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Committee Members:  Present: Vicki Hollub, Chair; Norman R. Augustine; Pedro Pizarro; Samantha Ravich; Marvin Fertel; Kirstjen Nielsen, Thomas Rosenbaum; Michael Whatley, Daniel Yergin

                                       Present Via Phone: David Lockwood, Bill Samuels, Ankur Jain, Scott Campbell

                                       Absent: Richard Mies, Vice Chair; David Dewhurst; Kay Coles James; Sean McGarvey


Date and Time:                March 12, 2020, 2:00 – 5:00 P.M. EST


Location:                         DOE Headquarters (James V. Forrestal Building, Program Review Center)


Purpose:                         Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Meeting


SEAB Staff: Kurt Heckman, Designated Federal Officer and Director of Boards and Councils; Allison Mills, Deputy Director, Office of Boards and Councils

Speaker:                          Secretary Dan Brouillette

Invited Presenter:           NASA Administrator: Jim Bridenstine

Meeting Summary

This Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) meeting was the first convened under Secretary Dan Brouillette. Due to the cancelation of the CERAWeek in Houston for reasons associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the SEAB meeting was moved from Houston, T.X. to Washington, D.C.  This was the first meeting for new member Kirstjen Nielsen.  SEAB members heard remarks from Secretary Brouillette, who issued a charge to the SEAB regarding support to the nation’s space mission.  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine gave remarks about the nation’s scheduled return mission to the moon and the planned mission to Mars. SEAB members heard a briefing from Samantha Ravich and Thomas Rosenbaum regarding the initial findings of the Artificial Intelligence Working Group.  Pedro Pizarro provided a briefing on the initial findings of the Innovation Working Group.  There were discussions on both topics. The meeting adjourned after an opportunity for public comment.

Public Meeting

Designated Federal Officer Kurt Heckman: Mr. Heckman opened the meeting, thanked the SEAB Members and the DOE Staff for attending the meeting. He then reviewed the meeting’s agenda.

SEAB Chair Vicki Hollub:  Chairwoman Hollub thanked SEAB members for coming and Secretary Brouillette for his leadership. She asked the SEAB members to introduce themselves.  She then introduced the first speaker, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

Administrator Bridenstine discussed the deep space missions of NASA and the historic collaboration with the DOE.  He then discussed the return mission to the Moon and the challenges of not only safely going to the Moon but staying and working on a celestial body such as the Moon and then Mars.  To do this, NASA will need sustainable energy on site using nuclear fission.  This is needed to process the minerals on the Moon especially the large quantities of frozen water on the Moon’s South Pole which will be broken into its constituent parts, oxygen to breath and hydrogen for rocket fuel.

He then discussed the aspirations for the Mar’s mission and how Mars has organic matter, a methane cycle and liquid water that all are building blocks of life.

He also discussed nuclear thermal propulsion and how this technology can drastically reduce the duration of the manned missions to Mars.  He expressed the need for help from DOE for testing this capability iteratively to maximize the performance of these system. 

When asked about the mission timelines, he said that the plan is to return to the Moon by 2024 with sustainability by 2028.  Regarding Mars, it’s the mid-2030s depending on commensurate budgets.

Secretary Dan Brouillette:   Secretary Brouillette thanked SEAB Chair Vicki Hollub and welcomed her and the SEAB members to DOE headquarters. 

He discussed the participation of DOE on the Space Council.  He thanked new member Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for her work at DHS.  He thanked Samantha Ravich and Tom Rosenbaum for their work on the AI working group, and Pedro Pizarro and Ankur Jain for their work on the Innovation working group.

He discussed how DOE has appointed Dr. Chris Fall from the Office of Science to head up DOE’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  He acknowledge Dr. Fall’s credentials as a research biologist and asserted his support for all of his efforts on this critical mission, and how DOE is doing great work on this issue with capabilities like DOE’s super computers to analyze the effectiveness of off the shelf drugs to the COVID-19 virus.

He mentioned the oil supply and the current oil market situation with dropping demand due to the pandemic.

He then elaborated on the DOE’s history supporting advanced space sciences including dark matter and dark energy, and advanced power sources that have historically supported the NASA mission. 

He invited the SEAB to consider participating as reviewers of the Fermi Awards.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Working Group Report

Dr. Samantha Ravich led the briefing and discussed the working group’s recommendations regarding AI for DOE.  Dr. Rosenbaum discussed how AI is infusing all aspects of science and technology.  He discussed how DOE has unique capabilities which should enable DOE to carve out a portion of national leadership on the topic.  He discussed how AI can analyze large datasets and see patterns that are impossible for humans.  This includes drug discovery and the protection of electrical grids.  The DOE has a tremendous compute capability, massive amounts of data, and the energy required to for AI computations.  He also discussed how AI for science may differ from AI in commerce.

Dr. Ravich further discussed DOE’s comparative advantages including hardware (chips), the cloud, the energy needed, data that is the source of AI, algorithms, the commercial AI eco-system and the talent pool.

She discussed AI supply chain security and data integrity to keep us from building artificial intelligence for adversaries that will use the AI against us.

She discussed the AI spending domestically (public and private) and international spending.

She discussed how DOE’s AI work should augment the AI work being done in the DoD and Intelligence Community.  

The working group strongly suggests that DOE create an AI capability at the Department level that is crosscutting and facilitates AI across the DOE enterprise. The DOE must facilitate greater and more efficient data and compute services to the DOE enterprise first and then to other parts of the federal government that cannot develop the capabilities that exist within the DOE, but need the AI.

Dr. Rosenbaum discussed how DOE has a legacy of providing scientific support to the rest of the government via the national laboratories, and how this serves as a model for the desire to support AI services to the other government agencies especially when it comes to the security aspect of data for AI.

Dr. Ravich discussed how the new AITO office should be the entity to oversee the end to end AI support within DOE. 

Secretary Brouillette pointed out the challenge of DOE’s organization structure that includes open science laboratories and tightly controlled weapons labs under the NNSA and asked the working group to keep this dichotomy in its considerations.

Dr. Pizarro pointed out the importance of reaching out to industry for their advances in AI including the security of AI datasets in various industrial sectors.

Norm Augustine discussed the desire to collaborate with allies regarding AI, but how they too are also industrial competitors.

Mr. Samuel asked that DOE define the competitive situation, identify who are our competitors and partners and then define a five year goal on what success in the competition would look like.

Innovation Working Group Report

Dr. Pedro Pizarro gave a presentation on Innovation.  The two top considerations are what innovations are desired and how those innovations are to be accomplished. 

There were five key areas:

1.     Innovation Culture

2.     Portfolio and Asset management

3.     Improving collaboration between Industry, academia and DOE

4.     Innovative funding sources

5.     Investment in people

Regarding Innovation Culture, Dr. Pizarro discussed the need for leadership to reward innovative culture building efforts.  He discussed the importance of orchestrating the collisions of ideas that cross mission silos.  Going past invention and to the implementation that creates innovation, aligning incentives to encourage innovation.

He discussed physical and virtual spaces to encourage collisions between human beings with differing backgrounds.   This is often inhibited by the funding structures that create strict mission lanes.   He discussed considering physical office space that encourages cross organization information exchange.          

Regarding Portfolio and Asset Management, he discussed how this area that should be studied more to better understand where the highest priorities exist, and where DOE need to focus energies to maximize access to the portfolio and better external engagement with portfolio components.

Regarding Collaboration, he discussed faster and easier industry collaboration with DOE.  This includes standards and testing protocols.  He expressed that it is important that DOE know which industry players are and are not partners and why.  To this end, he asked, “Where are the engagement roadmaps?”  The key issue is that the portfolio is so big and so broad that it is hard for even insiders to know where opportunities and solutions exist.  This includes understanding and having access to the labs.

He pointed out the challenges of public awareness of the breadth of the DOE mission.  He complimented the xLab events as a good mechanism to build public awareness of DOE’s mission space.

He discussed a need to reduce the friction of doing business across the labs with a single point and method of entry that works with multiple labs if possible.

Regarding Funding Sources, he discussed leveraging different methods for funding.  For example, he suggested that DOE rethink SBIRs and perhaps focus on key technologies and “do more by doing less”.  He then describe the importance of helping companies go the next step after discovery and potentially how the lab can help small businesses take discoveries to the market.  He suggested that DOE consider the Defense Innovation Unit model or the Airforce Technology Accelerator as examples that could be emulated.  He also suggested that DOE consider Other Transaction Authorization (OTAs) mechanism.

Regarding Investment in People, he pointed out that DOE’s greatest assets are the people that work on the mission.  To help that talent, DOE may want to look at policies and practices to ensure that DOE and the nation are attractive to talent.  To do this, he suggests that DOE:

1.     Recognized talent earlier in careers

2.     Continuously work to attract new talent

3.     Provide educational and developmental opportunities for richer career paths.

4.     Understand the full range of talent within DOE and understand the future gaps.

He suggested that DOE build on existing programs like Early Career Award program to include innovators and not just inventors.

He acknowledged the counter force to innovation of adverse foreign actors and how the labs and partner universities would like greater clarity on DOE’s desires.

He suggested that DOE look for their top innovators and ask them to help DOE build our culture of innovation.

There was then discussion regarding bridging the gap between invention and the exploitation of the invention to create innovation and how there should be a greater reward for innovators.

There was discussion on enhancing the collisions of ideas to facilitate serendipity as a key component of the culture of innovation.

Dr. Rosenbaum discussed the difference between academia and the labs in how a leave of absence to take a discovery to market is easier in academia than in labs.

Under Secretary Dabbar talked about how DOE’s culture is focused on discovery.  We need to have space (time) and support to do more than discover and to encourage innovation. 

There was a question if DOE’s needs a STEM czar.  Under Secretary discussed how every lab has major STEM efforts.  The STEM czar need was clarified further as a clearing house where a centralized group could have the greatest possible understanding of the depth and breadth of the DOE’s STEM capabilities. This group could serve as the ambassador for DOE engagement and provide insight into DOE’s greater STEM and skilled trade needs.

Dr. Bookless discussed the great need of innovation in infrastructure development and how it’s a national need.  He encourage leadership to empower people to have time to consider needs outside of their core responsibilities.  He discussed how academia has maintained a better network of the talent pool in key areas.

Under Secretary Dabbar discussed how the science labs are more restrictive on mission lanes and have lower amounts of LDRD than the defense labs.

Norm Augustine encouraged DOE to consider the innovation investment model established by CIA in In-Q-Tel.

Secretary Nielsen discussed several topics including a need to restructure government pay categories to meet unique needs that are outside of the GS norm in areas such as cyber-security and skilled trades such as precision welding.

Marvin Fertel encouraged the DOE to look at INL as a model.  He also suggested that there could be skilled trade certifications that could span the lab complex.  This could potentially be a paid internship program.

Public Comment Period

There were no requests for public comment.

Meeting Adjourned

Meeting adjourned at 4:52 PM EST

Respectfully Submitted:

Kurt Heckman

Designated Federal Officer

I hereby certify that these minutes of the March 5, 2019, SEAB meeting are true and correct to the best of my knowledge.

Vicki Hollub

Chair, Secretary of Energy Advisory Board