas. All are reviewed by peer panels. In addition, they conduct cross-cutting reviews of portfolios (for example, the National Ignition Facility) involving more than one of the seven areas. The panels consist of 10 to 15 members, drawn from academia, industry, and other laboratories. Members are selected by the LLNL directorates and vetted by the board of governors’ S&T Committee. Selection factors include diversity on the panels and turnover of membership. The panels usually have a member from LANL and an observing auditor from NNSA. Panel reports contain both critique and advice. Verbal exit briefings are given to the head of the unit under review, as well as to senior