Ensuring technical competency for management of research-focused organizations

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Department of Materials Science and Engineering


Does a national research-focused organization need a technically competent leader? This study provides preliminary answers to that question using a natural experiment underway at the Department of Energy (DOE): a leader with significant high-level management experience superior to that of his predecessors, but no relevant technical experience was appointed to run the vast scientific research operation. The following hypothesis is proposed: A major risk of allowing technically-unqualified leadership is that an amateur can be more easily manipulated by special interests against the best interests of the nation. The hypothesis is tested by technically analyzing three case studies on proposals from the Secretary of Energy. The results show 1) requests for budget cuts undermining DOE's mission, 2) requests for redundant studies wasting DOE resources, and 3) counter-productive recommendations derived from a misrepresentation of the studies' results, which indicate technical competence is important for DOE leadership. These preliminary results indicate technical competency is important for leaders running organizations that oversee research. Finally, a potential policy safe guard to the risks of extreme technical incompetence is provided, which can be applied to either independent- or politically-appointed bureaucrats.

Publisher's Statement

© 2018 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hitech.2018.09.002

Publication Title

The Journal of High Technology Management Research