February 14, 2014

Technology Transfer and Commercialization Efforts at the Department of Energy's National Laboratories

Since the Department of Energy National Competitiveness Technology Transfer Act of 1989, the Department has encouraged its national laboratories to enter into technology partnering activities with non-Federal entities and has authorized its facilities to patent and license intellectual property that may arise from research and development activities.  The Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the October 2011 Presidential Memorandum on Accelerating Technology Transfer and Commercialization of Federal Research in Support of High-Growth Businesses had specific requirements regarding the Department's technology transfer and commercialization efforts. 

Our review revealed opportunities to improve the effectiveness of the Department's management of its technology transfer and commercialization efforts.  Specifically, we found that the Department had not finalized quantitative performance metrics necessary for it to determine the success of its technology transfer and commercialization efforts, developed a forward-looking approach for investing the Energy Technology Commercialization Fund required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and ensured the national laboratories were consistently treating their equity holdings in licensees received as part of their technology transfer efforts.  Due to turnover in key staff, we were unable to definitively determine why the Department had failed to finalize and transmit its Execution Plan to Congress. 

In the absence of finalized performance metrics and forward looking budgets, the Department is at increased risk of failing to maximize its return on investment of limited technology transfer and commercialization funds.  Management concurred with our recommendations and identified planned actions to address our recommendations.

Topic: Management and Administration