This is another important acronym to learn: CAS, which stands for Contractor Assurance System. The basic principle of CAS is that if Fermi Research Alliance, the contractor for Fermilab, establishes a system to assure ourselves that we are meeting the requirements and goals of our contract with the Department of Energy, then the role of oversight by DOE and the demands placed on us by that oversight can change significantly for the better.
The skeptic among you might question how adding a new system, in this case the CAS, could actually improve both our performance and the interactions with our sponsors. The skeptics would believe that the only way to improve our effectiveness today would be by subtracting requirements and systems not by adding them. To understand how CAS will in fact help us in the future you have to understand how we and the DOE currently make sure that we meet the terms of our contract and achieve the goals we have agreed upon.
We clearly need to perform according to a contract we have signed with the DOE, meeting all the many contract clauses. After all, a contract is a contract! In addition to meeting the contract terms we are judged yearly following an agreed-upon Performance Management Plan or PEMP. Beyond these two formal requirements, we strive to use best practices in all or our work. When you add up all of these requirements, we have to keep track of hundreds of items in the many functional areas of the laboratory. We do this with a lot of expert knowledge throughout the organization but without a comprehensive system description for the totality of these activities. Not having a comprehensive system description invites a host of problems for us: potential gaps in our understanding of operational risks; duplicative reviews by both us and the DOE in some areas and superficial or absent reviews in other areas; and a general lack of transparency for those trying to judge how we achieve our results. The absence of a comprehensive system description makes it impossible for the DOE to understand how we actually assure ourselves that we meet both the contract and the yearly performance goals, leading DOE to perform their own assurance audits that often duplicate what we already do. To the DOE we appear to be mostly fully transparent but occasionally like a black box.
The key, then, to reduce duplication and establish trust with our sponsors is to develop a clear and complete CAS that will be understandable to our sponsors and produce results we can agree upon. As we apply the system and discover areas where we need improvement, then we and the DOE, be it the site office or headquarters, can work together in partnership to improve the areas in question and achieve our agreed-upon goals. Such a system is a foundation for a better and mutually supportive relationship without the checkers checking the checkers checking the checkers..
Stay tuned for CAS 102, 103….