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Report on problems at DOE facilities released

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By Tris DeRoma

For the first time, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency produced a report Wednesday documenting challenges facing federal agencies.

The extensive report contains 61 Top Management and Performance Challenge reports, including a report on the Department of Energy.

The Department of Energy’s report points out issues with the stockpile stewardship infrastructure, the primary mission of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. This report highlighted problems with the infrastructure.

“The nuclear weapons stockpile is aging and contains many obsolete technologies that must be replaced as the service lives of the weapons are extended,” a statement in the report said. “Further, NNSA’s mission depends on the facilities, infrastructure, and equipment for success. Yet the current demands of the stockpile stewardship program have placed increasing loads on an aging National Nuclear Security Administration infrastructure.”

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s aging infrastructure recently made the news when a leaked analysis of alternatives study seemed to favor moving the laboratory’s plutonium manufacturing facility to Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, in part because of the laboratory’s aging infrastructure problems. The analysis of alternatives report said it would cost between $1.9 billion and $7.5 billion to ramp up production of the pits by 50-80 a year if the program stayed in Los Alamos.

New Mexico’s congressional delegation has criticized the report’s findings even though the report has yet not been released.  

In her confirmation hearing as National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty said one of her top priorities would be to upgrade aging infrastructure across the nuclear sites it oversees, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“If confirmed, my top priorities will be the effective execution of these enduring national security missions. To ensure that our premier workforce has the tools needed to accomplish its mission, I will be focused on several top priorities, in particular, infrastructure modernization,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “More than half of NNSA’s facilities are over 40 years old, and nearly 30 percent date back to the Manhattan Project era. I will work closely with Congress to meet the long-term challenges of modernizing NNSA’s infrastructure.”

The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and efficiency is an independent, federal entity to address issues in the agencies it oversees. It was formed through the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008.

The April report, titled “Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing Multiple Federal Agencies,” documented seven areas of concern, including facilities maintenance.

“By consolidating these challenges, we hope to assist policymakers to determine how best to address these challenges in the future by highlighting common issues in order to foster improvements across government,” a statement in the report said.

The report highlighted the DOE’s ongoing issues with facilities maintenance in its April report.

“For example, the (Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General) noted its Department had reported that only 50 percent of its structures and facilities were considered functionally adequate to meet the mission,” a statement in the report said. “Additionally, a DOD report stated that in order to remain safe, secure, and effective, the U.S. nuclear stockpile must be supported by a modern physical infrastructure, but the (Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General) noted that the average age of its Department’s facilities, which support the nuclear stockpile, is 36 years.”

 “Promptly addressing maintenance needs reduces the chance of structural failures that may impact whether an agency can accomplish its mission,” the report noted.”

The Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing Multiple Federal Agencies report also noted that if these issues aren’t addressed soon, then the Department of Energy’s missions it has assigned to its nuclear enterprise could be threatened as more and more resources are devoted to shoring up aging infrastructure.

“The failure to address facilities maintenance exacerbates the problems discussed above and results in greater costs in the future,” the report said. “The Architect of the Capitol’s (Office of the Inspector General) found that if required projects continue to be unaddressed, this backlog will worsen – increasing the effort, time, and cost ultimately required to resolve the agency’s deferred maintenance.”

A Department of Energy Special Report published in November 2017 linked to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency’s April report also highlighted management problems with contractors. They noted a lawsuit where one of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s contractors, Bechtel National Inc. settled with the federal government over allegations that Bechtel National allegedly used federal funds to fund a multi-year lobbying campaign of Congress.

And that it provided “deficient quality materials, services and testing for a project at the Department of Energy’s Hanford site in Washington.

The report did not list any violations by Bechtel concerning Los Alamos National Laboratory.