The Obama Administration has somewhat backed up candidate Obama’s promises of transparency by directly communicating with the public and launching a website to show how Recovery Act funds are being spent. Using that same principle in energy research could advance science as well as save taxpayer money.
The DOE will spend about $26.4 billion this year, with much of the money dedicated to research activities. Energy Secretary Steven Chu — who used to head the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab — knows the important role of research, and should streamline the sharing of information.
Part of that money will be spent on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s new multi-million-dollar Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), one of 46 such centers.
The monolith that is DOE has countless fiefdoms, regulations, grant programs and projects, and organizing using the latest information sharing technologies would serve the interests of government, the private sector, and the people.
A DOE Wiki that organizes all of the related research and funding grants would reduce the amount of work that is duplicated, give the private sector clearer insight into the state of technology being developed, and provide greater accountability.
For example, if you want to know about the work being done by DOE to research algae as a fuel source, you’d have to find the various projects being done at the Idaho National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, as well as the office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It is highly likely that some of the work overlaps, and public and private researchers are repeating some work already being done because of lack of easy access to information.
The Wiki could be open for everyone to read and comment on, but editing could be limited to qualified personnel at the research labs , university researchers, as well as vetted private entities. Instead of published papers only being read in journals, their fine work would be open for all (including the media and analysts) to investigate.
The open source philosophy of collaboration should also be reinforced by lab directors. This would require a cultural shift as researchers can be protective of their projects and funding allocations.
Opening the books as to where the money comes from would also give citizens more confidence that public funds are being used wisely. Earmarks granted by senators to start projects in their districts could be compared to research already in progress.
These brilliant minds that can make fuel from pond scum deserve a platform for sharing information that enables them do their job most effectively.