Federal Research:

DOE Is Providing Independent Review of the Scientific Merit of Its Research

RCED-00-109: Published: Apr 25, 2000. Publicly Released: May 30, 2000.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Energy's (DOE) merit review practices, focusing on: (1) what procedures DOE has established for performing merit reviews; and (2) whether DOE could document that it has followed the merit review procedures it has established.

GAO noted that: (1) both the Office of Basic Energy Sciences and the Office of Power Technologies have established procedures for merit reviews, setting out what types of review will be performed, who will perform the reviews, what criteria will be used in the evaluations, and how individual reviewers' comments will be used by those making award decisions; (2) the offices differ in the specifics, however, reflecting DOE's belief that a "one size fits all" approach is not appropriate in an agency with components that have such varying research objectives; (3) for example, since the Office of Basic Energy Sciences conducts basic research, it focuses its reviews on the merits of the science and the qualifications of the researchers; (4) in contrast, since the Office of Power Technologies conducts applied research, it focuses its merit reviews on research outcomes and management of the projects and programs; (5) these approaches are consistent with the Office of Science and Technology Policy's view that peer review practices should be flexible and tailored to agencies' missions and types of research; (6) on the basis of GAO's analysis of programs and more than 150 specific projects funded by the two offices in fiscal years 1998 and 1999, the Office of Basic Energy Sciences and the Office of Power Technologies documented that they were following the procedures they had established for merit reviews; and (7) all projects are reviewed except those that are provided project-specific funding through congressional mandates.

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