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Chapter 3: Accelerating Projects

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DEMOCRATIC RESPONSIBILITY

Just as the problem of individual responsibility looms as the central problem in the carrying on of our way of life, so does the same problem exist in the successful working of such an institution as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. When one considers that the Laboratory is a bewildering and remarkable combination of private industry, government, labor, and education institutions. . .ORNL is in a small way a surprisingly apt replica of our country. . .things which seem important in the operation of the Laboratory ought to be important in the operation of our country.

"An institution such as ORNL, with its technical staff of 1200, is already much too large to allow the central management to follow in close detail the individual scientist's or engineer's daily doings. Thus there is established necessarily a hierarchy of responsibility in which management on each level depends on the integrity and sense of responsibility of the next level to do the job sensibly and well.

"At the top is the Atomic Energy Commission which, although ultimately responsible for the operation of its laboratory, must rely on the integrity and sense of responsibility of the Laboratory management to spend its money wisely and not to ask for more money than it needs. The central laboratory management must depend on the division directors to carry out their jobs responsibly, to do what ought to be done, to keep within their budgets, to insist on excellence in work. The division directors must depend on section chiefs, they on group leaders. And finally the ultimate    responsibility—the responsibility to get the job done well, and cheaply, and relevantly—this rests squarely with the individual scientist and technician and craftsman.

"In an organization as large as ours, there are always conflicts of interest between groups, between divisions, between division and laboratory, or on an even larger scale, between one AEC laboratory and another. Sometimes Laboratory management must persuade division directors that the interest of the individual must be subjected to the interest of the group. In all cases it is an appeal to the sense of responsibility which tempers loyalty to one's group, or division, or laboratory, with concern about the well-being of the higher organizational entity . . .this concern for more than oneself, we have seen at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, pays off over and over again not only in terms of more rapid advancement, higher pay, etc., but also in increased respect with which the most mature segments of the scientific community hold the individuals who have such a sense most keenly developed.

"The lesson in social responsibility which we learn in the operation of our Laboratory, I think, has the greatest sort of relevance for our country as a whole and for our way of life. These are times when the essential strength of democratic capitalism as opposed to authoritarian communism is being put to test. Nor is the struggle one which will, in final analysis, be determined by nuclear weapons. In the long run it will be won by the side which provides a way of life that offers the most to its people."

Alvin Weinberg
1960

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