oversight

The Department of Energy's Office of Science Uses a Multilayered Process for Prioritizing Research

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-02-24.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




           February 24, 2012

           The Honorable Lamar Alexander
           Ranking Member
           Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
           Committee on Appropriations
           United States Senate

           Subject: The Department of Energy’s Office of Science Uses a Multilayered Process for
           Prioritizing Research

           Dear Senator Alexander:

           Scientific and technological innovation is critical to the long-term economic competitiveness
           and prosperity of the United States. In 2006, the President introduced the American
           Competitiveness Initiative to address the nation’s position as a global leader in scientific
           discovery and innovation. Shortly thereafter, Congress passed the America Creating
           Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science
           Act (America COMPETES Act) of 2007 with the overall goal of increasing federal investment
           in scientific research. 1 Congress reauthorized this legislation on January 4, 2011. 2

           With a budget of nearly $5 billion in fiscal year 2011, the Department of Energy’s (DOE)
           Office of Science (Science) has historically been the nation’s single largest funding source
           for basic research in the physical sciences, energy sciences, advanced scientific computing,
           and other fields. 3 Science and its predecessor agency, the Office of Energy Research, have
           long served the nation in the quest for scientific knowledge and innovation. From the
           construction of particle accelerators—long tunnels where subatomic particles collide with
           targets at nearly the speed of light—to the design and launch of a satellite telescope that
           reveals stellar explosions in the deepest parts of space, projects overseen by Science have
           broadened our understanding of the cosmos and of the fundamental components of life on
           Earth.

           In his fiscal year 2007 budget proposal, the President requested an increase in Science’s
           annual appropriation, which was part of an effort to double Science’s funding in 10 years
           under the goals of the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES



           1
               Pub. L. No. 110-69, 121 Stat. 572 (Aug. 9, 2007).
           2
               Pub. L. No. 111-358, 124 Stat. 3982 (Jan. 4, 2011).
           3
            Pub. L. No. 112-10, div. B, title IV, § 1445, 123 Stat. 38, 129 (Apr. 15, 2011) (“Notwithstanding section 1101, the
           level for ‘Department of Energy, Energy Programs, Science’ shall be $4,884,000,000.”).




                                                                                   GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
Act. 4 However, policy decisions made in response to the current budget environment have
since shifted Science’s funding trajectory away from the target of doubling funding by fiscal
year 2016. As a result, Science will be confronted with complex decisions in selecting
research activities that are most worthy of resources.

You asked us to review how Science determines what research to pursue. Our objectives
were to describe (1) Science’s research priorities and how those priorities were established
and (2) how, if at all, Science coordinates with other federal agencies to identify and mitigate
potential areas of duplication, overlap, and fragmentation in establishing and implementing
research efforts.

To identify Science’s research priorities, we reviewed key planning and budget
documentation, including DOE’s 2011 strategic plan and Science’s fiscal year 2012
congressional budget justification. In addition, we examined, as applicable, reports Science
produced in response to federal advisory committees. 5 We interviewed Science’s Deputy
Director for Science Programs and the Associate Directors of Science’s research programs
to discuss how these documents, as well as other information from both internal and
external sources, inform how Science makes decisions on its research priorities. In addition,
we selected a nonprobability sample of 2 of the 10 Office of Science national laboratories to
visit—Brookhaven National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory—to understand
how these decisions affect Science’s operations. 6 To examine how Science’s research
priorities are established, we interviewed Science’s Director of the Office of Budget, as well
as Science program management. We corroborated the officials’ statements by examining
supporting documentation provided by Science’s Office of Budget. This documentation
included, for example, budget formulation guidance issued to program management and
budget tool templates, such as program and project data worksheets. In addition, we
reviewed funding history data from fiscal year 2002 to fiscal year 2011.

To address our second objective, we interviewed Science program officials regarding the
steps they take to coordinate with other DOE program offices and other federal agencies
that fund basic research to identify and mitigate potential duplication, overlap, and
fragmentation. We analyzed agency documentation to corroborate information provided by
the officials. However, the scope of this request did not involve evaluating the extent to
which Science’s tools for coordination are effective in identifying or mitigating duplication,
overlap, or fragmentation. Duplication may occur when two or more agencies or programs
are engaged in the same activities or provide the same services to the same beneficiaries.
Fragmentation refers to those circumstances in which more than one federal agency, or
more than one organization within an agency, is involved in the same broad area of national
need. Overlap occurs when fragmented agencies or programs have similar goals, engage in
similar activities or strategies to achieve them, or target similar beneficiaries.

We conducted this performance audit from June 2011 to February 2012 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan
and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable

4
 Budget of the United States Government Fiscal Year 2007, Department of Energy (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 6,
2006) at 90, accessed January 18, 2012, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BUDGET-2007-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2007-
BUD-13.pdf.
5
 Each of the Office of Science’s six research programs has a federal advisory committee that provides
independent advice to the Department of Energy and the programs regarding scientific and technical issues that
arise in the planning, management, and implementation of the programs.
6
 Because it was a nonprobability sample, the information we collected from our visits is not generalizeable to the
other eight national laboratories but serves as an example of how prioritization decisions at these laboratories
affect Science’s operations.

Page 2                                                                 GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the
evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on
our audit objectives.

Summary
Science establishes research priorities within and across its six core interdisciplinary
research programs, which include a wide variety of research ranging from biology to particle
physics. However, Science does not explicitly rank these programs in terms of priority. The
office currently prioritizes research that aligns with the Secretary of Energy’s interest in
fostering the development of clean energy technologies. For example, Science supports
research in materials sciences, which informs technology development of batteries and fuels
cells. According to Science’s Deputy Director for Science Programs, the office remains
committed to all of its research programs and, in the case of stable or declining budgets,
does not intend to limit funding reductions to certain programs. Science formalizes priorities
annually through the budget formulation process.

With input from program management, the Director of the Office of Science reconciles
priorities across programs and develops a Science-wide budget request that culminates in
the President’s budget request to Congress each February. The budget formulation process
provides an annual opportunity for formalizing priorities, but Science develops priorities on
an ongoing basis through the continuous evaluation of evolving scientific knowledge and
other contextual factors. These factors include the current priorities of Congress and the
administration, the extended time frames associated with conducting basic research, the
need to ensure that existing and planned facilities meet current and future research needs,
and past and current project performance.

Science uses a variety of formal and informal mechanisms to coordinate with other DOE
entities and other agencies that fund basic research, including the National Science
Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National
Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Department of Defense (DOD), according to DOE
officials. For example, formal mechanisms include partnerships and joint projects with other
agencies, while informal mechanisms include interaction among program managers and
their counterparts within and outside of DOE. These formal and informal mechanisms are
used by DOE officials to identify and mitigate areas of duplication, overlap, and
fragmentation in establishing and implementing research efforts.

Background
DOE’s mission is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy,
environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology
solutions. The following four goals underpin DOE’s mission.

         Goal 1: Catalyze the timely, material, and efficient transformation of the nation’s
         energy system and secure U.S. leadership in clean energy technologies.

         Goal 2: Maintain a vibrant U.S. effort in science and engineering as a cornerstone of
         our economic prosperity with clear leadership in strategic areas.

         Goal 3: Enhance nuclear security through defense, nonproliferation, and
         environmental efforts.

         Goal 4: Establish an operational and adaptable framework that combines the best
         wisdom of all department stakeholders to maximize mission success.

Page 3                                                       GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
The Office of Science directly contributes to goals 1 and 2 by supporting fundamental
research through six core interdisciplinary research programs:

       (1) Advanced Scientific Computing Research, which aims to discover, develop, and
           deploy computational and networking capabilities to analyze, model, simulate, and
           predict complex phenomena;

       (2) Basic Energy Sciences, which supports fundamental research to understand and
           ultimately control matter and energy at the atomic, molecular, and electronic scales
           in order to provide the foundations for new energy technologies;

       (3) Biological and Environmental Research, which seeks to understand complex
           biological, climatic, and environmental systems across spatial and temporal scales,
           ranging from submicron to global, from individual molecules to ecosystems, and from
           a fraction of a second to millennia; 7

       (4) Fusion Energy Sciences, which aims to expand the fundamental understanding of
           matter at very high temperatures and densities and to develop the scientific
           foundations needed to develop a fusion energy source;

       (5) High Energy Physics, which aims to understand how the universe works at its most
           fundamental level by discovering the elementary constituents of matter and energy,
           probing the interactions between them, and exploring the basic nature of space and
           time; and

       (6) Nuclear Physics, which supports research to discover, explore, and understand all
           forms of nuclear matter through experimental and theoretical research that creates,
           detects, and describes different forms and complexities of that matter, including
           those forms that are no longer commonly found in our universe. 8

As a result of the continued national emphasis on scientific discovery and innovation over
the last decade, increasing appropriations have generally resulted in increased allocations
for all core research programs (see figure 1).




7
    A submicron is less than a micron, which is equivalent to one millionth of a meter.
8
 Science manages and supports programs in addition to its six core research programs, including Workforce
Development for Teachers and Scientists, Science Laboratories Infrastructure, Safeguards and Security, and
Science Program Direction. This correspondence only discusses the six core research programs.


Page 4                                                                    GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
Figure 1: Office of Science Program Allocations, Fiscal Years 2002 through 2011
(dollars in millions)




Note: Values not adjusted for inflation.

Each of the six programs supports fundamental research to address questions within its field
that affect DOE’s missions. Some programs’ portfolios are diverse, while others are more
homogenous. For instance, the Biological and Environmental Research program’s portfolio
consists of three broad elements—biology, climate science, and environmental science—
while the High Energy Physics program’s portfolio is specifically focused on particle physics
research, much of which relies on the use of particle accelerators and detectors. 9 An
associate director oversees each program, and activities are managed by program
managers.

In addition to its research programs, Science is the steward of 10 national laboratories,
which include large-scale scientific facilities and equipment. 10 Additionally, Science
manages 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC) and the Fuels from Sunlight Energy
Innovation Hub. 11 Science’s facilities aim to provide scientific capabilities beyond the
traditional scope of academic and commercial institutions in order to facilitate the
advancement of the nation’s scientific knowledge.

Further, Science’s research programs fund, plan, construct, and operate “scientific user
facilities,” which provide unique research capabilities to researchers from universities,




9
 A particle accelerator is an apparatus for imparting high velocities to charged particles. There are proton-
accelerators, such as the Large Hadron Collider, and electron-accelerators, such as the PEP-II.
10
 Science is responsible for and partially funds 10 national laboratories: Ames National Laboratory, Argonne
National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Princeton
Plasma Physics Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator
Facility.
11
   Energy Frontier Research Centers are integrated centers supporting multiple researchers focused on
accelerating discovery. The centers involve Science’s partnerships with universities, national laboratories,
nonprofit organizations, and for-profit firms. Science has historically allocated between $2 million and $5 million
for each center per year for a 5-year period. EFRCs are located in 35 states and the District of Columbia.


Page 5                                                                  GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
national laboratories, and private institutions. 12 For example, the Advanced Scientific
Computing Research program supports the operation of the Leadership Computing Facility
at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that houses the Cray XT Jaguar, one of the world’s most
powerful computers. In 2011, the Jaguar was used by such entities as Procter & Gamble,
New York University, and University of California, Los Angeles.

Science Establishes Research Priorities through Budget
Formulation and Assessment of Scientific Knowledge
Science has numerous research priorities that support DOE’s mission of addressing national
challenges through transformative science and technology solutions. The office establishes
priorities by having its associate directors and the Director of the Office make trade-off
decisions during the annual budgeting process. These trade-off decisions are informed
through assessing areas of evolving scientific knowledge and other contextual factors.

Science Has Numerous Research Priorities

Science is involved in conducting or supporting research projects across many and varied
scientific disciplines, including genomics research and nuclear physics. Science’s 2012
budget request reflects this. The Deputy Director for Science Programs told us that the
office’s research priorities support DOE’s mission of addressing national challenges through
transformative science and technology solutions.

Each of Science’s six core interdisciplinary research programs sets priorities for its portfolio.
The following are examples of current research priorities for each program, according to the
Deputy Director:

     •   Advanced Scientific Computing Research’s focus is to sustain its current capabilities
         in mathematics and applied computing science, networking, and high-performance
         computer facilities while investing in the development of exascale computing—an
         effort aiming to create computers that operate a thousand times faster than the
         computers used today.

     •   Basic Energy Sciences is currently emphasizing research on understanding
         inorganic structures and their functions at the atomic, molecular, and electronic
         scales. The Deputy Director said that these efforts could contribute to the
         development of new materials for the generation, storage, and use of energy.
         Additionally, the Deputy Director said that Basic Energy Sciences will continue to
         invest in user facilities, such as photon light sources that are necessary to study the
         atomic structure and functions of complex materials. 13

     •   Biological and Environmental Research is currently focusing on understanding
         organic structures and their functions at the atomic, molecular, and electronic scales.
         The Deputy Director said that the program also plans to sustain its capabilities in
         climate modeling and atmospheric measurement.

12
  Each user facility administers a peer review process to evaluate scientific proposals for accessing that facility.
The proposals are evaluated for scientific merit by independent proposal review committees or panels and for
feasibility and safety by the facility, with those that are most compelling being accepted and allocated time. There
is no charge for users who are doing nonproprietary work, with the understanding that they are expected to
publish their results. Access is also available on a cost-recovery basis for proprietary research that is not
intended for publication.
13
  Photon light sources produce bright beams of X-rays, ultraviolet light, and infrared light for research in such
fields as biology, medicine, chemistry, environmental sciences, physics, and materials science.

Page 6                                                                  GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
     •   Fusion Energy Sciences’ top priority is ITER, 14 an international nuclear fusion
         research and engineering project intended to demonstrate commercial electricity
         production from fusion. 15 Fusion Energy Science may forgo funding increases or
         slightly reduce funding for efforts other than ITER because of the current budget
         environment, according to the Deputy Director.

     •   High Energy Physics is focusing on particle physics in which scientists investigate
         fundamental forces and particle interactions through the study of events that occur
         rarely in nature. 16 A primary goal for this program is to develop an understanding of
         what lies beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. The Standard Model
         describes the behavior of particles, but is incomplete.

     •   Nuclear Physics is currently following a path set forward in the 2007 report, The
         Frontiers of Nuclear Science, 17 developed by the Nuclear Science Advisory
         Committee, which advises DOE and NSF on basic nuclear science research. 18 For
         example, the program is investing in research such as rare isotope development and
         facilities such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven. 19

According to the Deputy Director, Science currently prioritizes research that aligns with the
Secretary of Energy’s interest in fostering the development of clean energy technologies.
Science does not explicitly rank order its six research programs, but many of its research
priorities fall within the portfolios of three programs—Advanced Scientific Computing
Research, Basic Energy Sciences, and Biological and Environmental Research. For
example, Science supports research in materials sciences—which primarily falls into Basic
Energy Sciences’ portfolio—that can inform the development of battery and fuel cell
technology, among other things. The Deputy Director said that Science remains committed
to all six of its research programs and that, in the case of stable or declining budgets,
Science does not intend to limit funding reductions to certain programs. Additionally, the
Deputy Director noted that advancements in one research program enable research in other
programs. For example, Basic Energy Science supports research that relies upon the use of
14
 The ITER Project (formerly known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is a seven-
member international collaboration to design, build, and operate a first-of-a-kind international research facility in
Cadarache, France, aimed at demonstrating the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion energy. The ITER
Members are China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United
States.
15
   Fusion occurs when the nuclei of two light atoms—often hydrogen isotopes—collide and fuse together when
heated at high temperatures. This reaction releases energy that may be captured to produce electricity. A
challenge in producing fusion energy is to develop a device that can produce more energy than is required for
achieving high temperatures.
16
  Particle physics deals with the constitution, properties, and interactions of elementary particles especially as
revealed in experiments using particle accelerators. Particle physics is also known as high energy physics.
17
  The Nuclear Science Advisory Committee issued this report in response to a charge from DOE and NSF to
conduct a study of the opportunities and priorities for U.S. nuclear physics research and recommend a long-
range plan that will provide a framework for coordinated advancement of the nation's nuclear science research
programs over the next decade.
18
 This advisory committee provides official advice to DOE and NSF on the national program for basic nuclear
science research. The responsibility for appointing members and forming subcommittees is shared by the two
agencies.
19
   Isotopes are used in energy, medical and national security applications, and for basic research. Nuclear
Physics supports the production and the development of production techniques of radioactive and stable
isotopes that are in short supply for research and other applications.



Page 7                                                                   GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
high energy electron lasers, the first of which was developed at a High Energy Physics lab
at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Science Establishes Priorities through the Annual Budget Formulation
Process

The budget formulation process provides an annual opportunity for Science to establish
research priorities. During this process, decisions to emphasize one research project over
another are made within each research program by the associate directors and across
programs by the Director of the Office of Science. A description of this process, as detailed
in internal Science documents and interviews with Science budget and program officials,
follows.

As part of the budget formulation process, the associate directors of the six research
programs annually make proposals to the Science Director, Deputy Directors, and Science
Budget Office about which research projects should receive increased, decreased, and
maintained levels of funding. An overall target budget allocation, determined by the Science
Director and the DOE’s Chief Financial Advisor, constrains these program proposals.
Accordingly, associate directors must make trade-offs among research projects during this
process. For example, in fiscal year 2012, Nuclear Physics decided to close its Holifield
Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to accommodate higher-
priority research. High Energy Physics ceased operations of the Tevatron at Fermi National
Accelerator Laboratory and plans to continue to phase out electron accelerator-based
research at SLAC as it transitions its focus toward other priorities, such as non-accelerator-
based projects.

To facilitate such trade-off decisions, the associate directors develop multiple budget
scenarios that detail proposed project funding levels under the various scenarios.
Specifically, the Science Budget Office, in alignment with OMB guidance and requirements,
asks associate directors to submit a budget for a target scenario and may also request
budgets for various other scenarios for specific levels of funding above or below the target.
These scenarios allow the Director, Deputy Directors, and Science Budget Director to see
the potential effects of various budget decisions at the project level.

Additionally, associate directors make lists of specific projects recommended for funding
increases in case funding is available and decreases in case funding is short. Associate
directors are also required to submit narratives that describe the strategy behind any
proposed increases or decreases in project funding. For example, Biological and
Environmental Research requested decreased funding for fiscal year 2011 medical
applications, citing the completion of an artificial retina project effort in its request.

Science’s director reconciles priorities across programs annually by aggregating program
proposals into a Science-wide budget request. The Science-wide budget request is
considered in the context of other DOE priorities and incorporated into the DOE budget
request. The DOE budget request is then considered by OMB against other agency
requests and incorporated into the President’s budget request to Congress.




Page 8                                                    GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
Science Determines Priorities by Assessing Scientific Knowledge and Other
Contextual Factors

To inform decisions on research priorities, program and senior Science management gather
information to identify those areas of science that warrant further research. According to
senior program officials, Science gathers information about areas of evolving scientific
knowledge through a variety of means, including:

    •    Recent guidance from federal advisory committees. Each research program receives
         scientific and technical advice from a designated external federal advisory committee
         regarding the planning, management, and implementation of the program’s research,
         according to agency documents. Federal advisory committees respond to requests
         from the Science Director and may be charged to identify scientific opportunities. For
         instance, the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee issued a report in 2009
         identifying research needs in the area of high energy density laboratory plasmas,
         such as research on the influence of magnetic fields on these plasmas. 20 As another
         example of Science’s information gathering efforts, in 2010, the Advanced Scientific
         Computing Advisory Committee reviewed the management processes for Advanced
         Scientific Computing Research’s Applied Mathematics program. The committee
         found that, for example, research program managers generally used effective
         mechanisms to monitor ongoing projects and recommended that Science issue
         explicit guidelines to researchers for drafting progress reports.

    •    Current findings from the National Academy of Sciences. 21 Science’s programs
         utilize scientific findings from National Academy of Sciences in their planning,
         according to Science officials. For example, their 2009 report, A New Biology for the
         21st Century, advocates the systems-level study of biological systems using the
         latest interdisciplinary tools and approaches. This challenge is aligned with the
         Biological and Environmental Research program’s Genomic Science research
         activities, in which researchers conduct explorations of microbes and plants at the
         molecular, cellular, and community levels with the goal of gaining insight about
         fundamental biological processes, ultimately leading to a predictive understanding of
         how living systems operate.

    •    Participation in interagency working groups and other partnerships. Science also
         collects information from international scientific partnerships that include projects
         such as Fusion Energy Sciences’ ITER; interagency working groups, such as Basic
         Energy Sciences’ participation in the National Science and Technology Council’s
         (NSTC) Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology; and
         joint research efforts with other federal agencies, such as NSF.

In addition to determining research priorities by assessing areas of evolving scientific
knowledge, Science considers other contextual factors when making long-term priority
decisions, including:

20
   The High Energy Density Laboratory Plasmas (HEDLP) program within Fusion Energy Sciences supports
studies of ionized matter, which is heated and compressed to a point where the stored energy reaches very high
temperature and density. In nature, such conditions exist in the interior of the sun, in supernovae, in accretion
disks around black holes, pulsars, and astrophysical jets, while on Earth, high energy density conditions can only
be created transiently by using intense laser pulses, ion or electron ion beams, or pressure from pulsed magnetic
fields.
21
   Congress chartered the National Academy of Sciences, a private, nonprofit society in 1863 to provide
independent advice to the federal government on subjects of science and technology.


Page 9                                                                GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
       •    Current priorities of Congress and the administration. Congress provides input to
            Science’s research priorities through legislation, such as appropriation acts and the
            Energy Policy Act of 2005. 22 The administration provides input through coordination
            and oversight of government wide priorities. Congress and the administration make
            policy and budget decisions that establish parameters with which Science prioritizes
            research and develops the federal budget request, according to Science officials.
            Additionally, administration offices such as the Office of Science and Technology
            Policy (OSTP) 23 and the NSTC 24 play a role in coordinating science policy across the
            federal government.

       •    Long time frames associated with basic research. Science supports basic,
            fundamental research projects, which often require extended time frames—years or
            even decades. For example, Basic Energy Sciences’ neutron scattering efforts,
            which support basic research on the fundamental interactions of neutrons with
            matter, have evolved from the construction of nuclear power reactors in the early
            1940s to the current program, which encompasses multiple techniques and
            disciplines. 25 Discoveries from these early activities motivated Science to construct
            the Spallation Neutron Source, which was completed in 2006. This tool is the most
            powerful neutron scattering device in the world, and neutrons are an effective tool for
            probing the structure of matter. Specifically, beams of neutrons are particularly well-
            suited for measurement, which allows physicists to understand phenomena such as
            melting and superconductivity in a variety of materials. This knowledge can be
            applied to medical sciences, engineering, and biosciences, among other disciplines,
            according to agency documentation.

       •    Capability of facilities to meet research needs. Science also tries to ensure that it
            maintains the capability to meet current and future research needs through the
            planning, construction, and operation of facilities. These facilities can require several
            years of planning and construction and typically operate for 20 to 30 years. For
            example, the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) began operations in 1982.
            As Science identified the future need to produce images of structures at the
            nanoscale—a very small scale where the properties of materials may change—
            Science began planning the NSLS’s replacement. The NSLS II began construction in
            2009 and is scheduled to be operational in 2015, according to agency
            documentation.

       •    Past and current project performance. Science uses internal information, such as
            individual project schedule data, project cost data, and procurement cost information,
            to inform the prioritization of individual projects. For example, all of Science’s
            research programs employ extensive peer reviews to determine what projects will
            continue to receive support, according to the Deputy Director of Science Programs.


22
     Pub. L. No. 109-58, 119 Stat. 594 (Aug. 8, 2005).
23
  The Office of Science and Technology Policy is charged with ensuring that the scientific and technical work of
the Executive Branch is properly coordinated so as to provide the greatest benefit to society.
24
 The National Science and Technology Council is the principal means within the executive branch to coordinate
science and technology policy across the diverse entities that make up the federal research and development
enterprise.
25
  Neutron scattering allows scientists to count scattered neutrons, measure their energies and the angles at
which they scatter, and map their final positions. Neutron scattering provides information on positions, motions,
and magnetic properties of solids. Neutron scattering research is used to analyze materials for medicine, energy,
electronics, and other products and technologies.

Page 10                                                               GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
As contextual factors and scientific knowledge evolve, research priorities change both within
and across Science’s programs. For example, the Basic Energy Sciences program phased
out silicon research because it was proven unlikely to produce transformative energy
technology discoveries.

Science Coordinates with Other Agencies and the Scientific
Community
Science coordinates its research efforts through formal and informal mechanisms with other
DOE entities—such as the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the
National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)—and externally with other agencies that
fund basic scientific research—including NSF, NASA, NIH, and DOD—to identify and
mitigate potential areas of inappropriate duplication, overlap, and fragmentation in
establishing and implementing research efforts. Program managers are responsible for
informally coordinating with their counterpart program managers within and outside of DOE,
according to Science officials. Officials in Nuclear Physics, for example, communicate with
officials in NSF’s Nuclear Physics program, and they are partners in interacting with the
nuclear physics community, according to an official in Science’s Nuclear Physics program.
Science also coordinates through formal mechanisms, specifically by sharing management
of joint projects and funding. For example, Biological and Environmental Research and the
United States Department of Agriculture recently issued a joint request for research
proposals related to genomics of plants that might be used for bioenergy. 26 Additionally,
principal investigators who respond to any Science funding opportunity are required to list all
of their current and potential funding sources. If an area of potential duplication is found, the
recipient may no longer be eligible for Science funding, according to a Science official.

Partnerships and working groups with agencies such as NSF provide other formal avenues
for coordination. For example, Fusion Energy Sciences and NSF jointly sponsored the
Partnership in Basic Plasma Science and Engineering to coordinate efforts and combine
resources. Partnerships and working groups may also be organized by entities such as
OSTP’s NSTC, or specified by legislation. For example, Science is involved in the
Subcommittee on Global Change Research under the NSTC Committee on Environment,
Natural Resources, and Sustainability. Science also participates in the Biomass Research
and Development Board, which was established by the Biomass Research and
Development Act of 2000. 27 Furthermore, DOE and NSF jointly charter two of Science’s
program advisory committees: the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel and the Nuclear
Science Advisory Committee. Additionally, Science uses memorandums of understanding to
coordinate formally with other agencies. For example, Advanced Scientific Computing
Research recently signed a memorandum with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) on the development of high performance computing. While we
discussed Science’s coordination efforts with program officials, the scope of this request did
not involve evaluating the extent to which Science’s tools for coordination are effective in
identifying or mitigating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation.




26
  Genomics is a branch of biotechnology concerned with applying the techniques of genetics and molecular
biology to the genetic mapping and DNA sequencing of sets of genes.
27
     Pub. L. No. 106-224, title III, § 305, 114 Stat. 358, 431 (June 20, 2000), as amended.

Page 11                                                                   GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
Agency Comments and Our Evaluation
We provided a copy of our draft report to the Secretary of Energy for review. DOE provided
written comments expressing agreement with GAO’s findings. DOE’s comments are
reprinted in enclosure I of this report.


We are sending copies of this report to the appropriate congressional committees, the
Secretary of Energy, and other interested parties. In addition, this report will be available at
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Sincerely yours,




Frank Rusco
Director, Natural Resources
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Melissa Emrey-Arras
Director, Strategic Issues



Enclosures—2




Page 12                                                     GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
Enclosure I

Comments from the Department of Energy




Page 13                              GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
Enclosure II

GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments

GAO Contacts

Frank Rusco, (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@gao.gov; or Melissa Emrey-Arras, (202) 512-6806
or emreyarrasm@gao.gov

Staff Acknowledgments

Tim Minelli, Assistant Director; Carol Henn, Assistant Director; Nicole Dery; Cindy Gilbert;
Lauren Grossman; Michael Kendix; Cheryl Peterson; Amy Spiehler; and Jeremy Williams.




(361301)




Page 14                                                   GAO-12-410R DOE Science Priorities
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