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Let Them Do It Their Way

A commission tells Congress that US national labs should be allowed more space to pursue their research goals, ScienceInsider reports.

Lawmakers had requested that the commission look into how the Department of Energy should oversee its 17 laboratories, and the commission co-chair, TJ Glauthier, told a spending committee last week that "DOE should be directing and overseeing its programs at a policy level, specifying 'what' its programs should achieve. The labs, for their part, should be responsible for determining 'how' to carry them out."

The commission further found that there is little trust between DOE and lab officials. (ScienceInsider notes that outside contractors run all the labs save one.) "The National Laboratories, for their part, do not fully trust DOE and therefore maintain secrecy about some of their action," the report says, later adding "DOE, for its part, does not trust the laboratories to keep them fully informed about technical and financial progress or safety and security issues. As a result, DOE micromanages work at the laboratories."

According to ScienceInsider, the commission made three dozen recommendations, including to allow the labs to spend up to 6 percent of their budgets on discretionary research as well as to provide greater transparency into indirect and overhead costs and to improve lab facilities and infrastructure.

But some lawmakers, like Senator Dianne Feinstein (D–CA) are concerned that less oversight could lead to cost overruns.