Project Development

Project Development in the Office of Nuclear Physics Kern

Proposals for Nuclear Physics projects and initiatives vary widely in their scope and complexity. The review and approval process, as well as the means by which support is provided, can differ and is dependent on several factors. One factor which influences the process for consideration of new requests is whether they originate from a national laboratory, a university, or a university Center of Excellence.

National laboratory instrumentation initiatives are typically supported with capital equipment funds. University instrumentation initiatives are typically supported with operating funds or permanent equipment funds that have been requested through the standard grant application process. However, there are university Centers of Excellence within the Office of Science, Office of Nuclear Physics (NP) programs which operate accelerator facilities. For these Centers, capital equipment funds may also be provided for instrumentation and accelerator projects. The federal government retains ownership of equipment purchased with capital equipment funds. A university group may also receive capital equipment funds if it gains approval to fabricate a piece of scientific instrumentation that will be installed, operated and maintained at a national laboratory. In such cases, it is the responsibility of the national laboratory to examine the proposal and submit it to NP once the documentation addressing mission need, scientific merit, and technical feasibility is deemed ready for review by NP. Depending on the scope and funding amount of such projects, formal DOE milestones (termed Critical Decisions) may be established for different phases of the project.

The Critical Decision process and associated project phases are defined within DOE’s Program and Project Management for the Acquisition of Capital Assets Order 413.3B. Though the Office of Science is exempt from following the requirements identified in DOE O 413.3B (applicable for all line item construction projects and Major Items of Equipment (MIEs) greater than $50M in Total Project Cost (TPC)), the Office of Science continues to follow DOE O 413.3B with differences primarily in management approval authority for projects with a TPC greater than $10M (see the Office of Science, Office of Project Assessment (OPA) web site for several summary documents describing the DOE O 413.3B requirements and as they are implemented by the Office of Science). 

For all proposals and initiatives, 'Mission Need' must be established by NP. This is typically accomplished through peer-review. The lead-time needed by NP to assess mission need for a new proposed effort, and to plan accordingly in the federal budget formulation process, varies depending on the scope of the project and the magnitude of the request. MIEs are usually supported at National Laboratories only. Any initiative to be installed at a national lab, funded with capital equipment funds and with scope greater than $5 million in Total Estimated Cost (TEC), which includes all engineering and fabrication costs (see the DOE Order 413.3B for more details), needs to be identified individually in the federal budget as Major Items of Equipment (MIEs). In addition, to be an MIE, civil construction costs cannot be more than 25% of the Total Project Cost. For capital equipment initiatives to be located at a non-laboratory location, the threshold by which to be identified as an MIE in the federal budget is $2M in TEC. In a given fiscal year (FY), preparation of the budget for the fiscal year two years later begins in January. As a result, the steps needed to establish scientific merit and technical feasibility for MIE projects need to be completed by January two years prior to the proposed start of TEC funding. For example, the budget formulation process for the FY 2024 budget will begin early in calendar year 2022; thus, a proposal requesting funding greater than $2 million (TEC) which starts in FY 2024 must be received and peer-reviewed in 2021. The larger and more complex the proposal, the earlier in 2021 it would have to be submitted. In this example, the spring of 2021 would be an appropriate time to begin interacting with NP regarding proposal submission and review. The lead time is the same for line item construction projects (initiatives for which the Total Project Cost (TPC) is greater than $10M and more than 20% is in civil construction), substantial accelerator improvement projects that cannot be accommodated within a facility's base budget, or university projects requesting substantial funds above a current base funding level. The TPC for a project includes all DOE resources used for construction: capital equipment funds as well as operating funds for R&D and conceptual design costs following approval of Mission Need, project management costs and pre-operations cost prior to approval of Project Completion.

Within NP, responsibility for establishing mission need for new initiatives is delegated depending on the areas of responsibility of respective Program Managers. The points of contact for various initiatives are listed below:

  • Proposals for new scientific instrumentation proposals, including university projects not funded from the base capital equipment budget of an accelerator facility, line item construction projects and major items of equipment: Associate Director for Nuclear Physics. If appropriate the Associate Director will then identify a point of contact within the Office to establish Mission Need. This is typically the Program Manager within the Research Division responsible for that particular scientific portfolio (Heavy Ion, Medium Energy, Low Energy, Nuclear Theory).
  • National User Facility accelerator capital equipment projects and accelerator improvement projects not accommodated within the base funding for a facility: Program Manager for Nuclear Physics National User Facilities;
  • Questions regarding efforts supported by the base capital equipment at a university accelerator Center of Excellence or by the base capital equipment budget for instrumentation at a National User Facility: Program Manager for Nuclear Physics Instrumentation.

Once an initiative has achieved Mission Need and NP decides to proceed, further reviews may be required that focus on technical, cost, schedule and management aspects. Such reviews are formally required by DOE for MIEs and line item construction projects, and may also be implemented for large accelerator improvement projects; these reviews are the responsibility of the NP Facilities and Project Management Division. Reviews are performed by OPA for projects greater than $10M, though tailored for those less than $50M, to evaluate progress and readiness towards obtaining approval of Critical Decisions that advance the development stages of a project. Additional reviews for other types of projects may be required by NP depending on the complexity and needs of proposed projects. All review and monitoring processes are tailored to the needs and complexity of proposed projects.

Questions regarding the process for new proposals and initiatives should be directed to the Director of the Research Division and/or the Director of the Facilities and Project Management Division in the Office of Nuclear Physics.