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Audit points to weaknesses in LANL oversight

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By Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Investigators are raising flags about weaknesses in the way federal officials keep track of deficiencies, concerns from employees and contractors and other problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The findings of the U.S. Department of Energy's inspector general were outlined in an audit released Thursday.

Investigators say the National Nuclear Security Administration's office that oversees operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory failed to put in place an effective management program that includes the tracking of actions taken to fix problems at the lab.

As a result, the auditors wrote, the risk increases that the field office "may not be identifying and resolving environment, safety and health issues in an effective and timely manner."

Critics say the findings are serious since the administration's field office serves as the primary check on the lab's safety and operational integrity.

"Several (Los Alamos lab) facilities operate with continuing safety violations of one kind or another that never seem get corrected if it is inconvenient — or expensive — to do so. These findings help explain why," said Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group, an anti-nuclear watchdog group.

The lab has been docked in recent years for numerous operational and safety problems, including violations of its state permit for mishandling waste that ultimately caused a radiation release and shut down the federal government's only underground nuclear waste repository.

Administration officials on Thursday said they agree with the recommendations outlined in the audit, and plan to make improvements and to enforce existing requirements and corrective action procedures.

Field office spokeswoman Toni Chiri said the office also is a part of the NNSA's overall efforts to enhance governance and oversight activities across the complex.

According to the audit, the field office failed to log issues that had been identified in assessments into its corrective action tracking system. And nearly three-fifths of those issues that were entered included incomplete, inaccurate or invalid closure data.

Auditors also pointed to inconsistencies in documenting cases.

As for the corrective action process, one goal is to prevent problems from recurring. While the field office had implemented such a system, auditors found that it wasn't consistently used.

The findings also pointed to incomplete files when it came to documenting employee concerns but noted that record keeping seemed to improve in 2013 and 2014.

In one case, weaknesses related to fire safety in the field office building were documented but the record was closed before corrective action was completed. Auditors said that could have compromised worker safety.

Click here for a copy of the audit.