3
Bioremediation

Description

The bioremediation group is part of the Environmental Technology Team (ETT) under the Research and Technology Directorate of the ERDEC (see Figure 2-1). Like the mass spectrometry group, the bioremediation group does not have a separate leader but reports directly to the leader of the ETT. The mission of the ETT is to develop biological and/or biochemical systems for detoxifying or destroying hazardous chemicals of military significance, primarily chemical warfare agents (including their precursors and products), obsolete decontaminants (e.g., DS2), and explosives and propellants that would be encountered in the destruction of chemical munitions. Smaller programs involve the detection of biological agents and toxins. The sciences that support these programs include microbiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, and biochemical engineering. The largest current program area is the development of enzyme-based chemical and biological warfare (CBW) decontaminants. Areas of interest to the bioremediation group include: molecular modeling and microbiology to identify new enzymes that act against the nerve agent VX; the enzymatic decontamination of bacterial agents; and the hydrolysis of soil contaminants.

Technical Capabilities

The bioremediation group consists of 12 people, who were working on 11 projects in fiscal year 1997 and 13 projects in fiscal year 1998, mostly in subgroups of one, two, or three, but in one case, a subgroup of six. A PI leads each subgroup. The primary projects cover pathogen detection systems, molecular modeling of agent-degrading enzymes, the biodegradation of chemical warfare materials, and the enzymatic decontamination of



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--> 3 Bioremediation Description The bioremediation group is part of the Environmental Technology Team (ETT) under the Research and Technology Directorate of the ERDEC (see Figure 2-1). Like the mass spectrometry group, the bioremediation group does not have a separate leader but reports directly to the leader of the ETT. The mission of the ETT is to develop biological and/or biochemical systems for detoxifying or destroying hazardous chemicals of military significance, primarily chemical warfare agents (including their precursors and products), obsolete decontaminants (e.g., DS2), and explosives and propellants that would be encountered in the destruction of chemical munitions. Smaller programs involve the detection of biological agents and toxins. The sciences that support these programs include microbiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, and biochemical engineering. The largest current program area is the development of enzyme-based chemical and biological warfare (CBW) decontaminants. Areas of interest to the bioremediation group include: molecular modeling and microbiology to identify new enzymes that act against the nerve agent VX; the enzymatic decontamination of bacterial agents; and the hydrolysis of soil contaminants. Technical Capabilities The bioremediation group consists of 12 people, who were working on 11 projects in fiscal year 1997 and 13 projects in fiscal year 1998, mostly in subgroups of one, two, or three, but in one case, a subgroup of six. A PI leads each subgroup. The primary projects cover pathogen detection systems, molecular modeling of agent-degrading enzymes, the biodegradation of chemical warfare materials, and the enzymatic decontamination of

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--> biological warfare agents. Most of the programs, which have been ongoing for a number of years, range in cost from $25,000 to $760,000 annually and include independent laboratory in-house research (ILIR), basic research, applied research, and customer-funded projects. The largest current project, Enzymatic Decontamination, is in the development of a new generation of CBW decontaminants that use catalytic enzymes and, unlike current decontaminants, are nontoxic, noncorrosive, nonflammable, and environmentally safe. One area of progress has been the development of enzymes that can destroy G-agents (e.g., Soman and Sarin). Another area of focus is the development of enzymes that can destroy V-agents and mustard agents. A smaller project, the Alternative Technologies Program, is concerned with the demilitarization of chemical weapons (CW) stockpiles. The actual demilitarization is the responsibility of a program office that reports directly to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Development. The goal of the Alternative Technologies Program is to develop biotechnological methods for destroying the CW stockpiles as an alternative to incineration. Hot water hydrolysis followed by biodegradation was successfully demonstrated for the destruction of mustard agents. This technology has been selected for use in the destruction of the 1,625 tons of mustard agent stored at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Related projects deal with the use of biological systems to destroy hydrolyzed VX and Sarin. Although these biological systems are not as advanced, their ability to destroy these organophosphorus compounds has steadily improved. The Alternative Technologies Program is now attempting to determine whether the explosives/propellants found in CW munitions can be disposed of by similar biological means. The objective of a third project is the biodegradation of DS2, the current decontaminant in the Army's inventory. Although DS2 is effective, it is also toxic, flammable, and highly corrosive. The Army needs to dispose of the current stockpile of 2.5 to 3 million gallons of DS2. Some of the DS2 may be sold to industry for use as a chemical feedstock (e.g., ethylene glycol monomethyl ether [EGME] and diethylenetriamine [DETA]), but much of it will require treatment and disposal. The effort, begun in 1996, to develop microbiological systems that can mineralize the organic components of DS2 has made steady progress. Initially, only the EGME was degraded, with the DETA only contributing some nitrogen (amine) for growth. Gradually, cultures were obtained that could also mineralize the DETA. The system has now reached the point where the excess nitrogen in the system is progressively converted from ammonia to nitrite to nitrogen gas. Current efforts are aimed at increasing the concentration of DS2 cultures can tolerate and optimizing the operation of the bioreactor.

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--> The goal of the fourth project (an ILIR) is the development of genetic probes for the detection of B. anthracis. Its purpose is to develop strain-specific DNA probes that can discriminate between B. anthracis and related bacilli, such as B. cereus or B. subtilis. A variety of probes have been designed and tested this year and show very good specificity for the target organism. The probes identified in this project will be adapted for use in sensors under development by the Biodetection Program. Members of the scientific staff consider publications to be important, but not as important as customer satisfaction and the deployment of their products. The bioremediation group believes that their products (processes, methods, and specific organisms and enzymes) are a better measure of their success and accomplishments than their basic research publications. Thus, they believe that the quality of their work should be compared to the quality of work by organizations that do applied research rather than basic research. In general, the group has a positive sense of the future of the CBDCOM, and recent employees (contract personnel) believe they have a future in the organization. PIs conceptualize the purpose of their programs and projects on the basis of their general perception of their program mission, that is, enzymatic decontamination, demilitarization of CW stockpiles, biodegradation of DS2, and genetic probes for the detection of B. anthracis. Operationally, goals are based on the projects that have received Technical Base funding during the previous year. Unfortunately, because Technical Base funding is awarded through a competitive process on a yearly basis, it has been difficult to develop and manage programs to achieve specific goals—such as proving the feasibility of a given technology by a given year (e.g., a replacement for DS2 by 2001). Most of the PIs are confident that they have the intellectual and technical competence to succeed at the CBDCOM, and they rely on interactions among themselves to plan and execute projects. Nevertheless, the activities of the subgroups are not well coordinated, and none of the subgroups shows any interest in working with related RTD groups. Some years ago, there were annual program reviews of major research and development areas, called Vertical Reviews. The current annual Technical Base program reviews do not provide an overview of the capabilities of the various research groups in the RTD. The purpose of the current reviews is to determine whether projects have met their goals for the year and whether their plans for the future are reasonable. These reviews are also used to prioritize projects so that if money is limited, the highest priority projects will be preferentially funded. Proposals for new projects are also evaluated and could "bump" ongoing projects if they are deemed to be of

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--> higher priority or to have greater potential. The committee believes that reinstituting Vertical Reviews that afford scientists an opportunity to coordinate their projects and increase their understanding of the work of other teams could greatly improve interaction among the RTD groups and might also increase productivity. The individuals interviewed were well aware that technologies for the development of new biological/threat agents and for countermeasures are changing rapidly. Nevertheless, a hiring freeze has prevented management from bringing in new permanent staff members with new capabilities. The committee believes that management could minimize the effects of the freeze by initiating a continuing education program so that "older" staff members can upgrade their skills. Even though project leaders are proud of their success in developing new technologies that could have practical military applications, (e.g., the destruction of agent breakdown products), they do not feel that it is their responsibility to promote the technology or to work with other groups, such as the engineering group, to ensure that the technology is appropriately implemented. In other words, they subscribe to the school of technology transfer, in which an organization takes no further interest after passing its product to the next group in line. Most members of the subgroups in the bioremediation group told the committee that they do not have enough technical, clerical, or administrative support to carry out their projects. Because of this personnel shortage, Ph.D.s have to do routine analyses and media preparations. PIs reported that they had no trouble getting equipment for their projects, but the equipment often remains idle because of the shortage of qualified operators. The committee believes that the bioremediation group as a whole would be more efficient with a more balanced ratio of technicians to Ph.D.s. The members of the bioremediation group do not have a clear understanding of how the review panel for Technical Base funding works. Interviewees reported that they are not informed why their proposals are funded or not. This lack of communication about the review process has led to the perception that the review panel is not competent to understand the technical details of proposals and cannot justify its decisions. The interviewees consider the whole review and decision process to be highly political and suspect that another group is being given preferential treatment. They are convinced that securing funds depends on submitting proposals that are only two to five pages long, too short to present a credible case for their research projects. The preoccupation with funding, especially the continuity of funding, limits productivity. Even if funding is approved for a three-year period, the

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--> funds can be reallocated to another group after one year. Thus, PIs behave as if they have only one-year funding and spend a good deal of time writing unnecessary proposals. Subgroups could seek outside funding, but they anticipate that the ERDEC management would cancel some of their Technical Base funding if outside funding were secured. Outside funding also tends to be short term and requires more proposal writing. However, in the committee's view, the number of proposals is less than the number that would be required for a comparable research organization in the private sector. In fact, concerns about funding have led the bioremediation group to solicit projects from other government agencies and industry, which interferes with the fulfillment of their central mission. These additional projects, which are often underfunded, have diverted efforts from in-house projects. According to the information provided to the committee, only three of the 12 PIs are involved in more than two projects. Thus, most of them are involved in fewer projects than researchers in other active research/development organizations. Complaints that PIs are being diverted from their main focus by external ''customers'' is belied by the fact that only 20 percent of their funding comes from external customers. The PIs appear to have healthy working relationships with the academic community in the immediate area. Contacts have been established by their attendance at national meetings of major technical societies, such as the American Chemical Society and the American Society of Microbiology. The interviewees informed the committee that the RTD does not invite external experts to present their work to PIs. Members of the bioremediation group also reported that the intelligence community does not keep them informed of biological and chemical agents being developed by foreign countries. Nor are PIs briefed by RTD management about potential biological threats. Therefore, the PIs do not have sufficient information to anticipate future army needs and tailor their proposals accordingly. The interviewees were not aware of any administrative incentives that would reward productive researchers. They consider the periodic, required productivity reviews a waste of time because there are no perquisites (e.g., salary raises, bonuses, or resource allocations) to reward exemplary contributions to the organization. Program Review The bioremediation group was considered as part of the RTD as a whole. The committee attempted to separate the responsibilities of senior RTD

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--> management that affect the performance of the bioremediation group from factors that are within the control of this group. The interviewees were open and frank in talking with the committee. The written responses were less helpful, however, because of the limited number of responses and the lack of clear, direct answers to the questions. Strategic Vision, Value Creation, and Customer Focus Categories Characteristics Strategic Vision Value Creation Customer Focus • Mission and vision • Portfolio selection • Customer • Strategic planning • Cycle time and responsiveness • Customer satisfaction • Stakeholder buy-in • Value of work in progress • Customer involvement • Leadership   • Market diversification The levels of maturity for the bioremediation group are high for most of the characteristics in these three categories. The group has a clear understanding of its mission, and the technical programs and deployment of resources are in keeping with the mission and vision of the group. The plan of the group is also consistent with the thrust of the RTD as a whole. The quality of leadership is high. The information flows in both directions between management and staff, and an air of excitement pervades the laboratory. Risk-taking is encouraged, and leads are quickly pursued. The leadership has excellent technical knowledge, which the team perceives as an asset because the leadership is able to explain the importance of each project to more senior management. The leadership works to generate funding and also shelters the team from low priority issues that could interfere with its work. Although the group does not have formal measurements for assessing customer satisfaction, customers appear to be satisfied. Internal customers are involved in setting work objectives, and the group's products serve a broad array of clients, including universities and private industry. On joint programs, the group has been assigned as the DOD lead. The committee's greatest area of concern is the process of portfolio selection. The overall program appears to be technology driven rather

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--> than mission driven. The interviewees repeatedly described focusing first on what they enjoyed doing and then selling their ideas to funding organizations. During Fiscal Year 1997 (FY), there were 11 bioremediation projects costing $1.958 million; four of those, costing $485,000 were customer-driven projects (36 percent by number and 24 percent by cost). Although the focus on customer needs was a relatively new phenomenon, the bioremediation group attempts to respond quickly to customers' needs, and customers appear to appreciate these efforts to satisfy them. Resources and Capabilities Category Characteristics Organizational culture Employee attitude People development Budget/funding RD&E capabilities, skills, and talents Intellectual property Technology sourcing Information technology Facilities and infrastructure The bioremediation group scored well in most of the characteristics of this category. The committee was most impressed by the organizational culture and employee attitude. The esprit de corps of the group is shared by employees and contractors, and the only barriers to the sharing of information are the necessary limitations on sharing financial information with contractors. All members of the group are valued for their unique skills, and staff members are willing to make extra efforts for the team to succeed. The committee found that the rapport among PIs is warm and respectful and that every member of the group takes full responsibility for his or her growth, both technically and personally. The issue of funding is important to everyone, but the group management seems to be adept at securing support,

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--> even though a few projects are underfunded. Technical experts on the committee concluded that the bioremediation group's technical capabilities are sufficient to meet customer needs and that state-of-the-art techniques are understood and applied. One area that could be improved, however, is technology outsourcing, which is research funded by RTD and performed in an outside laboratory but monitored by the bioremediation group. Currently, the group does not have a formal process for selecting outsourcing projects. The CSC felt that the work of the group could be leveraged by including outside experts who are familiar with the skills, talents and facilities of other laboratories in outsourcing decisions. The committee believes that this change would enhance the RTD's acquisition of research engineering capabilities, skills, and talents. The committee judged that the level of maturity of information technology is high. Computers are widely and appropriately used, employees are linked electronically, networking is encouraged, equipment is current, and in-house training is available. To increase efficiency, information technology should be used as much as possible. The interviewees consider their research equipment and facilities to be modern and well maintained, which is readily apparent in the new facilities the team occupies. Quality Focus Category Characteristics • Capacity for breakthroughs • Commitment to quality • Continuous improvement • Process management • Teams • Metrics • Evaluation and rewards • Safety • Project management • Knowledge and learning • Regulatory compliance In the committee's opinion, continuous improvement is not a focus area of the bioremediation group, which might reflect the need for RTD

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--> management to increase its commitment to quality. A stronger commitment to quality may be difficult for the bioremediation group to achieve on its own. The group does not use metrics to assess improvements. The committee believes, however, that the group would benefit from more formal project management, even of basic research projects. Considering the great variety of work being done by the bioremediation group, the committee was surprised at the lack of internal teamwork to improve processes and increase efficiency. The bioremediation group appears to be proficient in most of the other characteristics in this category. For example, the interviewees were able to describe breakthroughs, which indicates that the concept is understood and that breakthroughs are made fairly often. However, safety is a serious concern in the bioremediation group. Members of the group agree that management is truly concerned about safety and does "walk the talk." All members of the group are well trained and understand safety issues. However, the committee saw no indication that safety issues are being addressed strategically, and safety statistics are not widely disseminated. In all other areas, the bioremediation group seems to comply with regulatory safety requirements. The rapport among members of the bioremediation group facilitates the sharing of information among colleagues. Although some interviewees were skeptical about the connection between performance and rewards, they all seemed to have accepted the situation. Opportunities for Reengineering The Priority Index in Table 3-1 indicates the characteristics in the assessment model that require the most attention. Although the bioremediation group is clearly effective in many ways, a stronger commitment to quality would have a cascading effect on the entire group, especially in the area of continuous improvement. This commitment to quality would require a process perspective and better project management. Although the bioremediation group may not be able to focus more on quality without the support of RTD management, they could take a step in that direction by formalizing their project management. Stages of Maturity and Priority Indices Based on the descriptions in Appendix A, the committee assigned a stage of maturity to each characteristic under each category. A summary of the

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--> TABLE 3-1 Programmatic Review of the Bioremediation Group   Maturity Stage 4 = High Importance 4 = High Priority Indexa   0 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4   Strategic Vision                     Mission and vision         4   2     0 Strategic planning       3       3   3 Stakeholder buy-in       3       3   3 Leadership         4       4 0 Value Creation                     Portfolio selection       3     2     2 Cycle time and responsiveness       3     2     2 Value of work in progress       3     2     2 Customer Focus                     Customer         4       4 0 Customer satisfaction   1           3   9 Customer involvement       3       3   3 Market diversification         4     3   0 Resources and Capabilities                     Organizational culture       3         4 4 Employee attitude         4       4 0 People development     2       2     4 Budget/funding       3       3   3 RD&E capabilities, skills, talents       3         4 4 Intellectual property     2     1       2 Technology sourcing   1         2     6 Information technology     2       2     4 facilities and infrastructure     2         3   6 Quality Focus                     Capacity for breakthroughs       3         4 4 Continuous improvement   1           3   9 Teams     2         3   6 Evaluation and rewards     2       2     4 Project management   1           3   9 Regulatory Compliance       3     2     2 Commitment to quality   1             4 12 Process Management     2       2     4 Metricsb 0             3   12 Safety       3         4 4 Knowledge and learning         3     3   3 a Priority Index = (4-Maturity Stage) x Importance. b No evidence of the use of metrics was found.

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--> committee's findings appears in Table 3-1. The importance assigned to each characteristic was determined by the expert opinion of the committee. The Priority Index, (4—maturity stage) x importance, indicates the priority of each characteristic. The higher the priority index, the greater the need for attention. Conclusions and Recommendations Conclusions Conclusion 1. The quality of leadership in the bioremediation group is high. Information flows in both directions between management and staff, and an air of excitement pervades the laboratory. Esprit de corps is shared by both employees and contractors. Conclusion 2. Although the portfolio seems to meet the strategic goals of the group, the overall program appears to be technology driven rather than mission driven. Conclusion 3. The bioremediation group does not have a formal process for selecting research to be outsourced (i.e., funded at a university, other government laboratory, or corporate laboratory) or established criteria for making outsourcing decisions. Conclusion 4. Project management, including commitment to quality and metrics, could be greatly improved. For example, an adaptation of the stage-gate model might be used. Conclusion 5. The bioremediation group does not have opportunities to work with related groups in the Edgewood Research, Development and Engineering Center. Conclusion 6. The bioremediation group is given little or no feedback on the reasons technical proposals are funded or rejected. Conclusion 7. The bioremediation group is not kept up to date on intelligence estimates of biological and chemical agents being developed by potentially threatening groups and countries. This lack of information interferes with the selection of mission-oriented projects.

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--> Recommendations Recommendation 1. The portfolio of the bioremediation group should be linked to the larger mission of the organization. This can be facilitated by frequent intelligence briefings on biological and chemical agents that are being developed or are already in the arsenals of foreign countries. Recommendation 2. The bioremediation group should establish a more formal process for making decisions on outsourcing and for managing outsourced projects. Recommendation 3. The bioremediation group should establish a formal project management process to facilitate learning and improve efficiency. Recommendation 4. Management should internally publish all funded proposals and critiques and should provide principal investigators with critiques of unfunded proposals. Recommendation 5. The leadership of the Research and Technology Directorate should use annual Technology Base reviews for sharing information among all technology teams.