Full Title: Nuclear Waste Cleanup: DOE Needs to Address Weaknesses in Program and Contractor Management at Los Alamos
Author(s): U.S. Government Accountability Office
Publisher(s): U.S. Government Accountability Office
Publication Date: July 26, 2023
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The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) site office at Los Alamos (EM-LA) has taken steps to establish elements of EM’s Program Management Protocol, which contains requirements and expectations for planning, budgeting, executing, and evaluating all work within EM’s program. As of March 2023, EM-LA officials said they had submitted program management documents for approval, including a life cycle cost estimate and risk management plan. However, EM-LA has not taken a comprehensive approach to prioritizing cleanup activities in a risk-informed manner. For example, EM-LA has not analyzed different options for achieving site cleanup objectives, as called for in GAO’s risk-informed decision-making framework, including optimization analyses that could identify how to most efficiently meet cleanup milestones. Without a comprehensive framework for prioritizing cleanup activities, EM-LA cannot be assured that it is making optimal cleanup decisions.
Weaknesses in EM-LA’s oversight of the Los Alamos contractor, which is responsible for the execution of cleanup activities at the site, have limited EMLA’s understanding of cleanup progress and costs. Specifically, the contractor did not meet deadlines to develop a final performance baseline and EM-LA did not use available mechanisms to compel compliance with this requirement. A performance baseline is a measure against which EM-LA can track ongoing cost, scope, and schedule progress. EM-LA officials said that part of the difficulty in developing a baseline was due to the many modifications needed after the contract was awarded. Nonetheless, the delay in finalizing a baseline had consequences, including preventing EM-LA from understanding how much of the work it contracted for in 2018 is complete and at what cost. Without an approved baseline going forward, EM-LA will not have the data it needs to track cleanup progress, which is crucial for effective contract management.