From today's Physics Today Blog, in the politics section, is this article:
In the first public meeting of the President’s Council of Advisers in Science and Technology (PCAST), US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the loss of basic science and technology funding at the nuclear-weapons labs Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore have had an inverse effect in the labs ability to attract "the best and the brightest."
During the 1990s the labs basic research funding was on an “10-year-glide-path” to be cut in half he said, which was only stopped in 1998. "To be blunt," said Chu, "the best and the brightest didn’t want to be weapons designers...they wanted to do good science."
Chu pointed out that this model—of using basic science as the carrot which would eventually lead to an interest in more applied work—has been common at all the major innovation incubators such as the Bell Laboratories or in the weapons labs early history.
How to attract high caliber staff to the weapons labs in the current climate “is an unsolved problem” said Chu, who asked for PCAST to assess ways to attract the best staff to DOE. In the meeting Chu implied that there is currently a review underway of the nuclear weapons management structure.
Chu also expanded on the principles behind his request to Congress to fund centers of excellence in energy research in which DOE would act more like a venture capitalist fund and invest in people, not in individual projects. "In World War II you just picked out outstanding people and gave them a problem and told them to solve it," he said. "They treated problems as triage. You would tackle the hard problem first and move onto the next if it didn't work." A similar attitude needs to exist in energy research he said.
"The key would be the management team and whether they are willing to take on this task," he said. "There are a couple of experiments I want to do in this regard."
I wonder what kind of "experiments" Dr. Chu has in mind. Do you suppose they might involve tasking a construction company's management team with oversight of a DOE research center of excellence? Somehow, I have trouble envisioning that.