According to report from issued by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) “must go beyond best practices in merit review to the adopt a set of best practices in human resources, procurement, contracting, public-private cooperation, and technology transfer that is currently practiced by leading edge applied research organizations in the public and private sector.”
“Business as usual will not work,” says James Turner, senior counsel and director of energy programs at APLU. “Congress and the Obama Administration are expecting unprecedented energy savings from new energy efficiency technologies and dramatically increased production of renewable energy. Technologies based on EERE research are expected to be deployed in a fraction of the time they have been in the past. Merit-review practices alone will not ensure the results of today’s research projects are available in 2015 or 2020 in a form industry can demonstrate and deploy, but it will be step forward.”
The report, Best Practices in Merit Review, calls for reform of all of processes supporting EERE’s research and development effort to reflect a sense of urgency. Reforms include integrated web-based proposal submission and evaluation tools, effective communication of funding opportunities, and evaluation criteria to applicants and reviewers. Furthermore, fast starts for unproven but promising concepts should be accompanied by lean business practices including streamlined hiring procedures for EERE employees. Lastly, streamlined contracting procedures can get funding in place quickly, and a rigorous set of program reviews move the research along quickly and get more business oriented as the project moves closer to deployment.
The report is the result of the one-day conference, EERE Peer Review Best Practices Workshop. The conference featured descriptions the merit-review processes and research strategies of each of the Federal Government’s major basic and applied research programs as well as speakers from companies and universities among the best in getting research ideas into the commercial market.
Among the recommendations, EERE should:
- Develop its own merit review guidelines geared to its mix of programs, including the flexibility to move quickly, using a DARPA-like internal review approach when appropriate, and to bring in external expertise as needed to supplement internal expertise either in selection or project reviews.
- Enhance in-house expertise by bringing in university and industry experts under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, which provides for the temporary assignment of personnel between the Federal Government and other organizations, and let those experts serve as temporary Federal employees.
- Increase use of white papers, concept papers, and pre-proposals, possibly using an interactive process if time permits, in which the applicant gets feedback from the Federal manager and the Federal manager learns the capabilities of the applicant, could help to streamline the proposal submission process and increase proposals’ responsiveness to EERE needs.
- Design processes and initiatives that promote innovative, outside-the-box concepts, and provide funds for early career scientists or engineers. These could include a young-investigator program, seed funding to establish feasibility of technologies that are unproven but innovative and promising, and ways to combine basic and applied research projects.
- Look for alternate routes to technology deployment. Consider investing EERE resources in seedling programs that provide easily approved initial funding for unproven yet promising ideas that could be launched through startups and venture capital.
- Establish mechanisms to enhance and accelerate promising projects. Cut losses by terminating unproductive projects.
- Explore ways to more effectively incorporate transfer of technologies from universities and national laboratories to the companies that will commercialize them. Conduct an analysis of cost sharing and its impact on participation in EERE programs and the commercialization of EERE technologies.
Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities
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