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May 28, 1998
Academy Will Review Fusion Program
In response to a request from DOE Director of Energy Research Martha Krebs, the National Academy of Sciences will appoint a committee to provide "an independent assessment of the scientific quality of the (DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences) research programs." Krebs said, "Among the things you may wish to consider in your assessment are the quality of fusion research itself as evidenced by progress in the understanding of fundamental plasma physics issues in fusion energy; the impact that fusion energy research has had in other scientific areas such as astrophysics, geophysics, computational science, and technological areas such as plasma processing; and the role of fusion research in the academic community including graduate student training." Krebs commented, "I anticipate that those who carry out the assessment will have the broad scientific expertise necessary to provide the critical judgment required in such a task and that they will represent a broad segment of the scientific community."
The review will be one of the first carried out by the Academy under the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 1997 (Public Law 105-153). Appointments of panel members and how the reviews were conducted (usually in secret) were previously left entirely to the Academy. The new law requires the Academy to "provide public notice of the names and brief biographies of individuals that the Academy appoints or intends to appoint to serve on the (review) committee," and to "provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to comment on such appointments before they are made or, if the Academy determines that prior comment is not practicable, in the period immediately following the appointments." The law further specifies that the "Academy shall make its best efforts to ensure that (a) no individual appointed to serve on the committee has a conflict of interest that is relevant to the functions to be performed, unless such conflict is promptly and publicly disclosed and the Academy determines that the conflict is unavoidable, (b) the committee membership is fairly balanced as determined by the Academy to be appropriate for the functions to be performed, and (c) the final report of the Academy will be the result of the Academy's independent judgment." The law now requires the Academy to "provide public notice of committee meetings that will be open to the public," and to "ensure that meetings of the committee to gather data from individuals who are not officials, agents or employees of the Academy are open to the publlic." The law further requires that the Academy make available to the public "written materials presented to the (review) committee (by such individuals)."
With respect to "any meeting that is not a data gathering meeting," and is closed to the public, the law now requires the Academy to make a brief summary "available to the public as soon as practicable." The summary must "identify the committee members present, the topics discussed, materials made available to the committee, and such other matters that the Academy determines should be included." Finally, the law specifies that "after publication of the final report, the Academy shall make publicly available the names of the principal reviewers who reviewed the report in draft form and who are not officials, agents, or employees of the Academy."
DOE is giving the Academy about one year to complete the study, asking for a final report by August 1, 1999.