House seeks GAO review

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Congress: Wants an evaluation of LANL’s efforts to upgrade radioactive waste management capabilities

By The Staff

Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee requested this week that the Government Accountability Office evaluate the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s efforts to upgrade radioactive waste management capabilities, critical to maintaining its nuclear weapons stockpile.

In addition, committee leaders requested that the GAO evaluate the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) procedures for evaluating independent contractors charged with operations and management.
LANL spokesperson Kevin Roark said all questions should be directed to the NNSA.

Spokesperson Josh McConaha said that NNSA had no comment.

The committee leaders write, “DOE’s NNSA has for a number of years planned to upgrade or replace both radioactive waste capabilities at LANL. Unfortunately, the associated projects to accomplish this have experienced problems with cost and schedule estimates.

“For example, a project to upgrade the 50-year-old RLWTF (Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility), which handles radioactive liquid waste including waste generated through the process of manufacturing nuclear weapons components, was started in 2007 to be completed in 2010 to meet mission requirements for the next 50 years. However, safety-related questions about design scope have stalled the project indefinitely.

“At the same time, plans to commence replacement for the 55-year-old TRU (Transuranic) facilities began in 2007 to meet a deadline of December 2015. That project is already delayed until 2017, with a cost range of $71 million to $124 million and with additional potential taxpayer liabilities for delays related to environmental cleanup on the site of the existing facility.”

Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), and Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) requested GAO evaluate NNSA’s governance model, in particular because NNSA relies on contractors evaluating their own safety performance, with those evaluations often self-determining significant performance incentives.

In the letter to the GAO on NNSA’s evaluation of contractors, the committee leaders write, “The Committee on Energy and Commerce has focused significant time and attention overseeing the correction of significant safety and security problems experienced in recent years at several of NNSA’s nuclear sites. In reports requested by this Committee on safety and security problems at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, for example, GAO has repeatedly documented weaknesses in those sites’ performance self-assessment programs. These GAO findings call into question the basis for CAS implementation: that contractors conduct self-assessments that provide the objective performance information on which the government should rely to make performance determinations worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

The committee leaders continued, “NNSA’s Office of the Administrator is currently conducting a review of NNSA’s Federal workforce—planned for completion in December 2013 — that may recommend further reduction of its Federal workforce. It is the Committee’s perspective that any planned reduction in force must be supported by thorough analysis of oversight needs and capabilities to ensure that even with a smaller workforce NNSA can adequately assure the performance of its contractors.”