National Laboratories:

Better Performance Reporting Could Aid Oversight of Laboratory-Directed R&D Program

GAO-01-927: Published: Sep 28, 2001. Publicly Released: Oct 15, 2001.


Robin M. Nazzaro
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The Department of Energy (DOE) created the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program in fiscal year 1992. This program formalized a long-standing policy of giving its multi-program national laboratories discretion to conduct self-initiated, independent research and development (R&D). Since then, DOE's multi-program national laboratories have spent more than $2 billion on LDRD projects. DOE's three largest multi-program national laboratories account for nearly three-quarters of laboratory-wide LDRD spending. All LDRD projects GAO reviewed at the five laboratories met DOE's guidelines for selection. In addition, each of the five laboratories created the internal controls necessary to reasonably ensure compliance with DOE's guidelines. Each laboratory issues annual LDRD reports that contain performance indicators, such as the numbers of patents obtained, publications, copyrights, awards, and relevance of the research to DOE's missions. The reports present performance information in various formats, making it difficult to focus on the most relevant performance information.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve Congress's ability to make informed decisions on the value of the LDRD program, the Secretary of Energy should develop and annually report aggregate, more-uniform performance information for the LDRD program. This recommendation will require DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration and the Office of Science, which are both accountable for laboratory performance, to work together and develop performance indicators that can be used to demonstrate accomplishments across all the laboratories.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE developed a final set of performance indicators for the LDRD program that has been approved by the Office of Science, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science, and Technology. Each program office has agreed to have their laboratories report annually on this set of uniform indicators. DOE will use this information to better inform both internal and external stakeholders of the value of the LDRD program at its laboratories. Based on the above actions, this recommendation has been completed.

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