Friday, 23 February 1990 Washington, DC
1. DOE CONTRACTOR LIABILITY RULES COULD BE EXTENDED TO NONPROFIT
laboratories. For more than 40 years, the private contractors who
operate DOE nuclear production facilities have been indemnified
for virtually all losses, including fines for violating safety
and environmental laws. That practice created what Secretary of
Energy James Watkins once called a "culture" of mismanagement and
ineptitude. Under new rules recently proposed by the DOE, such
"avoidable costs" would be deducted from the "award fee" that
represents the contractor's profit. Trying to decide what costs
are "avoidable" should keep the lawyers busy. Although the rules
apply only to profit-making contractors, the DOE notice invites
comments on the "appropriateness of applying economic sanctions
to contractors who do not share the profit motive." That's scary
talk for national labs which receive no "award fee"; perhaps they
could substitute floggings. On Tuesday, Watkins meets with the
heads of organizations that manage nonprofit DOE labs to discuss
his plans. Already the "Tiger Teams" that Watkins unleashed to
hunt down environmental, safety and health problems at nuclear
production facilities have begun stalking their prey in national
laboratories, first at Lawrence Livermore and now at Brookhaven.
2. INDIVIDUAL INVESTIGATOR SUPPORT FOR HIGH-Tc SUPERCONDUCTIVITY
research is the foremost concern of the National Commission on
Superconductivity. According to David McCall, Chairman of the
Commission, such support is threatened by the emphasis on large
unit funding. McCall, in testimony Wednesday before a House
subcommittee, stressed the need to increase the NSF budget, but
NSF, in fact, is seeking less for individual investigators in
high-Tc superconductivity this year than last. Virtually every
researcher reports either flat funding, which has been eroded by
inflation, or an actual cut in dollars. That includes many of
our most distinguished scientists. One theorist, who recieved
the Lilienfield Prize of the APS for "outstanding contributions
to physics," had his NSF grant cut by 30% because only four of
the five NSF reviewers rated his proposal as "excellent." Rep.
McCurdy (D-OK) asked rhetorically whether the $130M total for all
agencies for high-Tc reflects the importance of this technology
to America's future--compared to the $4.7B requested for SDI.
3. VICE PRESIDENT QUAYLE GETS CREDIT FOR THE 25% INCREASE FOR SDI
in the FY 91 budget request, in a Wall Street Journal story. The
new SDI is touted as protection against surprise missile attacks
by Third World terrorists, and it would rely on Brilliant Pebbles
rather than such outdated mythological weapons as X-ray lasers.
But the Administration still talks about deployment in the 90's.
4. JOHN SUNUNU WAS ELECTED TO THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING
for the "integration of technological advances with public
policy." Engineers are by nature more practical than scientists,
who have yet to elect the President's Science Advisor to the NAS.