Opportunities and Constraints for Expanding Use of Research Facilities at the National Bureau of Standards

RCED-85-55: Published: Mar 1, 1985. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the utilization and elimination of selected facilities at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) to determine: (1) how NBS is using the facilities; (2) the opportunities and constraints to increasing their use; and (3) why facilities have been eliminated.

GAO found that most of the NBS research facilities are used predominantly by NBS personnel and less than 24 hours per day. Acquisition of 10 facilities was funded exclusively by NBS appropriations; however, other federal agencies, private industry, a university, and a research institute have contributed to the funding of others. Most of the facilities are used by NBS researchers in collaboration with non-NBS research personnel and guest workers who are solicited by program managers. However, the operating characteristics of some facilities limit the intensity of possible use and the suitability for multiple users or 24-hour operation. GAO could find no criteria for the appropriate use of the research facilities; however, it found that all of the facilities have produced research projects which were relevant to the NBS mission, and all but one have ongoing work with future objectives. Common constraints to increased facility use include: limited new research demands; limited research personnel man-hours; equipment limitations; the potential for competition with private industry; and the need to retain a neutral environment. GAO could find no correlation between fluctuations in program resources and changes in facility use. There have been 21 facilities eliminated since 1972 due to obsolescence, the accomplishment of research objectives, or work transferred to private industry or another federal agency. Finally, GAO found some inconsistencies in the property management system used for the most expensive items at one of the laboratories.

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