Department of Energy

Honoring Oppenheimer’s Legacy by Developing Future Science and Energy Leaders

January 18, 2017

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Los Alamos National Laboratory presents an award to J. Robert Oppenheimer (second from left) at the end of World War II, c. 1945.

Los Alamos National Laboratory presents an award to J. Robert Oppenheimer (second from left) at the end of World War II, c. 1945.

Last year, the Department of Energy (DOE) launched a pilot program, the Energy Sciences Leadership Group, to develop the next generation of leaders in the science and energy fields. DOE has diverse missions spanning basic science, energy, nuclear security and environmental remediation and it draws upon the scientific, technical, and engineering expertise of the national laboratories to address the toughest challenges associated with those missions.

The initiative brings together exceptional early- and mid-career professionals who have the potential to contribute significantly to DOE’s work, whether at DOE or in national labs, academia or industry. These professionals participate in a year-long series of workshops, in Washington D.C. and at national laboratories, covering the spectrum of DOE’s missions and operations. The workshops will help them develop leadership skills, gain a systems-level understanding of the nation’s energy enterprise, meet distinguished leaders and innovators from all aspects of the science and energy field, and gain first-hand exposure to Federal policymaking and the wider scientific ecosystem in which policies are made. The pilot program has fourteen participants and has been judged to be very successful.

In this light, the initiative will be expanded and renamed the Oppenheimer Science and Energy Leadership Program. J. Robert Oppenheimer exemplified the leadership qualities we seek to identify and nurture in this initiative. At the age of thirty-eight, he was put in charge of the Manhattan Project. He identified the site for what is now the Los Alamos National Laboratory and built it by bringing together outstanding scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines and carrying out a complex large-scale mission-directed project. He is rightfully considered a “founding father” of the DOE national laboratory system that remains at the core of DOE’s mission success. The Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) management approach introduced for the Manhattan Project continues as the predominant management model for the DOE laboratories.

In making this designation, we fully acknowledge the controversy surrounding Dr. Oppenheimer’s security clearance a decade after the Manhattan Project. The majority of a Personnel Security Board judged in 1954 that he was not blameless for initially failing to report contacts involving a friend who was a Communist sympathizer and voted to revoke his clearance. However, the Board also concluded that “…we find no evidence of disloyalty. Indeed, we have before us much responsible and positive evidence of the loyalty and love of country of the individual concerned.” Since then, the National Security Agency released additional information concerning Soviet espionage efforts, including that related to the Manhattan Project, and the released materials strengthen the conclusion that Oppenheimer was never disloyal. In 2014, DOE released the full un-redacted transcript of the Oppenheimer hearing.

J. Robert Oppenheimer’s extraordinary scientific and management achievements during his own “mid-career” were instrumental for shaping today’s DOE and its national laboratories. Now and into the future, identifying and developing exceptional early- and mid-career scientists and engineers who can materially advance DOE missions is important for America’s energy, economic, environmental and nuclear security. The Oppenheimer Science and Energy Leadership Program participants will carry on his legacy of science serving society.