Battelle receives top research grade

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldDecember 19, 2012 

Battelle at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory received the highest grade for the quality and production of its research among 10 national laboratories receiving annual evaluations announced Tuesday.

Its scorecard for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 earned it a performance payment of $8.73 million, which was 97 percent of the maximum $9 million available. That's an improvement from last year when the lab received 94 percent of the maximum performance payment.

Battelle, the nonprofit corporation holding the contract to operate the Department of Energy's national lab in Richland, received grades ranging from an A to B-pluses for the eight goal areas set by DOE.

It received an A for the key category of mission accomplishments, which graded the quality and production of its research. Last year, Battelle received an A-minus, and this year, other labs across the national DOE complex all received grades of A-minus or lower.

"It's a recognition that science at the lab is delivering an impact to critical national challenges," said Mike Kluse, PNNL director.

Other grades for Battelle for science and technology goals included an A-minus for science and technology program management and a B-plus for design, construction and operation of research facilities.

Battelle particularly excelled in its national security programs, said Larry Moore, spokesman for the DOE Pacific Northwest Site office.

The DOE Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation and Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence both gave Battelle an A-plus. Among PNNL's national security efforts is work with groups around the world to detect contraband radiological materials before they reach the United States. It also has developed ultratrace technology to detect signs of nuclear testing conducted around in the world.

DOE also was pleased with the addition of a "quiet wing" on the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory on the PNNL campus, Moore said.

The 10,100-square-foot addition is home to new research microscopes that must be kept still to allow scientists to look at individual atoms. The fundamental science research could advance knowledge in fields that include energy storage, catalysis and biology.

The evaluation praised the lab's ability under Doug Ray, who leads the lab's Fundamental and Computational Sciences Directorate, to bring in world-class scientists for basic energy sciences research such as catalysis and chemical imaging.

For management and operations goals, Battelle received three A-minuses for leadership; safety, health and environmental protection; and operating, maintaining and renewing the facility and infrastructure portfolio. It received B-pluses for business systems and for safety, security and emergency management.

Strong programs for safety, security and establishing new facilities when needed enable the research that is conducted, Kluse said.

The good grades came despite a challenging year with less federal money available. PNNL reduced staff by attrition and voluntary and involuntary layoffs from 4,882 employees to 4,454. PNNL was able to weather budget challenges better than some other national labs because of its diverse research, said Greg Koller, PNNL spokesman.

Despite challenging budgets, Kluse has emphasized to staff that "we can't lose the courage to invest in the capabilities to move the lab strategy forward," including investing in people, equipment and facilities, he said.

The review also recognized Battelle's efforts to maintain and build community relations, particularly with Delta High School and its other education activities.

Battelle will be working on some improvements in the coming year, Kluse said.

It will be working to better focus its biology strategy, moving its collection of programs in that area toward a more integrated strategy, Kluse said. It will be looking at points of emphasis and leadership for the program, he said.

Battelle also will continue to build PNNL's science base to better address the scientific challenges that underpin advances in clean energy, he said.

The annual appraisal was done by DOE's Office of Science, but all of the major agencies and offices that provide most of PNNL's $1 billion annual funding had input into the appraisal.

They include the Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Security Administration and other DOE program offices, including the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, the Office of Environmental Management and the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.

The evaluation grades announced Tuesday were for the 10 DOE Office of Science laboratories.

Battelle will reinvest much of the $8.73 million payment it receives back into the lab. It will cover upkeep and improvements to buildings and equipment, continue the support of Mid-Columbia charitable projects and pay for business expenses not reimbursed by the government.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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