GAO calls for better project management at Hanford, DOE cleanup sites

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldOctober 16, 2012 

Project management guidance could be strengthened at Hanford and other Department of Energy environmental cleanup sites, according to a new report to Congress.

The Government Accountability Office on Monday released a look back at the management of almost $6 billion in Recovery Act money across the DOE complex, including almost $1.96 billion at Hanford.

Some of DOE's longstanding project management problems continued to occur with the economic stimulus spending, the GAO report said.

"While we understand it is appropriate for the GAO to focus on these shortcomings, we believe it equally important to highlight the success rate of the program," said David Huizenga, senior advisor for the DOE Office of Environmental Management, in a response to the GAO.

In large part because of work with Recovery Act money, DOE has reduced the amount of land needing environmental cleanup by nearly 75 percent across its national complex, which far surpassed the original goal of a 40 percent footprint reduction, he said.

Assessing performance in some individual projects was difficult because of inconsistent data, according to the GAO report.

At Hanford, one project to dig up contaminated soil had two different measures of success, the report said. One plan called for the complete cleanup of 24 waste sites and another called for cleanup of 69,000 cubic yards of soil at 18 sites.

The closure report for the project said that one of the 24 sites was not completely cleaned up because unexpected contamination was found. However, the required 69,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil was cleaned up at the 18 sites plus six more sites, making the project a success, according to DOE.

In another Hanford case, a landfill expansion was dug to the planned size of 1,000 feet long by 500 feet wide by 70 feet deep, but the amount of soil removed was less than the 1.6 million cubic yards plans had called for, according to the report.

The GAO report also questioned whether some projects skirted the need for the strict management requirements of large capital asset projects by classifying them as operations activities.

At Hanford, that included a $90 million project designated as an operations activity, even though it included drilling wells and building a groundwater treatment facility, the report said.

Constructing a maintenance facility complex that included 27 mobile office and restroom buildings and four shop and warehouse buildings of about 15,450 square feet each also was considered part of operations work, the report said.

The GAO report recommended a clear policy be issued for reclassifying capital asset projects. It also recommended clarifying guidance for operation activity projects to specify how key performance metrics should be established and documented.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533;

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