Jefferson Lab Earns Hammer

Gore awards team for tighter rulebook

A team of workers who found a way to cut some red tape at the Jefferson National Accelerator Facility was honored by the Clinton administration Thursday.

The team spent six months combing through the Department of Energy's environment, health and safety requirements for the lab, removing unnecessary and redundant ones as they went. In the end, the team found that only 9 percent of the rules were needed at Jefferson Lab, said Jim Boyce, a physicist who led the team.

"Ninety-one percent of them could be eliminated because they were covered elsewhere or were not applicable," Boyce said.

Boyce and 14 other employees received Vice President Al Gore's Hammer Award, so named because it rewards efforts to weed out waste, like the infamous $600 government hammer. The mounted hammer on the award cost less than $6, said Jim Decker, deputy director of the energy department's Office of Energy Research.

"It's not like the government hammers of old," said Decker, who presented the award on behalf of the Clinton administration.

The Department of Energy provides the money to run Jefferson Lab, along with rules by which the lab should be run. Those include a generic set of environment, health and safety rules drafted for all of its research labs.

Some 1,500 of those rules theoretically applied to Jefferson Lab, said Boyce. But when the team took a closer look, it found that only about 135 of them were needed, he said.

Some of the rules clearly didn't apply, such as procedures for dealing with an exploding nuclear reactor (there are no reactors at Jefferson Lab) or for dealing with "weapons-grade material."

Others were simply common sense, such as a requirement that program managers take steps to prevent mistakes from occurring again. Many of the extraneous rules would be harmless, except that the energy department requires Jefferson Lab to develop plans for implementing each one, Boyce said.

"We've found that we're spending most of the time explaining why it's not necessary to do something," he said.

Fewer rules also mean employees have to keep fewer reports and records, Boyce said. "It cuts down immensely on the paperwork," he said.

Decker acknowledged that the red tape the lab was trimming away had evolved over years, put in place slowly by well-meaning people. The department did not at all resent the lab undoing its work; four members of the review team work for the Department of Energy.

Gore has given out some 400 Hammer Awards since 1994, 35 of them to the Department of Energy, said Jefferson Lab spokeswoman Deborah Hyman.

A card on the award signed by Gore reads, "Thanks for building a government that works better and costs less."

Boyce said the team worked largely out of self-interest, trying to eliminate distractions that kept them from their work. The Hammer Award was not on their minds.

"We were virtually through the entire process before this award was mentioned as a possibility. And I was quite surprised when it came through," he said.

"I felt it was just a normal part of our job to try to make the way we do business better."