The LDRD Program achieves continual improvement through internal and external reviews of Program management, execution, and oversight of each LDRD project. In accordance with DOE Order 226.1B of the prime contract between NNSA and Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, a contractor-assurance system is in place at the Laboratory; the LDRD office uses this system and tools provided to support improvements in LDRD Program performance.
On June 17, 2015, the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Task Force on DOE National Laboratories issued a report to identify "the constraints on and evaluate the effectiveness of laboratory operations that impact the efficiency of the DOE national laboratories.” The task force complimented the LDRD Programs, noting, “LDRD support has been responsible for some of the most important ideas coming from the laboratories.” Among six recommendations given by the task force for enhancing efficiency, communication, creativity, and collaboration was that DOE “should pilot an independent review of the LDRD Program impacts and processes of four laboratories, evaluating up to ten years of funded projects.”
Accordingly, in May 2016, the director of the Office of Science, Cherry A. Murray, asked the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) to perform such an independent review. The ASCAC convened a subcommittee to consider the overall impact of LDRD in the four laboratories selected (including Livermore, the sole NNSA facility represented) and the processes by which they
- determine funding levels for the LDRD Programs;
- determine laboratory-specific goals and allocate resources among the goals;
- select specific projects; and
- evaluate the success and impact of LDRD against Laboratory-specific goals and the overall objectives of the LDRD Programs over a ten-year period.
To assess these four areas, the ASCAC subcommittee engaged in extensive written dialog with representatives of the chosen LDRD Programs, including several iterations of questions and answers. The subcommittee also made site visits to the laboratories. As described in their final report, the subcommittee made the following determinations about the DOE LDRD Program:
- “In all cases, the Subcommittee observed that considerable care was taken to ensure that [project] allocations reflect and reinforce the Laboratory mission. Overall the local LDRD offices are thoughtful stewards of the DOE LDRD Program.”
- “It was clear to the Subcommittee that the processes for mapping the LDRD program onto the goals of each Lab are an inherent part of the strategic planning of that Lab. This well-structured process ensures that all the divisional activities are aligned with the LDRD program.”
- “The processes are well-managed, appropriate and seemed very fair and transparent as far as the Subcommittee could ascertain.”
- “The Subcommittee observed the considerable and long-lasting impact of LDRD during our visits to each Lab.…The LDRD program has allowed Labs to better accomplish their mission, as well as rapidly respond to emerging issues and allow the U.S. to remain at the forefront of technology.”
The subcommittee visited Livermore on January 5–6, 2017. In its final report, the subcommittee stated the following in regard to Livermore’s LDRD Program:
- LDRD is essential to maintain LLNL’s science, technology, and engineering base.
- LDRD is essential to attract and retain a high-quality LLNL workforce.
- LLNL’s strategic approach to management of its LDRD research portfolio is highly effective.
- LLNL has a number of best practices that other laboratories should consider adopting within their LDRD Programs.
Overall, the ASCAC subcommittee’s review was very positive concerning both the LDRD Program as a whole and Livermore’s Program specifically. Their sole recommendation to LLNL concerned the improvement of tracking the long-term impacts of projects. The report observes, “Planned efforts by LLNL to enhance on-going processes for collecting metrics associated with LDRD Programs should better allow them to monitor the long-term impact of LDRDs and demonstrate their success. LLNL should discuss these efforts with the other DOE Labs....” Toward that end, representatives from the LLNL LDRD Program are participating in a working group with other DOE/NNSA laboratories to share best practices and discuss strategies for tracking the long-term impact of LDRD projects.