Over the last six weeks, several House and Senate hearings have
been held on the Galvin Task Force report on DOE's national
laboratories. Reactions have been consistent, with approval of
many of the report's findings and conclusions, the notable
exception being the recommendation to corporatize the governance of
the laboratories (see FYI #17.)
The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee
held the first hearing on February 24. Chairman John Myers
(R-Indiana) began the hearing discussing the "tremendous costs" of
running the laboratories, asking, "how much longer can we continue
to finance all of them?" Myers said, "I guess it has not worked"
when describing the laboratories' Government-Owned,
Contractor-Operated management, later saying, "the labs have not
done the job for the money we have invested in them in the past few
years." Nevertheless, he seemed to have doubts about corporatizing
the laboratories, a sentiment shared by his colleagues. Rep.
Harold Rogers (R-Kentucky) expressed concern about the ability to
maintain future federal funding of basic research while Congress is
cutting other programs, such as food stamps. While supportive of
basic research, Rogers worried that it is "too boring for us to
sell to the public." Myers later said that he is asked by his
constituents, "why did you spend $2.5 billion on a hole in Texas?"
On February 28, the Senate Energy and Water Development
Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee held a joint hearing on the task force report.
Appropriations subcommittee chairman Peter Domenici (R-New Mexico)
began by saying, "I accept that the current system of governance is
broken and should be replaced with a bold initiative." He added
that if corporatizing the laboratories was "too extreme,"
management changes recommended by the task force could be
implemented. Ranking appropriations subcommittee member J. Bennett
Johnston (D-Louisiana) said that while changes are needed to ensure
that the laboratories do not "fritter away," he does not support
corporatizing the laboratories.
Appearing at this joint hearing were Secretary of Energy Hazel
O'Leary and Robert Galvin. O'Leary promised that "this is not just
another lab report that will be filed," adding that she "sincerely
embraces a large majority of that which is in the report." DOE
will, she said, implement many of the management changes
recommended by the task force, adding "I am doing it." O'Leary
took issue with Galvin's recommendation to corporatize most
laboratories by next year, which Galvin characterized at the
hearing as an experiment entailing minimal risk. O'Leary remarked
that she was "very loathe to submit it [the laboratory system] to
some experiment," since it represents a $100 billion investment by
the taxpayer. She added though, "I'm still in the examining phase
[of the corporatizing recommendation], not the rejection stage."
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski
(R-Alaska) promised that the report would get a thorough review.
There was another joint hearing on March 9 by two House science
subcommittees. Present at this hearing, in addition to O'Leary and
Galvin, were the directors of ten national laboratories. Chairman
Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) was disappointed that the task
force did not recommend any laboratory closure or consolidation,
asking if this decision should be left to others. Galvin replied
that national science and technology needs are so great that the
laboratories should not be diminished. Rohrabacher replied that
everyone has similar views about all federal programs.
In both prepared testimony and oral comments, none of the
laboratory directors embraced the corporatizing recommendation,
although all found considerable merit in other findings of the
report. None of the committees' members expressed a readiness to
corporatize the laboratories.
Judging from this series of hearings, there is a consensus among
Members of Congress, Secretary O'Leary, and the laboratory
directors that changes in the management style of the laboratories
are needed. There is not such support for corporatizing the
laboratories. What remains unresolved is if sufficient funding
will be provided to the Department of Energy to run all of the
laboratories in the future, given the budget climate. At a March
6 hearing on the Department of Commerce budget request, House
Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-Ohio) commented as an
aside that "we have the national laboratories that aren't working
very well." Kasich and his staff have to find an over-all $1.2
trillion in deficit cuts to bring the federal budget into balance
by 2002. The pressure is now on these subcommittees to
specifically identify some of those cuts in the Department of
Energy budget for FY 1996 and the years beyond.