Comparison Study with Other Federal Agency Laboratories
To put the DOE contractor-run national laboratories in the broader perspective of the federal laboratory system, two presentations were invited from federal laboratories not run by DOE, namely those operated by NIST and DOD. The NIST presentation by Michael Casassa featured a user facility run by NIST (NIST Center for Neutron Research), not too dissimilar from the user facilities at DOE laboratories. This center had, however, been successful in attracting investment from NSF and NIH, and whereas NIH funding had been mentioned prominently in several of the DOE laboratory presentations, NSF funding was specifically mentioned by participants as difficult to integrate into DOE laboratory projects.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology also operates several joint centers, including the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology and JILA (the acronym originally derived from “Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics”). Whereas many of the DOE centers featured in the workshop program were dedicated primarily toward joint research, the JILA center was clearly dedicated towards advanced education as its first objective, with a “staff” dominated by graduate students. Intellectual property and sensitive but unclassified information were seen as issues in the NIST partnership activities with universities; not mentioned were issues of “color-of-money or pot-of-money” dilemmas, accounting and legal transactional difficulties, prohibitions on foreign student involvement, and the need for mission clarification to the public and Congress—issues that dominated the discussion of many DOE endeavors (see Appendix E). There also seemed to be more commonalities in the types of research performed by NIST researchers vis-à-vis university
researchers, particularly within JILA: the examples given by Casassa suggested that much NIST research was also individual PI-driven and much less involved in the “big complicated engineering team science” endeavors characteristic of DOE laboratories. Stable long-term funding and monetary or risk buy-in from both sides of a university-lab partnership were concluding requirements for success that echoed earlier sentiments presented by DOE laboratory representatives Jeffrey Wadsworth and Robert Rosner.
The extensive involvement of DOD with universities at all levels is driven by a need to keep DOD ideas and people current with the latest technological developments. With respect to DOD interactions with universities, Kenneth Harwell’s presentation illustrated that, first and foremost, much of this interaction was in the form of grants given to universities for the purpose of conducting research, acquiring instrumentation, and educating advanced degree students. The analogue would be Office of Science grants given to universities by DOE (i.e., a program at the agency level, not the laboratory level). However, whereas the Office of Science does not give student fellowships directly, DOD does (e.g., the Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program). This distinction means that DOD-funded fellows typically have much less extensive person-to-person partnering and research interaction than their DOE counterparts, who are sponsored and mentored directly by laboratory personnel. Cooperative and summer employment programs as described by Harwell, appeared to be much more similar in their implementation between DOD and DOE. Joint faculty appointments between DOD laboratories and universities were not mentioned and presumably do not exist, even though a number of joint centers were mentioned (e.g., the Collaborative Center in Control Science, the Collaborative Center for Polymer Photonics, the Information Institute).
Absent in the DOD presentation were any references to color-of-money or pot-of-money, administrative, or legal issues in collaborations, presumably because the origin of both money and contracts is the same for all potential collaborators. Also absent were any remarks regarding difficulties in hosting foreign graduate students in the laboratory environment or in the participation of non-citizen, U.S.-residing faculty and students at DOD laboratory events and seminars. Indeed, DOD has gone one step beyond interacting with U.S. researchers of foreign origin and has a dedicated program, “Windows on Science,” to sponsor visits of leading foreign researchers to DOD laboratories in order to capture the latest technological developments and research concepts from abroad.
Conspicuously present in Harwell’s presentation were a number of DOD collaborative programs with universities that also had substantial industry contributions. This is in contrast to the DOE national laboratory/ university interactions discussed earlier, which tended to be much more
bilateral. For example, some DOD programs (e.g., the GICUR [Government Industry Co-sponsorship of University Research] program presented by Harwell) required 1:1 agency-industry cost sharing for the university programs it supported. As another example, the DOD Federated Laboratory-Collaborative Technology Alliances were heavy with industrial members, and the alliances attempt to institutionalize rotation from both the industry and the university sectors into the defense laboratories. Presumably this is not possible in a DOE national laboratory context because of stricter clearance requirements even for site entry, as discussed earlier.
A unique concept presented by Harwell—apparently without analogue on the DOE side—was the formation of a $17.7 million private not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation to further DOD’s research interests in aerospace. The Wright Brothers Institute, as it is called, sponsors research project collaborations, research chairs at universities, technology incubators, and research and business planning activities. It is governed by its own board of directors, which includes representatives from government, university, and industry. Funding derives primarily from the Air Force Research Laboratory (through congressional appropriation), local economic development concerns, and the state government.
Throughout the DOE, DOD, and NIST presentations, there was an interesting divergence on the self-image of the federal laboratory researcher. All plenary speakers implicitly or explicitly recognized that much of the nation’s leading-edge research occurred in universities. However, several of the DOE presenters stressed that the scientists in national laboratories deliver equally significant scientific breakthroughs and therefore aspire to be recognized as leading-edge researchers at the same level, and in the same context, as university researchers (hence, the “prestige” afforded by university titles). Many of the leading scientists at DOE laboratories have in fact come from leading research universities and retain a culture that is focused on peer-reviewed and path-breaking science. The NIST presentation made no such reference or distinctions, implicitly suggesting that visibility and recognition were not issues for NIST researchers and that, given equal contributions, they enjoyed equal access to the public stage.
The DOD presentation, in yet a third variant, suggested that university researchers would inevitably dominate the intellectual forefront and world scientific stage and that the role of the mission-oriented laboratory researcher was to translate some of these advances into technology. This point of view came out most clearly in slides describing the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Institute, where the benefits received from the university included “early access to innovation,” “stay[ing] abreast of technology trends,” and “serv[ing] as mentors to staff,” while benefits to the university included many funding-related items (e.g.,
“financial support for research,” “employment opportunities,” “sabbatical leave opportunities,” “connection to research opportunities within AFOSR” [Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the primary Air Force funding agency for universities]), as well as the ability to work on interesting, technology-driven problems.
In short, the two non-DOE federal laboratory speakers presented scenarios that differed from DOE in several key areas, thereby identifying issues that are unique to DOE:
Significant accounting, contracting, and legal hurdles in university collaborations, which—aside from IP (intellectual property) issues—appear to be unique to DOE. Discussions in breakout sessions suggest that these stem from the GOCO (government-owned, contractor-operated) model that DOE uses to run its laboratories. Such problems are ameliorated somewhat when the university operates the laboratory.
Color- or pot-of-money problems in conducting collaboration and education programs with universities appear unique to DOE. Audience comments indicate this problem arises from DOE’s use of outside contractors to run its laboratories. For example, there are moneys that derive from the contractors’ other operations, money that comes to the contractor from DOE for the purpose of running the laboratory, money that comes to the contractor as “profit” on running the laboratory (performance-based incentive for the contractor), and outside moneys raised by laboratory researchers through successful grant writing to companies, foundations, or even other agencies. Each “pot” comes with its own restrictions. Participants’ stories illustrated that even funds that originate from one source, the Basic Energy Sciences Division of the DOE Office of Science (DOE-BES) for example, have different restrictions on them, depending on the origin and destination. Large facilities expenditures often come in as line items in the congressional budget. Single or group PI work typically comes in as field work proposals. Grant instruments, the funding mechanism most familiar to university faculty funded by DOE, is not available to DOE laboratory researchers: DOE regulations prohibit the use of its own grant mechanism to fund work at the national laboratories. However, DOE national laboratory researchers are allowed to respond to grant solicitations from NIH, thanks to a 1998 MOU between DOE and NIH that authorizes DOE laboratory contractors to be the institutional entity submitting the NIH grant application. Thus, because DOE researchers are supported by both non-government and government funding sources, and even sub-classifications of funding within each, they are more susceptible than most researchers to the problem of differing contractual restrictions on the funds they receive.
DOE has much stricter controls on foreign nationals, foreign visitors, and hence university collaborations than other agencies’ laboratories, even DOD.
The presentations from other agencies’ point of view also revealed some comparative truths about DOE laboratories and their researchers:
DOE researchers view themselves as competitive with, and competitive for, the same levels of intellectual achievement and global prestige as university professors.
DOE researchers view their research as an unusual blend of cutting-edge basic science and engineering and equipment-intensive experimentation (often at large scale), with a strong professional staff and team-oriented approach not duplicated in any other type of facility.