Uncertain Progress in Implementing National Laboratory Reforms
United States General Accounting Office Washington United States
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For nearly 20 years, many advisory groups have found that while DOEs national laboratories do impressive research and development, they are unfocused, are micromanaged by DOE, and do not function as an integrated national research and development system. Weaknesses in DOEs leadership and accountability are often cited as factors hindering fundamental reform of the laboratories management. As a result, advisory groups have made dozens of recommendations ranging from improving strategic planning to streamlining internal processes. Several past advisory groups have also suggested major organizational changes in the way the laboratories are directed. To address past recommendations by advisory groups, DOE, at our request, documented the actions it has taken, from creating new task forces to developing strategic laboratory plans. While DOE has made some progress-principally by reducing paperwork burdens on its laboratories-most of its actions are still under way or have unclear outcomes. Furthermore, these actions lack the objectives, performance measures, and milestones needed to effectively track progress and account for results. Consequently, the Department cannot show how its actions have resulted, or may result, in fundamental change. For example, its Strategic Laboratory Missions Plan, which was developed to give more focus and direction to the national laboratories, does not set priorities and is not tied to the annual budget process. Few experts and officials we consulted could show how the plan is used to focus missions or integrate the laboratory system. DOEs latest technique for focusing the laboratories missions is the technology roadmap. Roadmaps are plans that show how specific DOE activities relate to missions, goals, and performers. Roadmaps are a promising step but have been used in only a few mission areas and are not directly tied to DOEs budget process.
- Administration and Management