This week the US Dept of Energy released the findings of its 2017 Peer Review of the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) research portfolio. I had the honor of serving as Chair of the Steering Committee for this review, and I wanted to share some insights from the process and the resulting report.
The BETO Peer Review is a model for transparency and accountability in government research investment. Every two years, the DOE pulls together several panels of experts from across industry, government, academia and civil society to review the portfolio of almost $700M in projects that BETO is supporting. During an intense week-long event, all projects are reviewed by these panels, with detailed written feedback provided to both the research PIs and program leaders within BETO, The Steering Committee also provides feedback at the overall portfolio level.
In a follow up Management Review, BETO staff and management meet face to face with the reviewers for a chance to delve deeper in the feedback provided, and offer a dialog around how the Office intends to put the review findings to use moving forward.
The report that was published this week clocks in at over 700 pages, indicating just the level of detail that the review process has delved into. To those with a technical interest, there is much to dive into and the review sections split up by technical area are available to download separately. Along with the other members of the Steering Committee, the section that we contributed to was the overall programmatic evaluation. At the highest level we recommended:
- Enhanced interaction with industry
- increased international collaboration
- Focusing on near-term wins
- Developing an innovation pipeline
- Continued risk-sharing with industry
- Moving beyond drop-in solutions
We also provided feedback on budgetary allocations, communication strategy and the appropriate levels and avenues of coordination across other government agencies.
It is very heartening to see a government agency being so open about the performance of its investments, and welcoming the input of a range of expert stakeholders to help improve the work it does. This is my second time participating, and it is gratifying to see recommendations we made in 2015 having been acted upon in the intervening years, and seeing real improvements in the effectiveness of the portfolio already.
Even more impressive in this review process was just how well the Office management listened to the reviewers during the week long review, so that by the time the Program Management review rolled around a few months later, many of the recommendations that had been discussed verbally were already being acted upon.
The commendable transparency of this whole review process creates a very valuable by-product: every project review presentation is publicly available for download on BETO's website. This is a phenomenal resource of unparalleled technical depth for those who have a strong interest in the technologies that are driving the emerging bioeconomy.
I want to give a shout out of appreciation to my fellow steering committee member, who put a lot of thought and effort into delivering input that will help shape the investment strategy for the Dept of Energy over the coming years.
Stephen Costa, U.S. Department of Transportation
John May, Stern Brothers & Co.
Shelie Miller, University of Michigan
Dawn Mullally, American Lung Association
Bob Rummer, University of Kansas
Bob Wooley, Biomass ad infinitum LLC
I also want to thank the BETO Staff for inviting me to particpate for a second time around, and to all the supportin staff who pulled off a complex and large scale feat. It was a fantastic experience.