nlcio overview

DOE National Laboratory Computing and the National Laboratory CIOs (NLCIO)

Often called the crown jewels in the national research infrastructure, the DOE National Laboratories represent major assets devoted to research and development in science, energy, and national security. As the home of some of the most cutting edge computing and information technology in use in the world, the Laboratories are recognized leaders in implementing advanced systems for research and development at scale, and in securing these systems.

The seventeen laboratories represent a diverse range of missions, sizes, and capabilities; from from entirely open research to almost entirely sensitive and classified, from mostly fundamental to mostly applied research, and from a few hundred employees to thousands. Yet despite this diversity, the Laboratories are united in their desire to deploy IT that enables world-class research and development, and to provide security commensurate with risk and threat that is appropriate to the mission of the individual laboratory.

The Laboratories trace their roots to the earliest days of the Manhattan Project, and represent unique quasi-governmental partnerships under a contractual relationship that exists nowhere else in the Federal government. Each Laboratory is manged and operated by a contractor as a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), requiring it to operate independently in the public interest as a strategic partner of the Department of Energy to meet long term research and development goals that cannot be dependably met by other private or public sector entities[1]. The Laboratories operate under a federated model which allows each contractor to allocate resources strategically to support its mission; in turn, each Laboratory contractor is judged by DOE on how well it achieves that mission, fulfilling the vision of performance based contracting.

The National Laboratories Chief Information Officers (NLCIO) are the stewards of the computing and information technology assets of the Laboratories. The CIOs have worked together as a group since 1996 to share best practices, provide oversight and direction for shared initiatives, and to provide input to the Department, the Laboratory Directors, and other stakeholders on policy and oversight and its impacts. The NLCIO also functions as a forum for information exchange, consensus building, and coordination of the major activities in scientific computing and information processing.

Major Accomplishments and Initiatives:

Best Practice Sharing: At quarterly meetings and through ongoing dialog, the CIOs of the Laboratories meet to share information about initiatives and best practices. Previous areas have included substantial sharing around security, IT governance, scientific computing, and disaster recovery. Recently, development of special interest groups for green IT and cloud computing have helped to improve information sharing at the working level.

Oversight and Direction for Shared Initiatives: NLCIO has negotiated major software licensing agreements with key vendors on behalf of the Laboratories and the Department. NLCIO also acts as a steward of the ESnet Steering Committee, which helps provide scientific and operational input to the high speed science network which serves the DOE Labs. Recently, NLCIO has launched a new initiative in Federated Authentication to improve accessibility of resources across DOE and improve access by our collaborators outside DOE and for our researchers. In addition, many of the Laboratories work together in smaller collaborations to develop more targeted initiatives.

Policy Input: As hybrid entities, the Laboratories and DOE have often had substantial challenges applying some Federal initiatives. There are many gradations of contractors within the Federal government, yet the term contractor is often used as if it applies to a single discrete type of relationship. This problem has sometimes led to the application of rules designed for government office workers to researchers working on the cutting edge of development. As non-Federal research and development organizations, the Laboratories must be circumspect in these areas and help to develop policies that are appropriate for our performance based contracting requirements and ensure that researchers have sufficient flexibility do accomplish their missions. NLCIO has a long history of helping DOE to develop requirements that fit our missions. Last year, NLCIO created a model requirements documents for information management for the Department which was adopted almost verbatim. Recently, NLCIO provided active extensive input to assist the CIO in formulating the new requirements management process currently under review.


From supercomputing facilities and high speed networks to accelerators and small benchtop experiments, the Laboratories depend on diverse, high-performance IT that enables their research and development missions. The NLCIO improves the effectiveness of the Laboratories by developing shared initiatives, sharing best practices, and coordination with DOE and the Laboratory Directors on matters of importance.

The first seventy five years of the National Laboratories brought incredible innovations ranging from the development of modern physics to nuclear weapons to the human genome project. The next seventy five years will see substantial challenges and opportunities in energy independence, efficiency, and national security and new discoveries across the sciences. The CIOs of the National Laboratories look forward to providing the infrastructure and capabilities that will make these discoveries possible.

[1] NETL is a Federally Managed Laboratory and is not an FFRDC. SRNL does not operate under a classic M&O contract.