Index


Information Technology: Department of Energy Does Not Effectively Manage
Its Supercomputers (Chapter Report, 07/17/98, GAO/RCED-98-208).


Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of
Energy's (DOE) acquisition and use of supercomputers, focusing on the:
(1) number and cost of the supercomputers DOE acquired in fiscal years
(FY) 1994 through 1997 and the number and proposed funding for planned
major supercomputer acquisitions in FY 1998 through FY 2000; (2) stated
need for DOE's supercomputers, the utilization rates for them, and the
potential for facilities to share these resources; and (3) process DOE
and its contractors employ to validate the need for additional
supercomputers and contracts that process with the technology investment
process set forth in the Clinger-Cohen Act.

GAO noted that: (1) DOE has about 17 percent of the world's
supercomputing capacity and is planning to almost triple its capacity
over the next 3 years; (2) during FY 1998 through FY 2000, the
Department plans to acquire five major supercomputers at an estimated
cost of $257 million; (3) overall, DOE's national laboratories used only
about 59 percent of their available supercomputing capacity in 1997 and
are missing opportunities to share these resources; (4) the sharing of
supercomputers among DOE's laboratories and with DOE-funded off-site
users is not generally considered as a way to better use existing
resources and to forgo the need to acquire more supercomputers; (5) DOE
has not effectively overseen the acquisition and use of supercomputers;
(6) the Department lacks an investment strategy and a defined process to
ensure that supercomputer acquisitions are fully justified and represent
the best use of funds among competing priorities; (7) instead, the
Department's existing management processes separate supercomputer
acquisitions from the projects they support, and the Department's chief
information officer does not oversee the acquisition or use of
supercomputers; (8) as a result, new supercomputers are planned and
acquired with little departmental oversight, while underutilized
capacity already exists within the Department; (9) DOE's proposed
implementation of the Clinger-Cohen Act will not improve departmental
oversight; (10) in April 1998, the Department outlined its plan to
implement a new investment planning and oversight process for
information technology in response to the Clinger-Cohen Act; (11) this
proposed approach reflects the view of the Department's program offices
that supercomputers are research tools rather than information
technology investments; (12) this approach may also allow DOE's program
offices to continue acquiring supercomputers outside the Department's
normal process for complying with the Clinger-Cohen Act; (13) contrary
to what is envisioned in the Clinger-Cohen Act, this approach
effectively places the vast majority of DOE's information technology
resources outside the purview of the Department's chief information
officer; (14) in addition, the cost and significance of the
supercomputers being developed under the Department's Accelerated
Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) warrants that program's being
designated as a strategic system subject to the highest level of
departmental oversight; and (15) the ASCI program is estimated to cost
about $4 billion from FY 1996 through FY 2010.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  RCED-98-208
     TITLE:  Information Technology: Department of Energy Does Not 
             Effectively Manage Its Supercomputers
      DATE:  07/17/98
   SUBJECT:  ADP procurement
             Supercomputers
             Information resources management
             Future budget projections
             Research and development facilities
             Strategic information systems planning
             Chief information officers
             Interagency relations
IDENTIFIER:  DOE Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative
             
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Cover
================================================================ COVER


Report to the Chairman, Committee on the Budget, House of
Representatives

July 1998

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY -
DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY DOES NOT
EFFECTIVELY MANAGE ITS
SUPERCOMPUTERS

GAO/RCED-98-208

DOE's Oversight of Supercomputers

(141113)


Abbreviations
=============================================================== ABBREV

  ASCI - Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative
  DOE - Department of Energy
  GAO - General Accounting Office
  OMB - Office of Management and Budget
  R&D - research and development

Letter
=============================================================== LETTER


B-280167

July 17, 1998

The Honorable John R.  Kasich
Chairman, Committee on the Budget
House of Representatives

Dear Mr.  Chairman: 

As requested, this report examines the Department of Energy's (DOE)
acquisition and use of supercomputers.  Specifically, it (1)
identifies the number and cost of the supercomputers DOE acquired in
fiscal years 1994 through 1997 and the number and proposed funding
for planned major supercomputer acquisitions in fiscal years 1998
through 2000; (2) determines the stated need for DOE's
supercomputers, the utilization rates for them, and the potential for
facilities to share these resources; and (3) identifies and describes
the process DOE and its contractors employ to validate the need for
additional supercomputers and contrasts that process with the
technology investment process set forth in the Clinger-Cohen Act. 

As arranged with your office, we plan to distribute copies of this
report to the appropriate congressional committees; the Secretary of
Energy; the Director, Office of Management and Budget; and other
interested parties.  We will also make copies available to others on
request. 

Please call me on (202) 512-7106 if you or your staff have any
questions.  Major contributors to this report are listed in appendix
II. 

Sincerely yours,

Susan D.  Kladiva
Associate Director, Energy,
 Resources, and Science Issues


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
============================================================ Chapter 0


   PURPOSE
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:1

Seven Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories spent over
$800 million acquiring and operating supercomputers--the largest and
fastest computers currently being built--from fiscal years 1994
through 1997.\1 Over the next 3 years, DOE plans to acquire still
more powerful and expensive systems to use for defense and energy
research projects that require complex modeling, simulation, and
computation. 

Concerned about the status of DOE's efforts to acquire
supercomputers, the Chairman, House Committee on the Budget, asked
GAO to (1) identify the number and cost of the supercomputers DOE
acquired in fiscal years 1994 through 1997 and the number and
proposed funding for planned major supercomputer acquisitions in
fiscal years 1998 through 2000; (2) determine the stated need for
DOE's supercomputers, the utilization rates for them, and the
potential for facilities to share these resources; and (3) identify
and describe the process DOE and its contractors employ to validate
the need for additional supercomputers and contrast that process with
the technology investment process set forth in the Clinger-Cohen Act
of 1996. 


--------------------
\1 There is no standard definition of a supercomputer.  Furthermore,
because of changing technology, a machine considered to be a
supercomputer in 1993, for example, might not be considered one in
1998.  For the purpose of this report, GAO used the TOP 500
Supercomputers List prepared by the University of Mannheim (Germany)
and by the University of Tennessee as the basis for determining if a
computer could be considered a supercomputer during the year it was
acquired.  In addition, GAO used this list for ranking DOE's
supercomputers and determining DOE's share of total world capacity. 


   BACKGROUND
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:2

DOE has been a world leader in computing for decades.  Currently, a
DOE-funded computer called "ASCI Red" at the Sandia National
Laboratory holds the world's record for processing speed--1.8
trillion operations per second.\2 DOE plans to acquire much more
powerful supercomputers with processing speeds of up to 100 trillion
operations per second in the next several years.  Such speeds are
being achieved as a result of a new system configuration--called
scalable massively parallel processing--that permits hundreds to
thousands of processors to be linked together to achieve ever more
powerful performance.\3

In 1996, the Congress passed the Clinger-Cohen Act, which requires
federal agencies to adopt a comprehensive approach to acquiring and
managing information technology (including supercomputers), and
charged the Office of Management and Budget with oversight
responsibility. 


--------------------
\2 Operations per second is a measure of how fast a computer
retrieves and executes instructions (or operations) from memory. 
"Mega-," "giga-," and "tera-flops" are commonly used as shorthand
terms for million, billion, and trillion operations per second,
respectively. 

\3 Processors are computer chips that essentially represent the
"brains" of the computer. 


   RESULTS IN BRIEF
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:3

The Department of Energy has about 17 percent of the world's
supercomputing capacity and is planning to almost triple its capacity
over the next 3 years.  Seven Department of Energy national
laboratories have 42 supercomputers, 35 of which were acquired during
fiscal years 1994 through 1997, at a cost of about $300 million, by
the Offices of Defense Programs and of Energy Research.  The cost of
operating supercomputers is also substantial, totaling $526 million
for the seven national laboratories for fiscal years 1994 through
1997.  During fiscal years 1998 through 2000, the Department plans to
acquire five major supercomputers at an estimated cost of $257
million. 

Overall, the Department of Energy's national laboratories used only
about 59 percent of their available supercomputing capacity in 1997\4
and are missing opportunities to share these resources.\5 Utilization
rates varied among the laboratories from about 31 percent to about 75
percent.  The sharing of supercomputers among Department of Energy
laboratories and with DOE-funded off-site users is not generally
considered as a way to better use existing resources and/or to forgo
the need to acquire more supercomputers.  In addition, the largest
supercomputers are not being used to run the very large-scale
programs that were used to justify their acquisition.  In 1997, for
example, less than 5 percent of the jobs run on the largest
supercomputers used more than one-half of the machines' capabilities. 

The Department of Energy has not effectively overseen the acquisition
and use of supercomputers.  Because the Department does not manage
supercomputers as an agency resource, no person or office within the
Department of Energy knows at a given time how many supercomputers
there are, what they cost, or how they are being utilized.  The
Department lacks an investment strategy and a defined process to
ensure that supercomputer acquisitions are fully justified and
represent the best use of funds among competing priorities.  Instead,
the Department's existing management processes separate supercomputer
acquisitions from the projects they support, and the Department's
chief information officer does not oversee the acquisition or use of
supercomputers.  As a result, new supercomputers are planned and
acquired with little departmental oversight, while underutilized
capacity already exists within the Department.  The Department of
Energy's proposed implementation of the Clinger-Cohen Act will not
improve departmental oversight.  The Clinger-Cohen Act requires that
federal agencies implement a comprehensive, efficient approach to
acquiring and managing information technology.  In April 1998, the
Department outlined its plan to implement a new investment planning
and oversight process for information technology in response to the
Clinger-Cohen Act.  DOE's new process separately manages
administrative and scientific computers, leaving the responsibility
for scientific computers--including supercomputers--to individual
program offices.  This proposed approach reflects the view of the
Department's program offices that supercomputers are research "tools"
rather than information technology investments.  This approach may
also allow DOE's program offices to continue acquiring supercomputers
outside the Department's normal process for complying with the
Clinger-Cohen Act.  Contrary to what is envisioned in the
Clinger-Cohen Act, this approach effectively places the vast majority
of DOE's information technology resources outside the purview of the
Department's chief information officer. 

In addition, the cost and significance of the supercomputers being
developed under the Department's Accelerated Strategic Computing
Initiative (ASCI) warrants that program's being designated as a
"strategic system" subject to the highest level of departmental
oversight.  The ASCI program was created in response to a
presidential decision in 1995 to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty.  The program is designed to provide the unprecedented
simulation capabilities needed to help verify the safety and
reliability of U.S.  nuclear weapons without nuclear testing.  It
also has the ambitious goal of increasing computer performance at a
rate of development exceeding the current and projected state of the
art, with the ultimate goal of developing a supercomputer capable of
100 trillion operations per second by 2004.  The ASCI program is
estimated to cost about $4 billion from fiscal years 1996 through
2010.  Funding for the ASCI program is $223.5 million in fiscal year
1998. 


--------------------
\4 Although we cite 1997 utilization data throughout this report
because they are the most current, we also obtained utilization data
for fiscal years 1994 through 1997 that showed similar results. 

\5 Utilization data--which measure the percent of available time that
a system's processors are in use--can be automatically generated by
most supercomputers but are not systematically kept by the
laboratories or the Department of Energy. 


   PRINCIPAL FINDINGS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4


      DOE'S SUPERCOMPUTER
      CAPABILITIES HAVE GROWN
      SIGNIFICANTLY
-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4.1

DOE's supercomputing capabilities have grown over 10-fold from fiscal
years 1994 through 1997.  Seven DOE national laboratories have 42
supercomputers, 35 of which were acquired over this period at a cost
of about $300 million.  The average cost of the supercomputers
acquired since fiscal year 1994 is about $8.5 million, but some
large-scale supercomputers have cost several times as much.  For
example, in 1997, a supercomputer at Lawrence Berkeley cost over $25
million, and the record-holding ASCI Red system cost about $55
million.  The Department's stated need for supercomputers is to
perform increasingly complex computations and modeling to support two
main activities:  (1) maintaining the safety and reliability of U.S. 
nuclear weapons under the Department's stockpile stewardship program,
which is administered by the Office of Defense Programs, and (2)
conducting civilian research into complex scientific problems--such
as global climate change, human gene structure, and environmental
contamination--in projects administered by the Office of Energy
Research. 

The costs of operating a supercomputing facility are substantial and
can equal or exceed the acquisition costs:  For fiscal years 1994
through 1997, the seven national laboratories spent about $526
million to operate their supercomputers.  At a large laboratory like
Los Alamos, operating costs were over $56 million in fiscal year
1997.  Costs vary depending on the size of the facility, the type of
research being conducted, and the cost of associated equipment. 

DOE is planning to acquire more expensive systems in the future.  GAO
identified five major supercomputer acquisitions planned for fiscal
years 1998 through 2000, including planned increments to existing
large systems at four laboratories, that are budgeted to cost $257
million.  Two of these systems--ASCI Blue Mountain at Los Alamos and
ASCI Blue Pacific at Livermore--will cost $77.8 million and $54.4
million, respectively, during these 3 years. 


      DOE'S SUPERCOMPUTERS ARE
      UNDERUTILIZED, AND
      OPPORTUNITIES TO SHARE THEM
      ARE MISSED
-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4.2

Overall, DOE's national laboratories used about 59 percent of their
available supercomputing capacity in 1997.  Nevertheless, DOE, which
has about 17 percent of the world's total available supercomputing
capacity, is planning to almost triple its capacity over the next 3
years.  Utilization rates among individual laboratories varied from
about 31 percent to about 75 percent.  Utilization rates for
individual systems and laboratories may vary because of a number of
factors, including the age and type of machine (whether it is an
experimental machine or a more stable production model) and the use
of the machine.  For example, Lawrence Berkeley which had the highest
utilization rate, 75 percent, is a designated user facility,
available to DOE-funded researchers across the country.  However, the
largest supercomputers--those being justified as needed to run very
large computer programs simultaneously across hundreds or thousands
of processors to solve the largest problems in a reasonable time--are
seriously underutilized.  GAO found that during fiscal year 1997,
less than 5 percent of the jobs run on the largest and fastest
supercomputers at DOE's laboratories used more than one-half of the
supercomputer's available processors. 

With the exception of Lawrence Berkeley, there is only limited
sharing of supercomputers among DOE laboratories and with DOE-funded
off-site users.  At the end of 1997, about 41 percent of DOE's total
supercomputer capacity (equal to about 1.7 trillion operations per
second) was not being used.  Nevertheless, DOE plans to increase its
capacity by another 1 trillion operations per second during 1998.  At
the same time, DOE is missing opportunities to share its unused
capacity among laboratories because it does not emphasize looking for
such opportunities.  In previous years, DOE has collected utilization
data on laboratories' computers and required that computer managers
analyze workload data and consider sharing opportunities prior to
acquiring new computers.  However, those requirements were canceled
in September 1995 as part of an effort to reduce burdens on
contractors and eliminate paperwork.  DOE no longer emphasizes the
consideration of utilization rates and sharing opportunities when
laboratories are seeking funding for a new supercomputer. 


      DOE HAS NOT BEEN EFFECTIVELY
      OVERSEEING SUPERCOMPUTER
      ACQUISITIONS
-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4.3

DOE does not have a process to ensure that supercomputer acquisitions
are fully justified and represent the best use of funds among
competing priorities.  Overall, DOE lacks an investment strategy for
acquiring supercomputers and does not follow the Clinger-Cohen Act's
criteria, which require that DOE and other federal agencies implement
a comprehensive, efficient approach to acquiring and managing
information technology. 

In April 1998, DOE outlined its new planning and oversight process,
under the Clinger-Cohen Act, for investing in information technology. 
The new process separately manages administrative and scientific
computers--including supercomputers--that DOE's program offices view
not as information technology acquisitions but as "tools" supporting
research projects.  As envisioned, the "dual track" approach leaves
decisions on supercomputers to individual program offices and may
allow program offices to continue acquiring supercomputers outside
the Department's normal Clinger-Cohen Act process.  This approach,
contrary to what is envisioned in the Clinger-Cohen Act, also places
the vast majority of DOE's information technology resources outside
the purview of the Department's chief information officer. 

DOE has established criteria for designating projects costing over
$400 million that are an urgent national priority, are high risk,
have international implications, or are vital to national security as
"strategic systems." The purpose of designating strategic systems is
to ensure informed, objective, and well-documented decisions about
key events for such systems, such as changes to baseline costs and
schedules.  Among DOE's 11 current strategic systems are the National
Ignition Facility and the Tritium Supply Facility, both of which,
like the ASCI program, are related to ensuring the reliability and
safety of the nuclear weapons stockpile.  In prior years, the
Department has not effectively managed such acquisitions, and they
have often been late and over budget.  The ASCI program will likely
cost about $4 billion for fiscal years 1996 through 2010, is an
urgent national priority because of national security concerns, and
has international implications because it is a major factor in the
United States' support of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  In
addition, the program is high risk because it seeks to advance the
state of the art in supercomputing and simulation well beyond current
capabilities, has already experienced delays and seen its projected
cost increase, and depends on as yet unknown technologies for
success.  These factors warrant designating the ASCI program as a
"strategic system" to avoid the types of problems historically
encountered by DOE with such projects.  However, the program has not
been so designated. 


   RECOMMENDATIONS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:5

GAO is making several recommendations to improve the utilization and
sharing of supercomputers at DOE's laboratories.  Specifically, GAO
recommends that the Secretary of Energy adopt a Clinger-Cohen
approach for acquiring supercomputers that (1) pertains to all
Department-funded supercomputers; (2) requires the consideration of
utilization data and sharing opportunities prior to funding new
supercomputer acquisitions; and (3) includes sufficient justification
to allow for the meaningful consideration of alternatives.  Finally,
GAO is recommending that the Secretary designate the ASCI program as
a "strategic system" warranting departmental oversight at the highest
level. 


   AGENCY COMMENTS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:6

GAO provided a copy of a draft of this report to the Department of
Energy for review and comment.  DOE generally disagreed with the
findings and recommendations in the report. 

DOE stated that measuring processor utilization takes in only one
dimension of massively parallel computers and does not account for
other factors, such as memory size, that can affect utilization.  As
a result, according to DOE, in the past supercomputers became
saturated at about the 70-percent utilization level, and today's
generation of massively parallel computers becomes saturated at a
substantially smaller percentage.  DOE stated that it would be
impossible as a result to achieve 100-percent utilization using
available processor time as the measure.  Furthermore, DOE stated
that its utilization data and experience from the past 30 years
indicate that the highest possible level of utilization would be
considerably less than 100 percent. 

GAO agrees that available processor time is not a perfect measure of
supercomputer use; however, it is the only one currently in
widespread use that can be applied to a number of different computer
architectures and models.  Furthermore, neither DOE nor anyone else
GAO spoke with was able to provide a better measure than processor
utilization.  With respect to what constitutes an acceptable
utilization rate, GAO did not suggest that DOE should, or even could,
achieve 100-percent use.  Rather, the draft report stated that DOE's
overall utilization rate of 59 percent was low compared with the
higher rates of 70 to 75 percent achieved at some of the Department's
laboratories and on some individual computers.  The draft report also
stated that DOE is missing opportunities to improve utilization
because it does not monitor utilization or seek out sharing
opportunities.  Given that DOE is able to obtain these higher
utilization rates on some computers and at some sites, GAO continues
to believe that DOE could achieve better levels of utilization on
many of its supercomputers. 

DOE also commented on an example used in the report of the types of
programs that were being run on the largest supercomputers, whose
acquisition DOE had justified as needed because of their capability
for running very large-scale programs on hundreds or thousands of
processors.  The report states that less than 5 percent of the
programs being run used one-half or more of the supercomputer's
available processors.  DOE stated that the 5 percent of the programs
run on the ASCI Red supercomputer at Sandia accounted for over 80
percent of the utilization of that supercomputer.  GAO believes that
while DOE's statement is true, it is misleading.  The utilization
rate on the ASCI Red supercomputer at Sandia is about 43 percent in
total.  And about 80 percent of that rate (or about 34 percent of the
total available time) is accounted for by running a few very
large-scale jobs that take a considerable amount of time. 
Consequently, up to 57 percent of the total processor time available
on this supercomputer still could be used for other jobs. 

DOE also stated that GAO's conclusion that 41 percent of its overall
supercomputer capacity is available for sharing was erroneous.  DOE
based its statement on the 80-percent figure DOE cited for the Sandia
ASCI supercomputer and concluded that the true percentage of its
unused capacity is close to zero.  DOE also stated that the sharing
of the ASCI program supercomputers is very difficult because of
national security concerns.  GAO disagrees.  In fact, as GAO pointed
out above, the total use on the ASCI Red supercomputer, including the
very large programs, is only 43 percent, and up to 57 percent is
still available for other use.  In connection with the sharing of the
ASCI supercomputers, they were originally planned and are being
installed to allow just this type of sharing.  To date, the three
ASCI supercomputers have been designed to have both classified and
unclassified parts that can also, after following proper procedures,
be linked together to run the largest programs.  In fact, one of the
requirements of the Sandia ASCI supercomputer was that it could be
switched between classified and unclassified uses in less than 30
minutes.  In addition, ASCI program documents state that 10 percent
of the capacity of these supercomputers will be available to users
from outside DOE's laboratories, such as the universities
participating in research for the ASCI program. 

DOE disagreed with GAO's finding that it lacks an investment strategy
for acquiring supercomputers and that its proposed implementation of
the Clinger-Cohen Act does not meet the act's criteria and GAO's
recommendation that DOE should adopt a Clinger-Cohen process that
pertains to all DOE-funded computers.  As stated in the report, DOE
believes that scientific computing should be treated differently from
other computer resources within the Department and should be subject
to review by either the Offices of Energy Research or Defense
Programs rather than by the departmentwide Executive Committee on
Information Management.  GAO believes these offices' acquisitions of
scientific information technology should not be excluded from
departmentwide oversight.  In fact, since DOE contractors, including
the laboratories that acquire supercomputers funded by program
offices, account for over 80 percent of the Department's spending on
information technology, GAO believes it is crucial that these program
offices' supercomputer acquisitions be included in a unified DOE-wide
approach to implementing the Clinger-Cohen Act.  To do otherwise
effectively puts the Department's most valuable information
technology outside the purview of the agency's chief information
officer and the Executive Committee on Information Technology. 
Accordingly, GAO stands behind its recommendation that DOE should
adopt a departmentwide process that meets the Clinger-Cohen Act's
criteria and includes supercomputers and other scientific computing
resources. 

Finally, DOE disagrees with GAO's recommendation that the ASCI
program should be designated as a strategic system, saying that the
program already gets high-level oversight as part of the
Clinger-Cohen Act process and through normal departmental channels. 
GAO disagrees.  First, as cited in the report, the ASCI program is
critical to the efforts to ensure the safety and reliability of the
nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons and meets all the other
criteria for being designated as a strategic system.  Second, the
process that DOE is implementing in response to the Clinger-Cohen Act
would allow the same program office that has a vested interest in the
program as its manager to serve as the oversight body for the
Department's supercomputers.  GAO continues to believe that this
approach does not follow the Clinger-Cohen Act nor achieve the degree
of high-level oversight that designation as a strategic system would
provide.  Given that DOE's process does not follow the Clinger-Cohen
Act criteria and the importance of the ASCI program to ensuring the
safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, GAO
continues to recommend that the Secretary should designate the ASCI
program as a strategic system.  DOE's comments and GAO's responses
are in chapters 3 and 4 and appendix I. 


INTRODUCTION
============================================================ Chapter 1

A supercomputing revolution is under way in the United States as
dramatic advances in supercomputers continue--doubling in power
approximately every 18 months.  Supercomputers are defined as the
largest and fastest computers currently being built.  Today's
supercomputers are capable of processing speeds of up to 1,000 times
greater than they were capable of 5 years ago.  Federal agencies,
including the Department of Energy (DOE), have been at the forefront
of this revolution.  A DOE-funded supercomputer at the Sandia
National Laboratory that is capable of about 1.8 trillion operations
per second holds the world record for processing power.  DOE, working
with industry, has plans to build even faster computers, with a goal
of 3 trillion operations per second by mid-1998, and 100 trillion by
2004. 


   DOE'S USE OF SUPERCOMPUTERS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 1:1

Currently, seven DOE national laboratories and two DOE atomic power
laboratories have supercomputers.  DOE's program offices fund
supercomputer purchases (or leases), and the laboratories' management
and operating contractors acquire and operate the systems.  According
to DOE, new supercomputer acquisitions are relatively frequent
because of rapidly changing technology.  Since 1993, when statistics
were first systematically collected, DOE has consistently had several
supercomputers that have ranked among the world's most powerful as
measured by a list of the top 500 supercomputers in the world.  As of
November 1997, for example, DOE had the first and fifth most powerful
computers in the world and 10 of the top 100 supercomputers. 
Overall, DOE's laboratory supercomputers accounted for about 17
percent of the total supercomputer capacity in the world.  DOE's
supercomputing capability has grown over 10-fold from fiscal year
1994 through fiscal year 1997, from a total for DOE laboratories of
about 360 billion operations per second to about 3.8 trillion
operations per second.  Under DOE's plans, this total capability will
increase another 280 percent by fiscal year 2000, as shown in figure
1.1. 

   Figure 1.1:  Trends in DOE's
   Supercomputing Capability,
   Fiscal Years 1994-2000

   (See figure in printed
   edition.)

Source:  TOP 500 Supercomputers List and DOE. 

Supercomputers enable DOE to do leading-edge scientific research. 
Advances in computing power have been made possible by a new
supercomputer configuration (or "architecture") called massively
parallel processing.  Past supercomputers (with "sequential" or
"vector" architectures) executed operations more or less
sequentially, using at most a few processors working concurrently. 
The latest supercomputers, however, execute many operations in
parallel, simultaneously using hundreds, and even thousands, of
processors.  Such systems are referred to as scalable, massively
parallel systems.  In experimenting with such systems, researchers
have linked more and more processors together to achieve ever greater
processing speeds.  To accommodate these newer, larger systems,
concurrent research in software programs, interconnections, and
graphics capabilities have been necessary. 

As the year 2000 approaches and computing operations on the scale of
a trillion operations per second become more routine, DOE is funding
a variety of research initiatives to take advantage of the new
simulation and computational capabilities of supercomputers.  These
initiatives include increasingly complex computations and the
simulation of nuclear weapons, the global climate, the environment,
pollution, and human gene structure.  DOE uses supercomputers to
support two major research missions:  (1) ensuring the safety and
reliability of nuclear weapons, under its Office of Defense Programs'
nuclear stockpile stewardship program and (2) attempting to solve
nondefense science and engineering problems, called "Grand
Challenges," under its Office of Energy Research. 

The Office of Defense Programs funds nuclear stockpile computing
efforts to simulate the behavior of nuclear weapons.  The Accelerated
Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) was created by DOE in response
to a presidential decision in 1995 to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty.  ASCI is designed to provide the unprecedented simulation
capabilities needed to help verify the safety and reliability of U.S. 
nuclear weapons without nuclear testing.  ASCI has the ambitious goal
of achieving increasing computer speeds at a rate of development
exceeding the current and projected state of the art in coming years. 
Speeds of 3, 10, 30, and ultimately 100 trillion operations per
second by 2004 are envisioned.  ASCI funding for fiscal year 1998 was
$223.5 million.  ASCI-related funds are also contained in DOE's
stockpile computing budget.  On the other hand, the Office of Energy
Research funds nondefense computational research projects, including
specific grand challenges that require large-scale supercomputing
capability.  Grand challenge research is coordinated on an
interagency basis through the High Performance Computing and
Communications (HPCC) program, a $1-billion-a-year supercomputing
initiative stemming from the High Performance Computing Act of 1991. 
This act was intended to accelerate the development of advanced
technologies for the information age.  DOE's fiscal year 1997 budget
request for the HPCC program was $124.6 million, and its request for
grand challenges research funding was about $10 million.  According
to DOE, about 80 percent of the $1.4 billion it spends each year for
information management is spent by the management and operating
contractors that run its major facilities, including the national
laboratories. 

Figures 1.2 through 1.4 show the types of supercomputers in DOE's
national laboratories. 

   Figure 1.2:  A 512-Processor
   Cray T3E Supercomputer at
   Lawrence Berkeley, With a
   Capacity of 460 Billion
   Operations per Second, Acquired
   in Fiscal Year 1997

   (See figure in printed
   edition.)

   Source:  DOE.

   (See figure in printed
   edition.)

   Figure 1.3:  An 8-Processor
   Cray YMP Supercomputer at Los
   Alamos, With a Capacity of 2.7
   Billion Operations per Second,
   Acquired in Fiscal Year 1990

   (See figure in printed
   edition.)

   Figure 1.4:  The
   9,168-Processor "ASCI Red"
   Supercomputer at Sandia, With a
   Capacity of 1.8 Trillion
   Operations per Second, Acquired
   in Fiscal Year 1997

   (See figure in printed
   edition.)

   Source:  Both figures provided
   by DOE.

   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


   LEGISLATION HAS ADDRESSED THE
   ACQUISITION OF COMPUTERS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 1:2

The Congress has shown an ongoing interest in supercomputers and
information technology, both from the perspective of helping to
ensure U.S.  leadership in the field--as with the High Performance
Computing and Communications Act of 1991--by promoting the efficient
acquisition and management of computers.  Under the Brooks Act of
1965, the Congress gave the General Services Administration the
central authority within the federal government for acquiring
information technology.  In 1996, the Congress passed the
Clinger-Cohen Act, which repealed the Brooks Act and gave the heads
of agencies the authority to procure information technology directly. 
The act requires agencies to adopt a comprehensive approach to
acquiring and managing information technology (including
supercomputers) and charges the Office of Management and Budget with
oversight responsibility. 


   OBJECTIVES, SCOPE, AND
   METHODOLOGY
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 1:3

As requested by the Chairman, House Committee on the Budget, we (1)
identified the number and cost of the supercomputers DOE acquired in
fiscal years 1994 through 1997 and the number and proposed funding
for planned major supercomputer acquisitions in fiscal years 1998
through 2000; (2) determined the stated need for DOE's
supercomputers, the utilization rates for them, and the potential for
facilities to share these resources; and (3) identified and described
the process DOE and its contractors employ to validate the need for
additional supercomputers and compared that process with the
technology investment process set forth in the Clinger-Cohen Act. 
The scope of this review was departmentwide, including all facilities
having supercomputers, although our principal focus was on DOE's
multiprogram national laboratories.  We also gathered information on
the number and cost of supercomputers at two single-program
laboratories--the Bettis and Knolls Atomic Power Laboratories. 
However, we did not perform detailed work at these two laboratories
because of time constraints, the narrow focus and unique mission of
their research programs, and their distinctive program management
under the Office of Naval Reactors within DOE. 

To identify the number and cost of DOE's existing supercomputers, we
requested that DOE's Offices of Defense Programs and Energy Research
provide us, for each supercomputer that they had funded, the year of
purchase or lease and the cost (including the costs of any major
upgrades after the initial purchase of the computer).  The Office of
Energy Research provided information on supercomputers at the
Argonne, Lawrence Berkeley, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Pacific
Northwest National Laboratories.  The Office of Defense Programs
provided information on supercomputers at the Lawrence Livermore, Los
Alamos, and Sandia National Laboratories.  The Office of Naval
Reactors provided information on supercomputers at the Bettis and
Knolls Atomic Power Laboratories.  We visited the seven national
laboratories listed above and verified the data provided, although we
did not independently verify the costs reported.  In most cases, we
relied on the cost data provided by the program offices, while in
several other cases, we obtained clarifying cost information during
our laboratory visits.  To identify major planned supercomputer
acquisitions, we relied primarily on information provided by the
Offices of Energy Research and Defense Programs.  Where possible, we
sought to verify this information either during visits to the
relevant laboratories or through documents used in formulating the
agency's budget requests. 

Recognizing that the initial purchase or lease cost of a
supercomputer may represent only a portion of the cost of operating a
supercomputer, we also developed information on the total costs of
operating supercomputer centers at the seven national laboratories. 
To do this, we requested that the laboratories provide cost data for
all of the cost accounts that constitute the supercomputing effort at
the laboratory.  We asked that these costs be divided into direct
labor and "other" operating costs, and that they include any relevant
program and laboratory overhead expenses.  We requested this
information for fiscal years 1994 through 1997 and asked that the
laboratories project these costs for fiscal years 1998 and 1999. 
Where a cost center included activities unrelated to supercomputing,
we asked the laboratory staff to estimate the proportion of costs
attributable to the supercomputing effort.  Finally, we asked that
the laboratories reconcile the cost information provided with the
information they supplied to DOE's budget and reporting system.  We
then provided draft summaries of this information to each of the
laboratories and DOE's Office of the Chief Financial Officer for
their review and comment or concurrence. 

To determine the utilization rates for DOE's supercomputers, we held
discussions with knowledgeable staff at Argonne and Sandia National
Laboratories to learn how they collected and analyzed utilization
data.  We then developed a standardized data request for each
supercomputer to determine its utilization rate on the basis of the
number of processor hours available for running computer
applications.\6 In addition to the processor hours available, we
asked for the number of processor hours actually used for
applications and the number of processor hours the computer was down
for maintenance or repairs.  We subtracted the number of hours that
machines were down for maintenance or other reasons from the total
number of hours available, to arrive at the number of hours the
machines were actually available to users.  We also wanted to
determine the types of tasks the computers were used for because the
largest, fastest, and most expensive supercomputers are being
justified on the need for the capability to run the largest, most
complex applications in a reasonable amount of time.  Such jobs would
be expected to use all or a large portion of the supercomputer's
processors.  Thus, for the newer supercomputers--those with over 128
processors--we asked the laboratories to provide information on the
number of jobs using various ranges of available processors, that is
0 to 25 percent, 26 to 50 percent, 51 to 75 percent, and over 75
percent.  We then analyzed the responses to determine whether the
bigger supercomputers were being used to run the big computing jobs
for which they were purchased (i.e., the percent of computing jobs
that used over one-half of the available processors). 

We took several steps to ensure that the data provided to us on the
utilization of supercomputers by the laboratories were reliable. 
First, we visited the Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia
laboratories, which, taken together, have at least one supercomputer
from all of the major manufacturers.  We noted that collecting
standard utilization data for each manufacturer and computer was
possible because the utilization data are produced within the
computers' operating systems using the same algorithms.  During
visits to these laboratories, we discussed controls over the systems,
including physical access controls, which we found to be stringent
because of the nature of the work performed by the laboratories. 
Each laboratory reviewed the data for reasonableness either
periodically and/or before it sent us the data (e.g., checking to
ensure that the utilization reported did not exceed total time
available).  We also sent a brief questionnaire to four other
laboratories that provided utilization data and found similar
processes and controls.  On the basis of this review of the process,
controls, and data reviews related to the creation of the utilization
data provided us, we concluded that the utilization data are
sufficiently reliable for use in this report. 

To examine DOE's needs determination process for supercomputers, we
interviewed responsible officials and obtained pertinent
documentation at DOE's headquarters offices--Defense Programs, Energy
Research, and the Office of the Chief Information Officer--as well as
at selected DOE operations offices and at the various national
laboratories where supercomputers are in use.  From these sources, we
obtained an overview of existing and past DOE procedures for
justifying the acquisition of supercomputers, as well as a newly
approved justification process intended to implement the
Clinger-Cohen Act.  Furthermore, we examined the details of DOE's
informal and formal program and project planning and budgeting
processes.  DOE uses these processes to validate the need for
projects that may also include supercomputers.  We compared the
information obtained to the requirements of the Clinger-Cohen Act. 
We also analyzed whether DOE's most expensive supercomputers, such as
its ASCI computers, should be managed by the Department as strategic
systems under its life-cycle asset management process. 

We conducted our review from September 1997 through June 1998 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 


--------------------
\6 The number of processor hours available for running computer
applications is a function of the number of processors in the
computer and the number of hours during the time period being
considered.  For example, a 256-processor supercomputer during a
30-day month has 184,320 processor hours available (256 processors x
30 days x 24 hours = 184,320). 


NUMBER, CAPABILITY, AND COST OF
DOE'S SUPERCOMPUTERS HAVE GROWN
RAPIDLY
============================================================ Chapter 2

DOE has experienced rapid growth in the number, capability, and cost
of its supercomputers since fiscal year 1994.  As of December 31,
1997, DOE's laboratories had 42 supercomputers, several of which
ranked among the most powerful in the world.  From fiscal year 1994
through fiscal year 1997, DOE's supercomputer capability grew by more
than 10-fold.  Thirty-five of DOE's supercomputers were purchased in
these years at a cost of about $300 million (in current year
dollars).  These supercomputers were funded either by the Office of
Energy Research or the Office of Defense Programs.\1

Supercomputers are also expensive to maintain and operate.  The
overall cost of supercomputing, in addition to the costs of the
supercomputers, for the seven DOE laboratories we examined was about
$526 million for fiscal years 1994 through 1997. 

DOE currently plans to spend an additional $257 million on major
supercomputer acquisitions during fiscal year 1998 through fiscal
year 2000.  The newest, fastest supercomputers commercially available
can cost $20 million or more to buy or lease.  Some very large
developmental models can cost more than $100 million.  These
acquisitions will increase DOE's supercomputing capability by almost
300 percent. 


--------------------
\1 In addition to the 42 supercomputers located at the seven national
laboratories, DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy reported having eight
supercomputers, four of which were purchased in fiscal years 1994-97
at a cost of $22.4 million.  These eight machines--obtained to
support the Naval Reactors Program--are located at either Bettis or
Knolls Atomic Power Laboratories.  We are not including those
machines among the 42 reported in this report because of their unique
mission and because we did not visit these laboratories to verify the
data provided by the Office of Nuclear Energy.  These laboratories
plan to replace some of their older supercomputers during fiscal
years 1998 through 2000 at an estimated cost of $48 million. 


   THE NUMBER, CAPABILITY, AND
   COST OF DOE-FUNDED
   SUPERCOMPUTERS HAVE INCREASED
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 2:1

DOE's seven national laboratories have significant supercomputer
capacity, including several machines that are among the most powerful
in the world.  The laboratories had 42 supercomputers at the end of
fiscal year 1997, up from 25 supercomputers at the start of fiscal
year 1994.  DOE's stated need for acquiring supercomputers is to
perform increasingly complex computations and modeling to support two
main program missions--(1) maintaining the safety and reliability of
U.S.  nuclear weapons under the Department's stockpile stewardship
program, administered by the Office of Defense Programs, and (2)
conducting civilian research into complex scientific problems, such
as global climate change, human gene structure, and environmental
contamination, in projects administered by the Office of Energy
Research. 

These acquisitions have significantly enhanced the capacity and
capability of DOE's supercomputers.  For example, at the start of
fiscal year 1998, DOE's supercomputers had the capacity to run about
3.8 trillion operations per second--more than 10 times the total
capacity it had at the start of fiscal year 1994.  In addition,
individual machines, which can now have several dozen to several
thousand processors linked together, are much more powerful.  The
newer supercomputers are capable of running software programs on
several hundred to several thousand processors simultaneously to
solve complex computer models.  A DOE-funded supercomputer at Sandia
which is capable of 1.8 trillion operations per second, is currently
ranked as the fastest in the world. 

DOE purchased 35 of the supercomputers in fiscal years 1994 through
1997 at a cost of about $300 million (in current year dollars). 
These supercomputers were funded by either the Office of Energy
Research or the Office of Defense Programs.  Table 2.1 shows the
location and cost of the 35 supercomputers. 



                               Table 2.1
                
                    Location and Cost of DOE-Funded
                             Supercomputers

                   (Current Year Dollars in Millions)

                                 Number purchased,
                                fiscal years 1994-
National Laboratory                             97                Cost
------------------------------  ------------------  ------------------
Argonne                                          1               $16.7
Lawrence Berkeley                                5                34.3
Los Alamos                                       5                75.1
Lawrence Livermore                              10                79.1
Oak Ridge                                        3                13.4
Pacific Northwest                                2                13.1
Sandia                                           9                69.8
======================================================================
Total                                           35              $301.5
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes:  Includes the cost of the initial purchase and subsequent
upgrades.  In some cases, the costs shown include items other than
the supercomputer hardware.  For example, some contracts contain
provisions for maintaining the machine, writing software for the
machine, or providing funds to assist in the development of the
supercomputer or related critical technologies. 

Source:  Data provided by the Offices of Energy Research and Defense
Programs and verified by GAO during site visits. 

In addition to increasing in power, DOE's newest supercomputers are
increasingly costly.  While the average cost of a supercomputer
acquired by DOE since fiscal year 1994 is about $8.5 million, the
cost of the newer, more powerful supercomputers can be significantly
more.  For example, the commercially available Cray T3E-900 at
Lawrence Berkeley, which was the fifth most powerful computer in the
world in November 1997, cost over $25 million.  In comparison, the
largest machines being developed by DOE, in conjunction with
industry, can cost several times that amount.  The ASCI Red
supercomputer cost about $55 million in fiscal year 1997.  The ASCI
Blue Pacific supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore (3 trillion
operations per second) will cost about $95 million, including
development and some support costs.  Los Alamos is acquiring a
similarly sized machine, known as the ASCI Blue Mountain, at a cost
of about $135 million.  DOE's Office of Energy Research is funding a
smaller version (1 trillion operations per second) of the ASCI Blue
Mountain machine, also at Los Alamos, at a cost of about $40 million. 
In February 1998, the Office of Defense Programs funded another ASCI
effort at Lawrence Livermore.  This $85 million contract funds the
next planned increment of the ASCI program for a computer capable of
10 trillion operations per second. 

The costs of operating supercomputers are also substantial.  These
costs at the seven laboratories totaled about $526 million in fiscal
years 1994 through 1997, excluding the costs of acquiring the
supercomputers.\2 These costs varied depending on the size of the
facility and the programs involved.  At one of the larger facilities,
Los Alamos, for example, the annual costs of supercomputing were over
$56 million in fiscal year 1997.  Supercomputers consume large
amounts of electrical power and often require special, or additional,
air conditioning equipment.  For example, electricity costs for the
computing center at Livermore are almost $1 million per year.  In
addition, software for supercomputers, especially those with
massively parallel architectures, is generally not available
commercially.  As a result, additional resources must be available to
help users develop, convert, or optimize their applications to run on
these machines. 

The ASCI program has contributed to significant increases in
supercomputing costs at the three weapons laboratories since it
started in fiscal year 1996.  At Livermore, for example, the overall
costs of supercomputing increased by about 30 percent from fiscal
year 1995 to about $35.2 million in fiscal year 1997.  Sandia is
constructing a new building largely to support ASCI supercomputing,
with a budgeted total cost of about $29 million between fiscal years
1999 and 2001.  Similarly, Livermore is nearing completion of a $12
million renovation of an existing building to support its next
generation of ASCI supercomputers.  Most of the Livermore cost
results from bringing in the electrical power to run and cool the
supercomputers. 


--------------------
\2 The programs that house and operate these supercomputers impose
various "burdens," or "overhead" charges, to the operating and
equipment costs, as do the laboratories themselves.  Those costs are
also included. 


   PLANNED MAJOR SUPERCOMPUTER
   ACQUISITIONS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 2:2

DOE expects that its planned major supercomputer acquisitions for
fiscal years 1998 through 2000 will cost about $257 million.  These
acquisitions represent the minimum that DOE plans to spend for
supercomputers during those years because smaller acquisitions and
upgrades are not included.\3 For several of these machines, including
the ASCI-funded machines at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore and the
Energy Research-funded machine at Los Alamos, the $257 million
represents only the future funding increments for those machines that
are being acquired and installed over more than one fiscal year. 
Table 2.2 shows DOE's planned major acquisitions for fiscal year 1998
through fiscal year 2000. 



                               Table 2.2
                
                      Major Planned Supercomputer
                  Acquisitions, Fiscal Years 1998-2000

                         (Dollars in millions)

                              Peak
                        performanc
                            e goal
                        (trillions
                                of
Laboratory/name of      operations      Fiscal      Fiscal      Fiscal
computer/status             /sec.)   year 1998   year 1999   year 2000
----------------------  ----------  ----------  ----------  ----------
Los Alamos/ASCI Blue     3.1 (when       $39.8       $38.0          $0
 Mountain/ongoing       completed)
Livermore/ASCI Blue      3.2 (when        27.3        27.1           0
 Pacific/ongoing        completed)
Los Alamos/Nirvana       1.0 (when         8.0         8.0         8.0
 Blue/ongoing           completed)
Livermore/ASCI "Option  10.0 (when        21.3        28.3        35.5
 White"/new start-      completed)
 Feb. 1998
Berkeley/new computer/          \a           0         6.7         9.0
 first-year lease
======================================================================
Total                           \a       $96.4      $108.1       $52.5
----------------------------------------------------------------------
\a Lease details not final.  The total cost is expected to be about
$27 million. 

Source:  DOE. 

These planned acquisitions will increase DOE's total supercomputing
capability by another 280 percent by fiscal year 2000.  Lawrence
Livermore and Los Alamos are acquiring and installing supercomputers
even larger than the ASCI Red machine--each capable of over 3
trillion operations per second.  The "Option White" supercomputer at
Livermore will be more than 3 times as large as either of those
machines.  These three machines are funded by the Office of Defense
Programs as part of the ASCI program.  The ultimate goal of this
program is to build a computer capable of 100 trillion operations per
second that will be used to model and simulate nuclear weapons as
part of DOE's Stockpile Stewardship Management Program.\4 Such a
machine, planned for completion by fiscal year 2004, would equate to
over 25 times the total capability of all of DOE's current
supercomputers combined. 

The "Option White" machine planned at Livermore is expected to cost
about $85 million to complete.  The cost of acquiring other ASCI
program supercomputers and eventually the machine capable of 100
trillion operations per second is unknown at this time.  The cost of
operating supercomputers is also expected to increase.  Livermore
officials told us that the ASCI Option White machine will consume
over 6 megawatts of electric power when complete.  Six megawatts is
enough electric power to supply about 5,000 homes for one year. 
Consequently, Livermore projects that by fiscal year 1999, its
supercomputing costs will increase to about $46.5 million, up from
about $35.2 million in fiscal year 1997. 


--------------------
\3 In addition, as noted earlier, the Bettis and Knolls atomic power
laboratories plan to replace some of their older supercomputers at a
reported cost of about $48 million.  This cost is not included in the
totals reported in the body of this report. 

\4 The goal of the stockpile stewardship management program is to
ensure the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile
without actually testing nuclear weapons.  A key part of this program
is the ASCI program, which is aimed at providing advanced computers
and software to accurately simulate nuclear weapons' performance. 


DOE HAS UNUSED SUPERCOMPUTER
CAPACITY THAT CAN BE SHARED
============================================================ Chapter 3

DOE is underutilizing its supercomputing resources and is missing
opportunities to share them.  Consequently, laboratory contractors
may be acquiring additional costly supercomputers while DOE still has
capacity available that could meet their needs.  With respect to
utilization, we found that DOE's laboratories are utilizing, on
average, only about 59 percent of their available supercomputer
capability.\1 The rates of utilization we observed ranged from 31
percent to 75 percent.  DOE is missing opportunities to use its
available capacity in part because it no longer emphasizes that
opportunities for sharing should be considered.  The only exception
to this situation occurs at the National Energy Research
Supercomputing Center at Lawrence Berkeley, which is set up to be a
user facility.  At this site, sharing with off-site users funded by
DOE is substantial.  However, there is little sharing overall.  With
about 41 percent of its existing capacity--almost 1.7 trillion
operations per second--unused, DOE is missing opportunities to better
share supercomputers among sites as an alternative to buying or
leasing new machines. 


--------------------
\1 Within the computer industry and DOE, there is no standard
definition of utilization.  For purposes of this report, unless
otherwise noted, utilization refers to the percentage of a
supercomputer's available processors actually in use for a given
period of time. 


   DOE'S SUPERCOMPUTERS ARE
   UNDERUTILIZED
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 3:1

DOE is underutilizing its existing supercomputers.  According to
utilization data we obtained from DOE's laboratories, the average
utilization rate is about 59 percent overall, which is low in
comparison with the higher rates (70 to 75 percent) reported at
Lawrence Berkeley and other laboratories.  With substantial
additional capacity being added in fiscal years 1998 through 2000,
overall utilization rates may decline even further.  Although DOE
expects usage to increase dramatically when the ASCI program is
further developed, the extremely large size of the ASCI computers
means that if even a small percentage of the capacity of those
machines is available for sharing, they could potentially meet all of
DOE's other supercomputing needs.  However, DOE cannot say whether or
how much unused capacity it has because it no longer monitors
supercomputer workloads and utilization, even when a laboratory is
seeking funding for a new machine.  Thus, the Department lacks basic
information on how effectively the machines are being used. 


      UTILIZATION RATES AT SOME
      LABORATORIES ARE VERY LOW
-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 3:1.1

The utilization rates for supercomputers varied widely at the
laboratories we visited, from about 31 percent to about 75 percent
(see table 3.1).  Because DOE does not maintain this information, we
asked DOE laboratories to generate utilization data for each of their
supercomputers from available site records.  Data were available for
35 machines at seven laboratories.  While table 3.1 displays
utilization for fiscal year 1997, data we obtained for fiscal years
1994 through 1997 showed similar results. 



                               Table 3.1
                
                Supercomputer Utilization Rates at Seven
                   DOE Laboratories, Fiscal Year 1997

                                                               Average
DOE laboratory (number of computers for which data      utilization in
were provided)                                               percent\a
--------------------------------------------------  ------------------
Argonne (1)                                                         63
Berkeley (6)                                                        75
Livermore (11)                                                      51
Los Alamos (6)                                                      39
Oak Ridge (4)                                                       69
Pacific Northwest (1)\b                                             31
Sandia (6)                                                          57
======================================================================
Total (35)                                                          59
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Note:  To obtain average utilization in percent, the number of
processors in use at each laboratory was multiplied by the hours in
use and then divided by the number of processors available multiplied
by their total hours available for use.  See ch.  1 for a more
detailed discussion of how we measured supercomputer utilization. 

\a Los Alamos reported it did not have utilization data for two of
its eight supercomputers.  Sandia reported it did not have
utilization data for 4 of its 10 supercomputers. 

\b Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which was making the
transition to a newer, larger machine, had the lowest utilization
rate--31 percent--on its older machine.  Data for the newer machine,
which was still undergoing acceptance testing, were not generally
available and consisted primarily of test runs and thus were excluded
from this analysis. 

Source:  Seven national laboratories and DOE. 

Utilization rates for individual machines varied because of a number
of factors, including whether the machine is new or old, or an
experimental or a more stable production model.  Laboratories'
supercomputer officials told us that in some instances, researchers
prefer some supercomputers more than others because the preferred
machines are more reliable or run the researchers' computer programs
more efficiently.  On the other hand, some machines at sites with
particularly low utilization rates are old machines that are being
phased out--such as the Pacific Northwest supercomputer listed in
table 3.1--or new machines that are still being phased in.  The
highest overall utilization rate was at Lawrence Berkeley, which is a
designated user facility available to any researcher in the United
States funded by DOE's Office of Energy Research.  This factor
probably contributes to the relatively high utilization of the
supercomputers at this facility and demonstrates the benefits of
sharing supercomputing resources. 

While recognizing that various factors can affect utilization rates,
we nevertheless believe that utilization rates of 59 percent or lower
show that these computers are being underutilized.  Arguably, the
threshold for underutilization could be set even higher, at 70
percent or more, since at least one site exceeds 75-percent
utilization and several individual machines' rates exceeded 90
percent. 

An alternative way of looking at utilization is to consider how many
of the available processors are used to run very large jobs.  The
largest machines--more than 128 processors for this review--are also
the most expensive supercomputers acquired by DOE.  The acquisition
of these machines is typically justified by the need for very large
machines to run very large programs simultaneously across many
processors in order to complete the work in a reasonable period of
time.  Ideally, most of these machines should be running very large
programs most of the time or at least a significant percentage of the
time available.  If a facility does not have a significant number of
large jobs to run, it may be more cost-effective to buy one or more
smaller supercomputers to run the smaller programs and to look for
the opportunity to share a large machine with another facility.  In
fact, the laboratories' data showed that the largest machines are
severely underutilized.  During 1997, less than 5 percent of the jobs
run on the largest supercomputers at DOE laboratories used more than
one-half of the available processors.  In other words, these
supercomputers are severely underutilized for the types of programs
that were used to justify their acquisition. 

In many cases, these larger machines are being used to run a large
number of smaller programs that would have fit on smaller, less
expensive supercomputers.  In some cases, such as the ASCI computers
at Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia, the computer programs needed to
fully use the capability provided by these machines are still being
developed.  For example, through the end of November 1997, less than
1 percent of the programs run on Sandia's ASCI Red supercomputer,
which can process 1.8 trillion operations per second, used more that
one-half of the available processors. 

Other laboratories may have more very large machines available than
very large programs to fill them up.  For example, Lawrence Berkeley
has a large 512-processor supercomputer that is utilized 75 percent
of the time it is available.  However, less than one-half of 1
percent of the jobs run on that machine require more than one-half of
its processors.  Beginning in fiscal year 1999, Lawrence Berkeley
plans to replace this 512-processor supercomputer, ranked as the
fifth most powerful supercomputer in the world when acquired in
fiscal year 1997 for $26 million, with a newer model estimated to
cost $27 million and capable of up to 1 trillion operations per
second.  As previously discussed, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory is
a designated user facility for all Office of Energy researchers and
thus has a fairly high utilization rate.  However, locating another
large-scale supercomputer at Berkeley may call for careful
evaluation, given that two other DOE facilities funded by the Office
of Energy Research are already in the process of acquiring, or
planning to acquire, new large-scale supercomputers in about the same
time frame.  As discussed earlier, Los Alamos is now acquiring and
installing a $40 million machine with several thousand processors
capable of 1 trillion operations per second.  The same careful
evaluation is called for in the case of the Pacific Northwest
Laboratory, which plans to replace its new machine (a 512-processor
machine accepted in 1998) with a larger machine in about the same
timeframe.  Given the large amount of unused capacity at DOE
facilities, the new capacity being acquired, and the limited number
of large-scale programs that require these very large machines,
acquiring a new large machine for Lawrence Berkeley, Pacific
Northwest, or any other laboratory may not be justified. 
Furthermore, as discussed earlier, if even a small percent of the
capability of the very large-scale ASCI machines is available for
sharing, this availability could meet all of DOE's other
supercomputing needs. 


      DOE DOES NOT MONITOR
      UTILIZATION RATES
-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 3:1.2

In the past, under a DOE order on computer management and acquisition
(Order 1360.1b), cancelled in September 1995, DOE's operations
offices and headquarters information technology managers were
responsible for collecting and analyzing workload and other
performance data.  They used these data to help ensure that the
Department's information technology resources--including
supercomputers--were being used to their maximum effectiveness.  The
order specified that, commensurate with program requirements,
computer managers analyze performance data to define workload trends
and identify problems.  These analyses were to help them to adjust
workloads, maximize return on investments, and assist in projecting
future workloads, among other things.  Under the old order, DOE's
operations offices were routinely involved in overseeing
laboratories' management of computers, including supercomputers. 

However, as further discussed in chapter 4, DOE canceled the order on
computer management and acquisition, replacing it with a more general
order on information technology management (O 200.1, September 30,
1996), which considerably reduced DOE's oversight over laboratories'
information technology acquisitions.  Under the new order, operations
offices are no longer responsible for overseeing laboratories'
computers (including research computers/supercomputers) and no longer
collect workload and performance data on them.  As a result, DOE
cannot systematically monitor existing utilization rates before
investing in additional supercomputers.  When a laboratory is seeking
funding for a new supercomputer, existing workload and utilization
rates are not routinely calculated or factored into the
decision-making. 


   OPPORTUNITIES TO SHARE
   SUPERCOMPUTERS ARE BEING MISSED
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 3:2

Given the amount of existing unused capacity and planned growth in
capacity, DOE is missing sharing opportunities because it does not
emphasize to its program offices and laboratories that they should be
looking for them.  Only a limited amount of supercomputer sharing
occurs at DOE's laboratories.  Most sharing occurs at the Lawrence
Berkeley's National Energy Research Supercomputing Center, which was
specifically created as a user facility and is shared among
DOE-funded users from across the country.  The facility, funded by
DOE's Office of Energy Research, has six supercomputers, associated
data storage devices, and other related hardware.  According to
officials, the facility serves about 2,000 users at the Berkeley
Laboratory, other national laboratories, universities, and industry
across the country.  Some sharing also takes place at other DOE
laboratories.  Lawrence Livermore reported that over 30 users from
Los Alamos and Sandia currently use its ASCI Blue supercomputer, and
a variety of users from Livermore and Los Alamos use the ASCI Red
supercomputer at Sandia.  However, the Los Alamos and Livermore
laboratories are in the process of installing their own ASCI-funded
supercomputers, which will each be capable of over 3 trillion
operations per second; in contrast, Sandia's ASCI Red machine is
capable of 1.8 trillion operations per second.  In all likelihood,
this huge increase in capacity at Los Alamos and Livermore will
decrease the use of the Sandia machine. 

The amount of existing unused supercomputer capacity in DOE's
laboratories indicates that opportunities for sharing are being
missed.  For example, in a May 1995 report, DOE's inspector general
criticized the Department for failing to consider alternatives to
buying a $13 million machine at Pacific Northwest's Environmental
Molecular Sciences Laboratory.\2 The report stated that three other
sites "already had the computer systems that could fulfill the needs
of the new Research Laboratory." This is the same supercomputer
system that Pacific Northwest had already started planning to
replace, even before it had completed its final acceptance testing of
the machine and placed it in service.  In addition, planned new
capacity to be added in the next year may compound the problem.  As
shown in table 3.2, over 40 percent of DOE's total existing
supercomputing capacity of over 4 trillion operations per second is
not being utilized, and additional capacity of 1 trillion operations
per second is planned for delivery within the next year. 



                               Table 3.2
                
                      Existing Used and Unused DOE
                Supercomputing Capacity, and Planned New
                                Capacity

                  (Billions of operations per second)

                                                               Planned
                                    Existing        Unused         new
Laboratory                        capacity\a    capacity\b    capacity
------------------------------  ------------  ------------  ----------
Argonne                                45.00          16.6        None
                                                               planned
Berkeley                              506.40         128.8          53
Livermore                             350.30         172.9         780
Los Alamos                            762.90       463.6\c         200
Pacific Northwest                     207.30       142.6\c        None
                                                               planned
Oak Ridge                             206.60          64.7        None
                                                               planned
Sandia                               2170.25       895.5\c        None
                                                               planned
======================================================================
Total                                4148.75       1685.30        1033
----------------------------------------------------------------------
\a Capacity measured as total peak performance in billions of
operations per second. 

\b Unused capacity equals total capacity minus utilized capacity. 

\c The laboratory kept no utilization data on at least one of its
supercomputers.  To estimate unused capacity for the laboratory, we
applied the weighted average utilization for the remainder of the
laboratories' supercomputers to those machines for which data were
not kept. 

Source:  Seven laboratories and DOE. 

The lack of emphasis on sharing may be especially true at DOE's
weapons laboratories, where ASCI machines with huge capacities are
being built.  According to officials of the weapons laboratories and
of DOE's defense programs, they look for opportunities to share
supercomputers within the ASCI program, but they believe that sharing
among DOE's programs and laboratories is limited by various technical
factors, including the state of communications links between them and
problems with alternating between classified and unclassified
computer operations.  While these may be legitimate concerns at the
level of 100 trillion operations per second, which is envisioned for
the future and discussed later in this chapter, in our view they are
not legitimate concerns at the current level of operations, as
demonstrated by the experience at Lawrence Berkeley.  Currently, four
supercomputers at Sandia Laboratory have been using less than 40
percent of their available capacity.  In addition, Los Alamos is
building two supercomputers in the same room, which when complete
will both likely rank among the top 5 to 10 supercomputers in the
world and cost a total of about $174 million.  One system, the ASCI
Blue Mountain machine, is designed to achieve a speed of 3.1 trillion
operations per second at a planned cost of $134.4 million.  The other
system, the Energy Research program's Nirvana Blue machine, is
designed to achieve a speed of 1 trillion operations per second at a
planned cost of about $40 million. 

While this effort at Los Alamos might appear to be an example of
supercomputer sharing across programs, in fact the two DOE program
offices involved have no formal agreement to collaborate in building
or using the two machines.  However, they initially told us that the
goal in building the two machines at the same laboratory was to
achieve synergy in the development of numerical algorithms, hardware,
and software.  DOE officials initially spoke of connecting the two
machines to achieve a peak performance of up to 4 trillion operations
per second.  However, a recent statement by the head of the ASCI
program raises questions about this collaboration.  He told us that
he would like to see the Office of Energy Research remove the "Blue"
designation from its machine to make it clear that this machine is
not associated with the ASCI program. 

DOE also is adding outside ASCI capacity while unused capacity exists
at the weapons laboratories.  Total existing unused capacity and
planned added new capacity within the three ASCI program laboratories
(Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia) is substantial.  Despite this, in
February 1998, DOE, through its Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory, leased additional computer capacity of about 200 billion
operations per second from the Pittsburgh Supercomputer Center
(formerly funded by the National Science Foundation) for 1 year at a
cost of $4.5 million, in order to support the ASCI Strategic
Alliances Program.\3 DOE's existing unutilized supercomputer capacity
at the time of the new lease was more than 8 times the added capacity
the Pittsburgh facility would supply.  In addition, the planned new
DOE capacity scheduled to come on line in fiscal year 1998 alone is 5
times greater than the amount of added capacity leased from the
Pittsburgh facility.  While, this decision may have been made in part
because the program has not resolved how it is going to provide
access to foreign nationals working at its university partners, there
appears to be sufficient other capacity available in DOE to have met
some or all of this need.  According to DOE officials, they performed
an informal analysis of the available supercomputing capacity within
the laboratories, for which there is no documentation, before
Livermore entered into this $4.5 million contract.  The lack of
documentation is not surprising because, as noted earlier, DOE does
not require its laboratories to keep utilization data and the program
offices that make most funding decisions do not routinely consider
such information or the option of sharing existing resources. 

According to DOE, if used to their full potential, the supercomputers
of the future will process and generate more data than can be
effectively handled by DOE's existing communications infrastructure
and thus could hinder the ability to share supercomputers among
sites.  As discussed in chapter 2, the ASCI program's ultimate goal
is to build a supercomputer capable of 100 trillion operations per
second, or over 25 times the capability of all existing DOE
supercomputers.  Machines of this scale will generate enormous
amounts of data and could potentially overwhelm DOE's communications
infrastructure if not adequately planned for.  For example, ASCI
officials at Livermore estimate that the classified wide area network
that handles their transmissions is currently 100 to 300 times too
small to support their highest computing needs in the future. 
Research is under way as part of the ASCI program to address this
issue. 


--------------------
\2 "Audit of the Department of Energy's Environmental Molecular
Sciences Laboratory," DOE/IG-0371, Apr.  7, 1995. 

\3 The National Science Foundation, in an effort to cut costs, sought
to consolidate its supercomputing efforts and withdrew its support
for the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.  The Center, in an effort
to remain viable, sought support elsewhere, including from DOE. 


   CONCLUSIONS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 3:3

DOE-funded supercomputers are underutilized in terms of both the
percentage of time they are being used and the size of the programs
being run on them.  We believe that two factors contribute to the
underutilization of DOE-funded supercomputers.  First, DOE does not
monitor its laboratories' supercomputer workloads and utilization and
does not require that such information be considered when deciding to
acquire new supercomputers.  Second, DOE no longer requires the
contractors and universities that operate its national laboratories,
nor its program offices that provide the funding, to address
opportunities for sharing supercomputers when justifying the need for
new supercomputers.  At a minimum, we would expect to find
documentation of (1) workloads and utilization rates and (2) sharing
opportunities within DOE's existing supercomputer portfolio when the
acquisition of a new supercomputer is being contemplated.  Without
considering such information, decisions to acquire new supercomputers
are, in essence, being made in a vacuum. 

We believe that there are opportunities for DOE to rectify the low
utilization rates for DOE-funded supercomputers by increasing the
general sharing of supercomputers among sites and by concentrating
the very large programs at one or more of the existing
supercomputers, which also are underutilized in terms of running very
large programs.  Such action could lead to a rise in the overall
utilization rate for supercomputers and could result in the more
effective use of the largest machines to run the programs that were
the basis for their acquisition in the first place.  Taking advantage
of these opportunities could obviate the need to acquire as many
supercomputers or supercomputers of the size currently planned.  We
make recommendations in chapter 4 that will address this issue. 


   AGENCY COMMENTS AND OUR
   EVALUATION
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 3:4

In its comments, DOE stated that processor utilization is only one
dimension of massively parallel computing systems and does not
account for the other factors, such as memory size, memory bandwidth,
and input/output bandwidth, that could render a supercomputer "fully
saturated" at well under a 70-percent utilization rate.  While, we
agree that these and other factors would prevent DOE from achieving
100-percent utilization, we did not state that DOE should or even
could achieve 100-percent utilization.  Rather, we concluded that DOE
was missing opportunities to improve its low overall utilization rate
because it does not monitor utilization or require that opportunities
to share supercomputers be considered before making decisions to buy
supercomputers.  We continue to believe that DOE can improve its
utilization of supercomputer resources and achieve an overall
utilization rate greater than its current 59 percent rate.  DOE's
National Energy Research Scientific Computing facility located at
Lawrence Berkeley routinely achieves rates of over 70 percent on its
massively parallel supercomputer.  DOE argues that such machines are
not similar to its ASCI supercomputers because they are stable
"production" machines.  However, DOE is using commercially available
technology to build the large-scale ASCI supercomputers, which are in
many ways similar to other supercomputers using the same technology. 
If DOE could improve its utilization rate by 10 to 15 percent
overall, it could save tens of millions of dollars in acquisition
costs for new supercomputers. 

DOE also stated that the 5 percent of the jobs using over one-half of
the processors on the ASCI Red supercomputer at Sandia account for 80
percent of the utilization of this machine.  DOE also stated that our
conclusion that 41 percent of its overall supercomputer capacity is
available for sharing was erroneous because of the 80-percent
utilization rate cited for the ASCI Red supercomputer.  DOE therefore
concluded that its supercomputers (1) do not have available capacity
to share, (2) are being used for large-scale applications, and (3)
have unused capacity that is actually close to zero.  DOE also stated
that the sharing of the ASCI program machines is very difficult
because of national security concerns. 

We disagree.  The ASCI Red supercomputer is used only 43 percent of
the total available time, including its use for all large-scale
applications.  The 80-percent utilization rate cited by DOE
represents the portion of the 43 percent total use devoted to
large-scale programs--in other words about 34 percent.  Thus, a large
proportion of this machine, up to 57 percent of total available time,
is still available for use by others.  With regard to the sharing of
the ASCI machines, they were originally planned and are being
installed to allow just this type of sharing.  The three ASCI
supercomputers are designed to have both classified and unclassified
modules that can also, after following proper procedures, be linked
together to run the largest programs.  In fact, one of the
requirements of the ASCI Red supercomputer was that it could be
switched between classified and unclassified uses in less than 30
minutes.  In addition, ASCI program documents state that 10 percent
of the capacity of these machines will be available to users from
outside DOE's laboratories, such as the universities participating in
the ASCI program's research. 


DOE'S PROPOSED CHANGES MAY NOT
IMPROVE OVERSIGHT OF
SUPERCOMPUTERS
============================================================ Chapter 4

DOE has not effectively overseen the acquisition and use of
supercomputers, and its proposed implementation of the Clinger-Cohen
Act will not improve its oversight.  The Department does not have a
process in place to ensure that supercomputer acquisitions are fully
justified and represent the best use of funds among competing
priorities.  Instead, its existing program planning, project
management, and budget formulation processes focus more on overall
research projects than on the acquisition of supercomputers that
support those projects.  As a result, new systems are planned and
acquired without DOE oversight, while substantial unused and
underutilized capacity already exists within DOE. 

In April 1998, DOE outlined plans for a new process to comply with
the Clinger-Cohen Act, which requires that federal agencies implement
a comprehensive, efficient approach to acquiring and managing
information technology.  DOE's new process separately manages
administrative and scientific computers, leaving the responsibility
for scientific computers--including supercomputers--to individual
program offices.  As envisioned, this approach may allow DOE's
program offices to continue acquiring supercomputers outside the
Department's normal process for implementing the Clinger-Cohen Act. 
This approach, contrary to what is envisioned in the Clinger-Cohen
Act, effectively places the vast majority of DOE's information
technology resources outside the purview of the Department's chief
information officer. 

DOE has established criteria for designating projects as "strategic
systems" if they cost over $400 million, are an urgent national
priority, are high risk, have international implications, or are
vital to national security.  The purpose of designating strategic
systems is to ensure informed, objective, and well-documented
decisions for key events, such as changes to baseline costs and
schedules.  The ASCI program will cost about $4 billion from fiscal
years 1996 through 2010, is an urgent national priority because of
national security concerns, and has international implications
because it is a major factor in United States' support of the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  In addition, the program is high risk
because it seeks to advance the state of the art in supercomputing
and simulation well beyond current capabilities, has already
experienced delays, has had its projected costs increased, and
depends on as yet unknown technologies for success.  However, the
program has not been designated as a strategic system. 


   DOE'S EXISTING PROCESSES HAVE
   NOT EFFECTIVELY OVERSEEN
   SUPERCOMPUTER ACQUISITIONS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 4:1

Neither DOE's existing processes for research planning nor for
overseeing information technology focus on the acquisition and use of
supercomputers in an independent, comprehensive manner. 
Consequently, as discussed in earlier chapters, no one person or
office within DOE knows how many supercomputers are at the national
laboratories, what they cost, or how they are being used.  As a
result, new systems are planned and acquired without departmental
oversight, while substantial unused and underutilized capacity
already exists. 


      EXISTING PLANNING PROCESSES
      DO NOT FOCUS ON
      SUPERCOMPUTER ACQUISITIONS
-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 4:1.1

DOE's program offices, including its Office of Defense Programs and
Office of Energy Research (the program offices that acquire most of
DOE's supercomputers), conduct their own, largely independent,
research planning efforts in keeping with their separate program
missions.  These offices have research planning activities that
generally include the following similar steps: 

  -- continuously redefining programmatic and mission needs,

  -- developing and submitting written research proposals (which may
     include a proposed supercomputer acquisition), and

  -- reviewing and selecting proposals for inclusion in DOE's program
     planning and budget formulation processes. 

As these steps indicate, these processes focus more on overall
research initiatives than on the specific supercomputer acquisitions
that may be included in the initiatives.  Furthermore, these
activities are not standardized or systematically documented in
either of the two program offices or in DOE as a whole.  In practice,
in the Offices of Defense Programs and Energy Research, research
ideas develop in a variety of ways from different sources.  Neither
office has standardized procedures for reviewing and selecting
proposals.  Consequently, the Department does not have a systematic
framework for weighing competing supercomputing proposals when they
are included in research programs. 

The results of the program offices' planning activities are to be
integrated into the annual budget cycle.  In this process, proposed
research projects are included in "field work proposal packages" from
each national laboratory and subjected to reviews by the operations,
program, and budget offices; the chief financial officer, and the
Office of the Secretary.  Approved projects are incorporated into
DOE's proposed budget, which is subject to review and approval by the
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congress. 

In DOE's process, proposed supercomputer acquisitions may not show up
in budget documentation and thus are not systematically weighed
against one another.  For example, the acquisition of the $40 million
Nirvana Blue supercomputer at Los Alamos has been included in two
larger initiatives, the ASCI program and the Interagency Nondefense
High Performance Computing and Communications Program.  While those
programs have been highlighted in the budget, specific funding and
justification for the Nirvana Blue supercomputer has not been
highlighted.  In other cases, funding and justification may be only
partially visible in budget documentation.  This is true of the ASCI
Blue Mountain supercomputer at Los Alamos.  According to DOE and
laboratory records, total funding for this machine for fiscal year
1999 is $38 million, but only $2.8 million is visible in budget
documentation.  Program officials said that the remaining $35.2
million for this machine came from elsewhere in the ASCI budget. 


      LITTLE DEPARTMENTAL
      OVERSIGHT OF SUPERCOMPUTER
      ACQUISITIONS
-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 4:1.2

Under DOE's current order on information technology management,
"Information Management Program" (Order O 200.1, Sept.  30, 1996),
the Executive Committee on Information Management consists of senior
program and staff officers and the chief information officer, who has
a nonvoting role.  The executive committe and chief information
officer oversee major information technology investments, and the
chief information officer has the specific responsibility of
overseeing the Department's information technology process.  Under
the order, the executive committee and the chief information officer
exercise no controls over supercomputer acquisitions, which are
essentially managed and overseen by the program offices and the
laboratory management and operating contractors.  Thus, over 80
percent of the information management assets funded by DOE are
outside of the Department's information management structure,
including most systems (including supercomputers) at the national
laboratories. 

This situation contrasts with past departmental practices.  Under a
former order, which was canceled in September 1995 ("Acquisition and
Management of Computing Resources," Order 1360.1b) the following
requirements were in place: 

  -- Laboratories planning to acquire supercomputers were required to
     submit detailed implementation plans justifying the acquisitions
     to DOE's headquarters program offices and the office of
     information resource management for review and approval;

  -- Laboratories annually submitted long-range site plans for
     information resources management to the program offices and the
     office of information resource management; and

  -- DOE's operations offices were required to determine whether
     laboratories, before acquiring additional supercomputers or
     other computers, were maximizing investments, taking into
     account use data on existing machines, and considering sharing
     computer assets. 

According to DOE officials, the order was canceled as part of a
departmental effort to streamline the management of the national
laboratories and to eliminate unnecessary paperwork requirements.\1

This lack of DOE oversight and controls over supercomputers means
that even the most expensive systems are not necessarily visible to
the Department's information technology managers.  For example, DOE
has not exercised systematic departmentwide oversight over five major
planned or ongoing supercomputer acquisitions for Lawrence Berkeley,
Livermore, and Los Alamos.  These computers, funded by Defense
Programs and Energy Research, have a projected total cost of well
over $250 million for fiscal years 1998 through 2000.  Similarly, we
found that a planned $7 million upgrade of Pacific Northwest's
supercomputer--proposed for fiscal year 1999 by the manager of
Pacific Northwest's computing facility and included in a list of
ongoing/planned acquisitions supplied to us by Energy Research--was
otherwise undocumented within DOE's and the laboratory's ad hoc and
formal planning processes. 


--------------------
\1 In the past, the Office of Information Resource Management
annually collected and reported data to OMB on major administrative
computers and supercomputers being proposed for funding in a given
fiscal year.  However, under present OMB guidelines, the chief
information officer no longer displays budget "crosscut" data on all
major information technology--including supercomputers--in
submissions to OMB with the annual departmental budget request. 
Instead, overall information technology costs in functional areas
such as hardware and software are reported to OMB. 


   DOE'S IMPLEMENTATION OF
   CLINGER-COHEN ACT MAY NOT
   IMPROVE OVERSIGHT OF
   SUPERCOMPUTERS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 4:2

The Clinger-Cohen Act requires that DOE and other federal agencies
implement an effective process for investing in information
technology.  DOE recognizes that its existing procedures for
acquiring information technology do not follow Clinger-Cohen criteria
and decided in April 1998 to implement a new process for planning and
overseeing investments in information technology.  This new "dual
track" process includes investments in both administrative and
scientific information technology but subjects them to separate
management.  In so doing, the process recognizes that DOE's program
offices have viewed supercomputers as research "tools," not as
information technology.  The new process is a compromise.  It
attempts to implement the Clinger-Cohen Act but may allow program
officials to keep their existing research planning processes and to
continue to acquire supercomputers without subjecting them to any
sort of overall investment strategy. 


      CLINGER-COHEN ACT
      REQUIREMENTS
-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 4:2.1

The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 provides criteria for federal agencies
to follow when acquiring information technology, including
supercomputers.  Among other things,\2 the act requires agencies to
implement a process for selecting, controlling, and evaluating
information technology investments--a process that assesses and
manages the risks of information technology investments on an ongoing
basis.  As part of the process, agencies are to develop and employ
quantitative and qualitative criteria for comparing and setting
priorities among alternative information technology investments.  OMB
guidance, known as the "Raines rules," lays out the investment
criteria to be met.\3 The Clinger-Cohen Act also envisions a key role
for the chief information officer, who under the act is responsible
for, among other things, promoting the effective, efficient design
and operation of all major information resources management processes
for the agency; monitoring and evaluating the performance of the
agency's information technology programs; and advising the head of
the agency on whether to continue, modify, or terminate a program or
project. 


--------------------
\2 Under the act, the heads of executive agencies are authorized to
procure information technology for their respective agencies (sec. 
5124) and to provide and implement a process for maximizing the value
and assessing and managing the risks of the information technology
acquisitions of the agency (sec.  5122).  They also must develop
goals for the effective use of information technology and report to
the Congress, as part of the budget submission, on progress toward
those goals (sec.  5123). 

\3 Criteria include having the proposed information technology system
(1) support core/priority mission functions; (2) be undertaken
because no alternative is as efficient; (3) maximize the use of
commercial, off-the-shelf technology; (4) demonstrate a projected
return on investment that is equal to or better than alternatives;
and (5) employ an acquisition strategy that appropriately allocates
risk between the government and the contractor. 


      DOE'S PROPOSED
      IMPLEMENTATION OF THE
      CLINGER-COHEN ACT MAY NOT
      FOLLOW ITS CRITERIA
-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 4:2.2

In April 1998, the Department decided to implement an investment
planning and oversight process for major administrative and
scientific information technologies.  DOE's new process separates
computers into two categories--administrative and scientific, which
includes supercomputers--and establishes separate review and
oversight processes for each category. 

Under DOE's approach, proposals to acquire either administrative or
scientific information technologies (above a threshold of $2 million
per machine) will undergo an annual review and selection process that
DOE calls "dual track." As envisioned, projects will be screened by a
steering committee (co-chaired by the chief financial officer and
chief information officer, with program offices' resource managers as
members), which would decide, in step with the budget cycle, which
projects are to be reviewed on the administrative track, and which on
the scientific (sometimes referred to as programmatic) track. 
Thereafter, the dual tracks are to be independent in the following
way: 

  -- For investments in administrative information technology, a
     project team develops a rigorous business case for the
     acquisition, obtains all stakeholders' input on requirements,
     and performs a cost-benefit analysis.  Projects are then scored
     and ranked for technological risk, business benefits, and return
     on investment.  Using this analysis, the Executive Committee on
     Information Management, acting as the corporate investment
     board, evaluates projects against broader executive priorities
     and makes selections for funding.  During implementation,
     selected projects are to be monitored against performance
     measures established by the project team.  In selected cases,
     post-implementation evaluations will also be conducted. 

  -- For investments in scientific (programmatic) information
     technology, the process is less defined.  According to the
     decision document for the process, these investments will not be
     evaluated using OMB's "Raines rules," but instead "program
     offices will plan and review these systems using appropriate
     criteria for research conducted by contractors." In addition,
     "the Secretary and OMB review [these] systems as part of the
     budget process." Also, under a new reporting requirement,
     scientific information technology is to be included along with
     administrative information technology in an annual report to
     OMB. 

DOE's proposed process allows the program offices to retain their
present processes for acquiring supercomputers and appears to
categorically exempt supercomputers from DOE's normal process to meet
the requirements of the Clinger-Cohen Act.  According to a staff
member in the office of the chief information officer, the precise
details of the process for scientific information technology remain
to be worked out among the program offices and the chief information
officer.  However, a Defense Programs official said that from that
office's point of view, the agreed approach does not treat scientific
computers as information technology nor subject them to any sort of
oversight by the chief information officer. 

It remains to be seen how DOE will implement in detail the
Clinger-Cohen Act for supercomputers.  On the one hand, the
Department recognizes that its existing processes for scientific
information technology may not follow the Clinger-Cohen Act's
criteria.  On the other hand, DOE's program offices view the act's
oversight requirements as a potential impediment to their research
efforts.  According to program officials, supercomputers are
basically research tools, not information technology investments.  In
addition, the program offices do not want the Department's chief
information officer to play a greater oversight role over the
supercomputer acquisition process, as envisioned in the Clinger-Cohen
Act.  They view the chief information officer as lacking in knowledge
of their research missions.  The newly approved departmental "dual
track" process is a compromise by DOE to implement the act and yet
keep scientific information technology (and supercomputers) in a
special management category, not under the oversight of the chief
information officer or the Executive Committee on Information
Management.  In this regard, the new process may allow the program
offices to continue with their "old" supercomputer acquisition
processes, which do not follow the act's requirements. 

Another issue to consider in DOE's implementation of the
Clinger-Cohen Act is that most (over 80 percent) of the Department's
information technology funding is spent by its management and
operating contractors that run most of DOE' major facilities,
including the seven national laboratories.  In this regard, the act
defines information technology to include information technology
equipment used directly by the agency and equipment used by a
contractor under the following circumstances:  The contract (1)
requires the use of such technology or (2) requires the use, to a
significant extent, of such equipment in the performance of a service
or the furnishing of a product.  However, the act also provides that
the term information technology does not include any equipment
acquired by a federal contractor that is incidental to a federal
contract. 

To date, DOE has not taken a position on whether it will argue that
the Clinger-Cohen Act is or is not applicable to the Department's
scientific information technology that is acquired and used by its
management and operating contractors.  However, according to DOE, the
Department does not normally require its management and operating
contractors to use a particular information technology in performing
their contracts but leaves such matters to the contractors'
discretion.  Thus, according to DOE, scientific information
technology, such as the supercomputers acquired and used by its
management and operating contractors, arguably do not fall within the
act's definition of information technology and are not covered by the
act.  DOE acknowledges that a narrow interpretation of the act's
definition of information technology, even where technically and
legally supportable, might not be well received by OMB and the
Congress.  DOE also recognizes that the argument that the technology
is incidental is difficult to make when the contractors' expenditures
related to information technology are high--as is the case at the
national laboratories where DOE's supercomputers are located. 
Furthermore, in most cases, while DOE does not require the use of a
particular system, it is clear from the nature of the work it is
funding at the laboratories that they need supercomputers to complete
the research.  Thus, in our view, it would be inconsistent for the
Department--given the size, cost, and importance to DOE's mission of
the supercomputers, as well the laboratory contractors' expressed
need for them to carry out their work--to argue that the
supercomputers acquired by its contractors are not required to
perform the contract or are incidental to the contract, and are
therefore outside the scope of the act. 


   SOME SUPERCOMPUTER ACQUISITIONS
   NEED TO BE MANAGED AS STRATEGIC
   SYSTEMS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 4:3

DOE may not be managing its largest supercomputer acquisitions
appropriately.  DOE does not manage even the most expensive
supercomputer acquisitions--such as the ASCI system--as strategic
system acquisitions requiring the attention of departmental
management at the highest levels.  DOE has established criteria for
designating projects as strategic systems if they cost over $400
million, are an urgent national priority, are high risk, have
international implications, or are vital to national security.  The
purpose of designating strategic systems is to ensure informed,
objective, and well-documented decisions for key events, such as
changes to baseline costs or schedules.  In prior years, the
Department has not effectively managed such systems, which have often
been late and over budget.  DOE currently manages 11 projects as
strategic systems, including two systems related to stockpile
stewardship--the National Ignition Facility under construction at
Lawrence Livermore (estimated to cost $1.1 billion), and the Tritium
Supply Facility (total cost to be determined).  No supercomputer
acquisitions, including those for the ASCI program, are or have been
designated as strategic systems. 

Nevertheless, the ASCI effort to acquire a supercomputer capable of
performing 100 trillion operations per second--to simulate the
effects of aging and ensure the reliability of nuclear weapons--meets
the criteria for being treated as a strategic system.  The ASCI
program is a separate line item in DOE's budget, will likely cost
about $4 billion from fiscal years 1996 through 2010, is a key part
of the stockpile stewardship program, is an urgent national priority
on national security grounds, and has international implications
because it is a major factor in U.S.  support of the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty.  Finally, the ASCI program is high risk because it
seeks to advance the state of the art in supercomputing and
simulation well beyond current capabilities, has already experienced
delays, has had its projected cost increase, and depends on as yet
unknown technologies for success.  Although these characteristics
would appear to make the ASCI program a clear candidate for being
designated as a strategic system, Defense Programs officials said
they have not managed ASCI as a strategic system because it is a
program, not a system, and does not meet OMB criteria for being
treated as a capital investment in the budget.  However, this
position is not consistent with DOE's November 1995 "Joint Program
Office Policy on Project Management," which noted that some strategic
systems are actually programs that include projects.  The ASCI
program, which has at its heart an ambitious effort to acquire
supercomputer systems, would qualify.  The ASCI program has to date
already spent, or committed to spend, $370 million on four
supercomputers and will build two or more significantly larger ASCI
supercomputers in the next few years.  In terms of total program
cost, systems acquisition cost, and other factors, the ASCI program
appears to be a prime candidate for designation as a strategic
system. 


   CONCLUSIONS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 4:4

DOE has not exercised effective oversight of its supercomputers, and
its proposed implementation of the Clinger-Cohen Act will not improve
its oversight.  Currently, no person or office within DOE knows at a
given time how many supercomputers the national laboratories have,
what they cost, or how they are being utilized.  As a result, new
systems are planned and acquired without departmental oversight,
while substantial unused and underutilized capacity exists.  This gap
between capability and utilization may grow even wider as DOE
acquires still more powerful and expensive systems.  Consequently,
DOE lacks assurance that its existing supercomputers are being
efficiently and effectively used.  The Department also lacks
assurance that additions to this inventory represent a well-justified
allocation of resources among the its competing priorities. 
Furthermore, DOE's proposed "dual track" process appears to
categorically exempt supercomputer acquisitions from the Department's
normal process for complying with the Clinger-Cohen Act.  In
addition, we believe it would be inconsistent for the
Department--given the size, cost, and importance to DOE's mission, as
well the laboratory contractors' expressed need for them to carry out
their work--to argue that supercomputers are not required to perform
a contract or are incidental to a contract and therefore are outside
the scope of the act.  Finally, the Department should keep in mind
that its most important, valuable supercomputer systems need the
oversight of top level management, whether as information technology
investments, strategic systems, or both--simply as a good management
practice. 


   RECOMMENDATIONS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 4:5

Given the number and cost of DOE's existing supercomputers, the
unused capacity that exists, and future planned acquisitions, it is
increasingly important that DOE better manage the acquisition and use
of these systems.  Therefore, we recommend that the Secretary of
Energy adopt an approach to information technology investment and
oversight that meets the criteria set out in the Clinger-Cohen Act. 
Specifically, under such an approach, DOE should adopt a process for
acquiring scientific information technology that (1) pertains to all
Department-funded supercomputers; (2) ensures, prior to providing
funds for the acquisition of any new supercomputers, that a written
justification clearly demonstrates the need, addresses the benefits
of acquiring the subject supercomputer, and allows for meaningful
comparison with alternative investments; and (3) includes a
laboratory-specific analysis of the utilization of existing
supercomputers and an analysis of the potential to share
supercomputers with other sites and/or programs.  We further
recommend that the Secretary designate the Department's most
ambitious acquisitions of supercomputer systems--such as those in the
ASCI program--as strategic systems warranting oversight at the
highest departmental level. 


   AGENCY COMMENTS AND OUR
   EVALUATION
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 4:6

DOE disagreed with our recommendations.  The Department believes that
it has implemented an appropriate process for acquiring information
technology--including supercomputers--that meets the intent of the
Clinger-Cohen Act.  The Department also believes it is unnecessary
for ASCI to be designated a strategic system because effective
program oversight is in place. 

In its comments, DOE stated that it has taken steps to implement the
Clinger-Cohen Act and has in place a comprehensive managerial review
process for supercomputers.  According to the Department, its
implementation of the Clinger-Cohen Act recognizes that
administrative and scientific information technology systems have
different purposes and uses and therefore should be managed
differently.  Accordingly, under the dual-track approach, scientific
systems such as supercomputers are to be reviewed by the program
offices using appropriate criteria for research.  DOE also stated
that appropriate rationales and justifications for supercomputer
acquisitions are developed during the annual departmental review of
program budget proposals.  As part of its Clinger-Cohen
implementation, the Department will report "aggregate information" on
major scientific systems through the chief information officer to
OMB. 

GAO agrees that administrative and scientific computers are used for
different purposes.  However, we do not agree that an appropriate
Clinger-Cohen process for supercomputer acquisitions is yet in place
or that supercomputer acquisitions by DOE's program offices should be
exempt from departmentwide oversight.  DOE's acquisition of
supercomputers are not always visible in program planning or budget
documentation, which tend to focus on the overall research process,
not the acquisition of supercomputers, even if they cost tens of
millions of dollars.  In addition, DOE's efforts to implement the
Clinger-Cohen Act through (1) its new dual-track approach for
acquiring administrative and scientific information technology and
(2) its plan to collect and report to OMB "aggregate information" on
scientific information technology systems do not go far enough toward
greater departmentwide oversight.  In fact, the dual track approach
supports the status quo by specifically excluding scientific
information technology from oversight by the chief information
officer and the Executive Committee on Information Management.  This
leaves supercomputer management to the separate program offices
responsible for purchasing and using the supercomputers, which are
not in a position to oversee and evaluate these systems as part of
any sort of overall departmental investment strategy for information
technology.  Accordingly, we stand behind our recommendation that DOE
should adopt a departmentwide process that meets the Clinger-Cohen
Act criteria and includes supercomputers and other scientific
computing resources. 

In its comments, DOE also stated that our recommendation to designate
the ASCI program as a strategic system was unnecessary, in part
because the Department has a Clinger-Cohen type process in place.  We
disagree that an appropriate Clinger-Cohen process is in place, as
discussed above.  The process DOE is implementing in response to the
act would allow the same program office that has a vested interest in
acquiring a supercomputer to be the Department's oversight body for
the acquisition of that supercomputer.  In our view, this approach
neither follows the act nor achieves the degree of high-level
oversight that designation as a strategic system would provide.  In
this regard, considering that the ASCI program is critical to efforts
to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation's stockpile of
nuclear weapons, and meets all other criteria for designation as a
strategic system, we continue to believe that greater oversight of
the ASCI supercomputers is essential, whether in the form of (1) a
comprehensive justification and acquisition process for ASCI and
other supercomputers, (2) designation of the ASCI program as a
strategic system, or (3) both. 




(See figure in printed edition.)Appendix I
COMMENTS FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF
ENERGY
============================================================ Chapter 4



(See figure in printed edition.)



(See figure in printed edition.)



(See figure in printed edition.)


The following are GAO's comments on the Department of Energy's letter
dated June 29, 1998. 

GAO'S COMMENTS

1.  The letter included a colored attachment, which we did not
include in this report. 

2.  In regard to DOE's comments on utilization, we agree that various
factors would prevent the Department from achieving 100-percent
utilization.  However, we continue to believe that DOE can improve
its utilization of supercomputer resources.  DOE's National Energy
Research Scientific Computing facility at Lawrence Berkeley routinely
achieves rates of over 70 percent on its massively parallel
supercomputer.  DOE argues that these computers are not similar to
its ASCI supercomputers because they are stable "production"
computers.  However, DOE is using commercially available technology
to build the large-scale ASCI supercomputers, which are in many ways
similar to other supercomputers that use the same technology.  If DOE
could improve its utilization rate by 10 to 15 percent overall, it
could save tens of millions of dollars in new acquisition costs for
supercomputers.  DOE also asserts that it has utilization data for
the past 30 years when, in fact, it stopped requiring the
laboratories to keep such data in 1996, and no laboratory or DOE
official made such an assertion or provided any such data during the
course of our review. 

2.  While DOE points out that the 5 percent of the jobs using over
one-half of the processors on its ASCI Red supercomputer at Sandia
account for 80 percent of the utilization of this supercomputer, we
note that the utilization rate for this supercomputer is only 43
percent.  Stated another way, DOE is saying that 34 percent of the
available time on its ASCI Red supercomputer is taken up by jobs
using over one-half of the available processors.  This still leaves
significant unused capacity available to run other applications,
including additional large programs.  We therefore disagree with
DOE's assertion that DOE's figures equate to "utilization rates that
are within expectations for leading-edge supercomputing machines" and
that the "true percentage of DOE's unused supercomputer capacity is
close to zero."

3.  We disagree with DOE's position on the percent of overall
capacity available for sharing, and with the Department's view that
sharing of ASCI supercomputers is difficult.  In fact, as we point
out above, the total use on the ASCI Red supercomputer, including the
very large programs, is only 43 percent, and up to 57 percent is
still available for other use.  With regard to the sharing of the
ASCI supercomputers, they were originally planned and are being
installed to allow just this type of sharing.  To date, the three
ASCI supercomputers are set up to have both classified and
unclassified modules that can also, after following proper
procedures, be linked together to run the largest programs.  In fact,
one of the requirements of the Sandia ASCI Red supercomputer was that
it could be switched between classified and unclassified uses in less
than 30 minutes.  In addition, ASCI program documents state that 10
percent of the capacity of these supercomputers will be available to
users from outside DOE's laboratories, such as the universities
participating in the ASCI program's research. 

4.  In regard to DOE's comment on the implementation of the
Clinger-Cohen Act, GAO agrees that administrative and scientific
computers are used for different purposes.  However, we do not agree
that an appropriate Clinger-Cohen process for supercomputer
acquisitions is yet in place or that supercomputer acquisitions by
DOE's program offices should be exempt from departmentwide oversight. 
DOE's acquisition of supercomputers are not always visible in program
planning or budget documentation which tend to focus on the overall
research process rather than the acquisition of supercomputers, even
those costing tens of millions of dollars.  In addition, DOE's
efforts to implement the Clinger-Cohen Act through (1) its new
dual-track approach for acquiring administrative and scientific
information technology and (2) its plan to collect and report to the
Office of Management and Budget "aggregate information" on scientific
information technology systems do not go far enough toward greater
departmentwide oversight.  In fact, the dual-track approach supports
the status quo by specifically excluding scientific information
technology from oversight by the chief information officer and the
Executive Committee on Information Management.  This leaves
supercomputer management to the separate program offices responsible
for purchasing and using the supercomputers, which are not in a
position to oversee and evaluate these systems as part of any sort of
overall departmental strategy for investing in information
technology.  Accordingly, we stand behind our recommendation that DOE
should adopt a department-wide process that meets the Clinger-Cohen
Act criteria and includes supercomputers and other scientific
computing resources. 

5.  In its comments, DOE also stated that our recommendation to
designate the ASCI program as a strategic system was unnecessary, in
part because the Department has a Clinger-Cohen process in place.  We
disagree that an appropriate Clinger-Cohen process is in place, as
discussed above.  The process DOE is implementing in response to the
act would allow the same program office that has a vested interest in
acquiring the supercomputer to be the Department's oversight body for
the acquisition of that supercomputer.  In our view, this approach
neither follows the act nor achieves the degree of high-level
oversight that designation as a strategic system would provide.  In
this regard, considering that the ASCI program is critical to the
efforts to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation's
stockpile of nuclear weapons and meets all other criteria for
designation as a strategic system, we continue to believe that
greater oversight of the ASCI program is essential, whether in the
form of (1) a comprehensive justification and acquisition process for
ASCI and other supercomputers, or (2) designation of the ASCI program
as a strategic system, or (3) both. 


MAJOR CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS REPORT
========================================================== Appendix II

RESOURCES, COMMUNITY, AND ECONOMIC
DEVELOPMENT DIVISION

Ed Zadjura, Assistant Director
Dave Brack
Pat Dunphy
Dan Feehan
Jonathan N.  Kusmik
Anne McCaffrey
Carol Herrnstadt Shulman


*** End of document. ***