July 7, 1999
The United States has a large and diverse complex of Federal research and development (R&D) laboratories created to serve important missions related to national priorities. The laboratory system has produced impressive achievements that are critical in national defense, space, energy, environment and natural resources, health and medicine, agriculture, transportation, information technology, and in the advancement of knowledge. Federal laboratories and intramural research continue to fill a key role in the nation's science and technology (S&T) enterprise, but some specific missions have evolved and in some instances laboratory management systems have become inefficient.
Thus, it was important that the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) review various aspects of laboratory operations to determine how to strengthen the system. To do so, the NSTC established an Interagency Working Group (IWG) composed of 19 Federal agencies that support Federal laboratories. The IWG's report, Improving Federal Laboratories to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century: An Action Plan, formulated recommendations to improve laboratory R&D performance. These proposals include proposed actions that would make personnel policies more flexible and conducive to attracting and retaining a high-caliber S&T workforce; establish responsible, risk-based, outcome-oriented business practices and environmental, health, and safety procedures; and increase communications within and among laboratories. The report also recommends multiyear funding for long-term R&D projects.
Due to the complex network of stakeholders in the Federal laboratory system, many of these recommendations may be difficult to implement. We must engage this stakeholder community in a broad dialogue on the future of our laboratory system, and work with them to streamline management and oversight at the laboratories and to help clarify and focus laboratory missions. By coordinating and integrating laboratory resources and facilities on an inter- and intra-agency basis, our laboratories will continue to serve important missions in the new millennium.
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