re: Report of the Coleman Subcommittee of the Academic Council: UC-DOE National Laboratories
Dear Chair Leiman:
The University Committee on Research Policy (UCORP) appreciates the efforts of the Coleman Subcommittee of the Academic Council to find a middle ground concerning the renewal of the UC management contracts with the DOE National Laboratories. UCORP grappled with the same issues and, after 18 months, concluded that changes short of non-renewal of the contracts would not solve the major problems associated with the current contracts. Fundamentally, the concerns raised by UCORP are not addressed effectively by the Coleman suggestions, as well-meaning as they are. Indeed, the suggestions raise many questions with serious implications for the University of California (UC) as well as the Department of Energy (DOE). However, UCORP supports the philosophy of the Coleman Committee that all of these issues should be "on the table" during negotiations for renewal of the contracts. UCORP strongly urges the Academic Council to weigh the concerns outlined in this commentary should the opportunity arise to implement the recommendations made by the Coleman Committee.
In general, the Coleman Committee suggestions fall into three broad categories:
(a) those that misunderstand the nature of the contract and the nature of the contractor's authority. These include the physical separation of classified and nonclassified research, the allocation of the science and technology budget, and peer-reviewed funding;
(b) those that are currently within the authority of the Office of Laboratory Administration in the Office of the President (OP) and reflect problems with OP management, not the contract. These include intellectual freedom, personnel policies, performance evaluations, and regulation compliance;
(c) those that are unworkable and focused inappropriately. These include institutionalized academic oversight of the LABs, and participation of the Academic Council in contract negotiations.
1. Physical separation of classified and nonclassified research. UCORP carefully evaluated this possibility. From testimony of a number of experts with whom UCORP consulted, it was evident that physical separation of classified and nonclassified work will not be practical or feasible. Furthermore, even if the classified work were subcontracted, UC would still be responsible (morally, fiscally, and legally) for the actions of the subcontractor. Even if feasible, physical separation of classified and nonclassified work would raise other complications: for example, unequal treatment of personnel and programs involved in classified and nonclassified research is a clear possibility.
2. UCORP agrees with the Coleman Committee's concern about the ambiguity of OP's fundamental concepts of management and oversight. But the magnitude and complexity of the LABs, the very nature of the GO-CO type contract, and the unwillingness or inability of OP to carry out its duties as mandated by the contract lead to this ambiguity. The ambiguity in "management" and "oversight" has two elements:
First, does "University management" imply participation of the faculty and other critical components of the University in the management process, or does it simply mean the creation of a bureaucratic structure within the OP?
Second, does management and oversight imply significant input from the manager or only a broad, supervisory, "blessing" placed on Laboratory activities?
These are very complex issues that have never been addressed adequately by the Regents, by the OP, or by the DOE. The answers to these questions will largely govern the nature of changes that can or should be made in the management contract. Furthermore, current mechanisms do not provide a means to utilize the University culture either in the spirit of open debate or the faculty's broad knowledge and expertise in international law, ethics, etc., in addition to science and technology. Adding oversight by the Senate does not solve the logistic problem, whereas delegation of authority to the Laboratory Directors aggravates the lack of true management by OP and faculty. Separation of classified and nonclassified research would eliminate University input from exactly the issue deemed so valuable by the DOE and President Clinton, as well as making the LABs less attractive for recruiting new scientists for the weapons programs.
The Coleman Committee must recognize that greater senate involvement in management will have no legal status, unless defined and offered by the Regents and UC President. In UCORP's opinion, there is little shared governance presently in UC's management of the National Laboratories. From the faculty perspective, the Coleman Committee's suggestions to "...institute a true Senate contribution, in accordance with shared governance...," is praiseworthy. However, it is precisely here that a hiatus exists between the LABs on the one hand and the faculty on the other. In so far as the LAB activities are driven by DOE missions which are not related to teaching and training, the LABs see no need for shared governance. And, in so far as the LAB personnel are "UC employees" in the sense that they are paid by UC, the LABs feel that whatever they do are legitimate acts of the University. In contrast, the faculty feels that the name recognition, and the ability to attract talented researchers for weapons work stem from the academic excellence associated with teaching and research at UC. Indeed, it may be that true shared governance may not be in the best interests of DOE. Already the LABs are subject to oversight by many agencies, including GAO, OSHA, NRC, EPA, etc.
The Coleman Committee suggests that one of the chief advantages of University management should be "introduction of academic culture to these governmentally sponsored research institutions." How can one have open and spirited discussion of classified research in the academic context? If classified and nonclassified research is separated, what is the value of UC to the primary mission of the LABs, namely weapons?
3. Specification of a percentage of the LAB budgets for certain work sounds good in principle and, if the percentage were large enough, might interest faculty who currently oppose the contract--if financial issues are at the basis of their opposition. Of course there already is some funding for nonclassified work. The Coleman Report does not specify the current or new percentage. Furthermore, it misunderstands the character of the GO-CO contract: UC has no control over the LAB budgets. The mission, goals, and budgets are set by multiple levels of authority that do not involve UC, but instead include the President of the United States, Congress, and the DOE.
Mandating the setting aside of budgets for basic and applied research may be desirable from a faculty perspective, but raises two other important questions. The first is a conflict of interest. The central mission of the LABs is weapons-related research. Fostering faculty research and graduate student education are peripheral to this central mission. To the extent that faculty and students possess talents required to solve problems of interest to the LABs, LAB management is willing to support faculty research, not only with UC but also nation-wide, involving significant sums of money. But, a perceived conflict of interest may arise if the faculty insists that the LABs set aside funds purely for basic and applied research by UC faculty and students. Second, if such a mandate were implemented, the LABs would be forced to set up machinery to support faculty research available to all segments of the University community.
4. Peer-reviewed funding. The Coleman Report is not clear on this point. There is already a small percentage of the DOE funds allocated for support of UC faculty research. If the intent is to open up all of the LAB Director discretionary funds for open-proposal research funding, even if goal-targeted, any effort to limit these funds to UC personnel would be counter to the National status of these LABs, which precludes favoritism. Furthermore, such a change would be counter to the spirit of the "no profit, no loss" concept of the contract with a state-supported public institution. UC has no authority to control priorities or budgets of the LABs. Extending the peer review process is a valuable activity, but the specific role for UC other than in the kind of review provided by the President's Advisory Council is unclear.
5. Intellectual freedom. UCORP applauds the goal of strengthening intellectual freedom at the LABs. It is important to note that OP already has the authority to protect whistle blowers at the LABs. Both OP and the President's Advisory Council have a long history of doing little or nothing in this area. The stance of the President's Advisory Council on the Yucca Mountain case is the sole known exception in 53 years of UC management.
We also note that the LABs, despite public official statements that describe them as integral parts of UC, are not open campuses and the personnel are not members of the Senate, or even faculty. The notion that these LABs are integral parts of the University, as are the campuses, is one that would probably be disputed by many faculty.
6. Reviews of programs. UCORP agrees that more meaningful efforts to review various programs at the LABs might be useful to the citizens of the country who foot the bills. External objective review of science, technology, and management is laudable.
7. Personnel policies. UCORP continues its own assessment of this issue and supports the Coleman Report that it is an important concern. Again, the current contract already give OP the authority to ensure that personnel policies conform to UC standards. The problems are that it is not clear that new policies and/or changes in policies are consistently sent by the LABs to OP for review, and that OP regularly reviews and grants formal exceptions to UC policies, as required by the current contract. These are not problems with the contract but with OP management under the contract.
8. Performance evaluations. It is not clear which administrators the Coleman Committee has in mind. Again, there is nothing in the contract that precludes such evaluations presently.
9. Regulation compliance. UCORP agrees with the Coleman Committee concerns about compliance with health and safety issues. UCORP was concerned that the President's Advisory Council, formed in 1992, has not made an effective presence in this area. This issue is of particular concern to the public and now involves indigenous people in establishing the standards for the LABs and overseeing them. We believe that it is important to have public representation in this area.
10. External review. UCORP supports the concept of planned an budgeted external review. It must be truly independent and objective. Presently, the President's Advisory Council is the only oversight mechanism.
11. Shared governance. In UCORP' s opinion, there is virtually no shared governance of the LABs at present. If the Academic Council believes there should be, Council must first convince the Regents to make it so. Almost certainly this change will be essential if a member of the Senate is to become a member of the negotiating team, whether this Senate representative is a member of UCORP or not.
The notion of shared governance and its value are at the root of the debate between the faculty, OP, and the LABs. The Coleman Report appears to take it for granted that shared governance is good for the LABs. UCORP believes it is likely that the Regents and the DOE may not share this opinion.
The concept of institutionalized academic oversight needs further evaluation. At least two concerns are worth citing: First, the cost to the University. Senate and UCORP involvement as envisioned by the Coleman Report are substantial and a great deal of thought is necessary before drawing the conclusion that UC can afford to expend the needed resources on this effort. Second, there is a possible conflict of interest. The more the Senate is involved, the more probable that DOE and others may believe that UC has special and favored access to research funding.