97012: Restructuring DOE and Its Laboratories:
Issues in the 105th Congress
Updated January 31, 1997
- The DOE Laboratories
- Proposals and Legislation During the 104th Congress to Restructure DOE and Its Laboratories
- DOE's Plans
- Restructuring Legislation in the 104th Congress
- Funding Legislation in the 104th Congress
- Budget Implications of Restructuring DOE Laboratories
- Issues of Restructuring in the 105th Congress
Any major restructuring of DOE would have significant impacts on DOE's four research and development (R&D) mission areas (national security, science, energy resources, and environmental quality) and on its nine national multiprogram and 24 smaller laboratories. It also likely would have significant impacts on certain areas of national R&D and the federal R&D budget.
A number of bills were introduced in the 104th Congress to restructure DOE and its laboratories. They would have, among other things, eliminated DOE and transferred to other agencies, or terminated, some of its R&D programs and laboratories. Additional bills addressed other restructuring issues, such as creating a commission to make recommendations about closing or reconfiguring the laboratories, reducing their personnel, and establishing explicit missions for the laboratories. None of this restructuring legislation was enacted in the 104th Congress, although a number of hearings were held. Similar legislation has been introduced in the 105th Congress. Decreased funding of DOE's R&D programs also could adversely affect individual laboratories, some of which currently are being downsized.
The DOE Laboratories
The Department of Energy (DOE ) has the government's largest laboratory system, consisting of 33 laboratories. These laboratories conduct research and development (R&D) in DOE's four major laboratory mission areas: national security, science, energy resources, and environmental quality. In total, the DOE laboratories employ about 56,000 persons, down from about 59,000 in 1995. Nine large, multiprogram national laboratories are Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). FFRDCs are owned by the government, but are operated by contractors. The other 24 laboratories are generally smaller, single-purpose or program-directed laboratories. Seven of the 24 smaller laboratories are staffed by a total of about 800 federal employees, just over 1% of the total DOE laboratory work force. Three of these latter laboratories were transferred from the Bureau of Mines when it ceased operations in 1996. The other 17 smaller laboratories are managed and staffed by contractors, ten as FFRDCs. Employees of FFRDCs and other contractor-operated laboratories are the contractors' private sector employees, not federal employees. Several of the smaller laboratories are being evaluated by DOE for possible management changes, including privatization. DOE's FY1997 budget included an estimated $6.5 billion in obligations for the laboratories, down from about $6.7 billion in FY1996 and about $6.9 billion in FY1995.
In FY1997, the nine large national laboratories account for about 70% of the budget obligations, and about 80% of the personnel, of all the DOE laboratories. Table 1 shows these figures for the nine large national laboratories.
Proposals and Legislation During the 104th Congress to Restructure DOE and Its Laboratories
There has been increasing interest in restructuring DOE and its laboratories since the end of the Cold War and particularly since the beginning of the 104th Congress. This section reviews DOE's plans and congressional legislation to restructure DOE and its laboratories addressed during the preceding Congress. No restructuring legislation was passed in the 104th, but similar legislation has been introduced in the 105th Congress, as discussed in a subsequent section.
The "Galvin Task Force" of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board submitted its final report, Alternative Futures for the Department of Energy Laboratories, in February 1995. It found that DOE's laboratory system was "oversized" and recommended that DOE not search for "new missions" when there remains a compelling agenda of important work to be performed in their traditional mission areas" of national security, science, energy resources, and environmental quality. It also proposed a number of changes in DOE's laboratory management. While not accepting all of its recommendations, DOE adopted most of them and initiated a number of organizational reforms and cost-cutting measures aimed at fulfilling its 1994 commitment to reduce its budget by $14.1 billion over 5 years while maintaining most of its science and technology programs and all of its laboratories. This would be about a 15% reduction from the FY1995 funding level. Up to $1.4 billion of that commitment would be taken from the laboratory complex under the direction of the Laboratory Operations Board. The Board was established within DOE in 1995 to "ensure that dedicated management attention, including private-sector input, is provided on a continuing basis to issues involving the cost and performance of the Department's laboratories." Recently completed DOE reports, including the Strategic Laboratory Missions Plan -- Phase I are inputs to DOE's continuing planning process. In furtherance of this process, the Laboratory Operations Board is reviewing aspects of the DOE laboratory complex; some reviews are expected to be completed in 1997. (See For Additional Reading.)
Restructuring Legislation in the 104th Congress
Legislation to eliminate or otherwise restructure DOE and its laboratories was introduced from the beginning of the 104th Congress. Some reasons given for this legislation were that the nation's energy R&D problems could be handled better by the private sector and that other departmental R&D programs, while appropriate federal responsibilities, could be better located in other agencies. Some freshmen Representatives, for example, called for the elimination of DOE , along with the Departments of Commerce, Education, and Housing and Urban Development. A similar call was made in the Senate. The House budget resolution for FY1996 proposed the termination of DOE and the reduction of many of its programs. The Senate version, on the other hand, retained DOE , as did the conference report. In the second session, the House Budget Committee again proposed the elimination of DOE , but, in the conference report, the parties "agree[d] to disagree."
Representative Tiahrt introduced a bill in the first session to, among other things, terminate DOE in three years; establish a commission to reduce the number of energy laboratories and their programs through reconfiguration, privatization, and closure; transfer DOE's nuclear weapons and other defense programs, including the three nuclear weapons laboratories (Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia), to the Department of Defense; and reduce energy supply R&D programs and terminate some fossil energy programs. In the second session, Sen. Grams introduced a similar bill. Other bills were introduced on individual aspects of these matters.
Additional bills were introduced to establish the post-Cold War missions of DOE's laboratories so that any decision to restructure them could be made on a sound basis; and to reduce the personnel at the non-weapons laboratories by one-third within ten years, terminate inferior or duplicate facilities, and consolidate other R&D at major facilities or centers of expertise. Hearings were held on a number of these bills. A hearing also was held on a proposal to create a Cabinet-level Department of Science which would consist of parts of DOE , including its laboratories, and nine other R&D agencies.
Funding Legislation in the 104th Congress
No authorization bills for DOE's civilian R&D activities were enacted in the 104th Congress. The authorization bills for DOE's defense R&D activities, including nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship, generally exceeded the Administration's requests.
The FY1996 and FY1997 DOE R&D appropriations acts funded most DOE R&D budget components at levels significantly below their respective requests, with the general exception of fundamental science and defense core stockpile stewardship. However, even parts of these areas (for example, fusion energy R&D) were funded at lower levels. The FY1997 appropriations, however, funded fossil energy R&D and energy conservation above the Administration's request.
Budget Implications of Restructuring DOE Laboratories
Overall federal budget savings would depend mainly upon downsizing or eliminating DOE's R&D programs and laboratories, not just transferring them to other governmental agencies. The three nuclear weapons laboratories, however, which currently account for about one-third of the DOE laboratory budget and personnel, would not be eliminated under any recent proposal and probably would not decrease much, if at all, in funding in the near future.
Other DOE R&D programs could be decreased and the laboratories transferred to other federal agencies, sold to academia or the private sector if buyers could be found, which is questionable in many cases, or closed. However, federal funding support for much of the fundamental scientific research currently conducted in these laboratories may continue wherever the laboratories are located because such research is considered, by many science policymakers, to be of national importance and it probably would not, or could not, be funded by academia or the private sector. On the other hand, much applied energy R&D appears to be vulnerable because many policymakers believe that the government should not support such R&D. Many of these R&D programs, consequently, may be terminated and the laboratories transferred, sold (if buyers exist), or terminated. DOE and other policymakers, however, believe that the government should continue to support these R&D programs for long-term strategic and other reasons.
For further background information, including relevant hearings during the 104th Congress and reports and articles, see CRS Issue Brief 95110, DOE Laboratory Restructuring Legislation in the 104th Congress and CRS Report 95-988 SPR, The DOE Laboratories: Issues of DOE Restructuring, Missions, National R&D, and Budget.
Issues of Restructuring in the 105th Congress
Although a number of bills were introduced in the last Congress to restructure DOE and its laboratories, none were enacted. The issue, however, remains of interest to many Members and it is likely that a number of bills will be introduced in the 105th Congress. Senator Grams introduced the first such bill, S. 236, on January 30, 1997. This bill is similar to a bill he introduced in the second session of the previous Congress. The bill would redesignate DOE as the Energy Programs Resolution Agency, an independent agency with a life of three years to "wind-up" the activities of DOE and "establish, consolidate, alter, or discontinue in the Agency any organizational entities that were entities of the Department of Energy." By the act itself, certain civilian energy research and science and technology programs would be transferred to the Secretary of the Interior; basic science research programs subsequently could be transferred by the Secretary to the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill also would transfer DOE's nuclear weapons laboratories (Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia) to the Department of Defense. The functions of DOE's nondefense laboratories would be transferred to NSF and the Nondefense Energy Laboratory Commission would be established "for the purpose of making recommendations to Congress whether any of the nondefense energy laboratories or programs at nondefense energy laboratores or any of the basic science programs should be continued through reconfiguration, transfer, or privatization, rather than being closed ... ." The bill establishes a procedure for fast track congressional consideration of the Commission report. The bill authorizes the President to reconfigure, transfer, privatize, or close the nondefense laboratories based upon the Commission;s recommendations and congressional resolutions about each laboratory.
S. 236 (Grams)
A bill to abolish the Department of Energy. Introduced January 30, 1997; referred to Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
U.S. Department of Energy. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board. Alternative futures for the Department of Energy national laboratories. ("Galvin Task Force Report") February 1995. Vol. I, 66 p. plus appendix; and Vol. II: White Papers, 74 p. plus charts.
----- Laboratory Operations Board. Strategic laboratory missions plan -- phase I. July 1996. Vol. I, 112 p.; Vol. II, various pagination.
U.S. General Accounting Office. Department of Energy: National laboratories need clearer missions and better management. (GAO/RCED-95-10) Jan. 1995. 45 p.
----- Department of Energy: A framework for restructuring DOE and its missions. (GAO/RCED-95-197) Aug. 21, 1995. 40 p.
----- Energy downsizing: While DOE is achieving budget cuts, it is too soon to gauge effects. (GAO/RCED-96-154) May 1996. 14 p.
----- Department of Energy: Progress made under its strategic alignment and downsizing initiative. (GAO/T-RCED-96-197) June 12, 1996. 6 p.
CRS Issue Briefs
CRS Issue Brief 95110. DOE laboratory restructuring legislation in the 104th Congress, by William C. Boesman.
CRS Issue Brief 85031. Technology transfer: Use of federally funded R&D, by Wendy H. Schacht.
CRS Report 95-988. The DOE laboratories: Issues of DOE restructuring, missions, national R&D, and budget, by William C. Boesman.
CRS Report 93-752. Department of Energy laboratories: Capabilities and missions, by William C. Boesman.
CRS Report 93-844. Department of Energy laboratories: A new partnership with industry?, by Wendy H. Schacht.
CRS Report 94-916. The DOE multiprogram nuclear weapons laboratories, by William C. Boesman.
CRS Report 95-1020. Department of Energy abolition?: Implications for the nuclear weapons program, by Jonathan Medalia.
CRS Report 95-235. A Department of Science and Technology: A recurring theme, by William C. Boesman.
CRS Report 95-508. Department of Energy programs: History, status, options, coordinated by Carl E. Behrens and Richard E. Rowberg.
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