APS News

Internal and External Reviews Address Problems at Department of Energy

John Hamre, President of CSIS
John Hamre, President of CSIS

In the waning months of his tenure as Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson commissioned a prestigious panel to study the science and security functions of the department. Calling on the resources of a bi-partisan mix of eminent scientists and experts in security, the study is being conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). It is headed by John Hamre, President of CSIS and former Deputy Secretary of Defense, and includes two former presidents of the APS. The panel is expected to present its final report by April of 2002.

Meanwhile, eleven distinguished scientists and science policy makers, assembled under the aegis of the APS but acting as an independent group, have addressed concerns specific to the Office of Science in DOE, and, in a document circulated widely on Capitol Hill, have proposed alternative organizational structures for the Office should it either remain within the Department or be reconstituted outside the DOE.

In an appearance on ABC's Nightline on December 21, Secretary Richardson described the Hamre Commission's charge as "to strike a balance for the new administration between science and security."

The commission has already held preliminary meetings, and members of the commission have visited some of the national laboratories, which are the focus of much of DOE-sponsored research. At a reception at the National Academies in December, some of the commission members commented on what they hoped the commission would achieve.

Hamre called the current arrangement, which involves a quasi-independent agency within DOE, headed by Undersecretary for Nuclear Security General John Gordon, "a sub-optimal solution to a serious problem", and hoped that the commission could be helpful to the new Secretary of Energy as well as to General Gordon.

D. Allan Bromley, science advisor to President George Bush the elder and president of APS in 1997, remarked that the national labs, which "used to be considered the gems of our scientific enterprise, have fallen on harder days", and promised to "use our best efforts to come up with recommendations for the new administration." Burton Richter, Nobel-Prize winning former director of SLAC and president of APS in 1994, thought that "the system is badly broken. The commission may be the last shot to fix it. It's either fix it or break it up."

Among the other members of the Hamre commission are former Senator Howard Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton, co-authors of the Baker-Hamilton report that studied security policies at Los Alamos, and found that "the combined effects of the Wen Ho Lee affair, the recent fire, and the continuing swirl around the hard-drive episode have devastated morale and productivity." The full Baker-Hamilton report is available at www.fas.org/sgp/library/bakerham.html.

The independent group of scientists was headed by Nobel Laureate Robert C. Richardson of Cornell (no relation to the former Secretary) and contained two members of the Hamre Commission, Richter and William Happer of Princeton, a former director of the DOE Office of Energy Research (since renamed the Office of Science). Richardson's December 14 letter to members of Congress accompanying the group's "discussion paper" pointed out that "the US physics community is deeply concerned about the future of scientific research supported by DOE". The group's first alternative considers a proposal "to elevate the Director of the DOE Office of Science to the rank of Under Secretary for Science and Energy, with additional responsibilities as Science Advisor to the Secretary."

The second alternative is "to create a 'National Institutes of Science and Advanced Technology' (NISAT) within a cabinet-level department in analogy to the National Institutes of Health within the Department of Health and Human Services. NISAT would include the DOE science and energy programs together with other agencies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and would "form the major part of a new 21st Century Department of Commerce."

Others in the group proposing these alternatives were: James S. Langer of the University of California, Santa Barbara, then President of APS; Martin Blume, Editor-in-Chief of APS and former Deputy Director of Brookhaven; Sidney Drell of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center; John H. Gibbons, former science advisor to President Clinton; Martha Krebs, former Director of the DOE Office of Science; W. Carl Lineberger, University of Colorado, and past chair of DOE Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee; Albert Narath, former director of Sandia National Laboratory; and George H. Trilling of Berkeley, then President-elect (and now President) of the APS.

CSIS Study Participants

  • Howard Baker, former senator from Tennessee
  • Robert Barker, former assistant to the secretary of defense for atomic anergy
  • William Bratton, former New York City police commissioner
  • D. Allan Bromley, former director of OSTP, Professor of Sciences, Yale University
  • Robert Bryant, former FBI deputy director
  • James Clapper, former director, Defense Intelligence Agency
  • France Cordova, former NASA chief scientist
  • Charles Curtis, former deputy secretary of energy
  • Jamie Gorelick, former deputy attorney general
  • Lee Hamilton, former representative from Indiana
  • John Hamre, president of CSIS, former deputy secretary of defense
  • William Happer, former director of energy research at DOE
  • Miriam John, vice president, Sandia National Laboratories
  • Anita Jones, former director of defense research and engineering, DOD
  • William Madia, director, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Michael May, former director, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Burton Richter, Nobel Laureate, professor of physical sciences, Stanford University
  • James Schlesinger, former secretary of defense, former secretary of energy, former CIA director
  • William Webster, former FBI director, former CIA director

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette