WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) 17 national laboratories can be a rambunctious and fractious lot, often feuding over funding, prestige, and greater independence from their parent bureaucracy. But earlier this week, in a U.S. Senate committee room here, the labs were on their best behavior, presenting themselves as a well-functioning—if not necessarily happy—family.
The occasion was the first-ever National Lab Day, a brainchild of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz designed to show off how the labs contribute to U.S. science and security. The main target audience: members of Congress who, to put it bluntly, provide most of the money to run the multibillion-dollar research network. And although it wasn’t mentioned directly, the 16 September Lab Day also occurred as the labs are facing renewed scrutiny over their efficiency and purpose.
The labs “provide essential capabilities for university and industrial researchers” and have made important contributions to America’s economic and military might, Moniz reminded a room packed with science policy heavyweights, including 15 lab directors, National Cancer Institute chief Harold Varmus, former White House science adviser Neal Lane, and lawmakers and staffers who serve on key committees overseeing federal research agencies. “[They] continue to advance science, clean energy, and nuclear security in this country, as they have for decades.”