DOE takes a step back from changes to Hanford Advisory Board

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldNovember 5, 2012 

The Department of Energy will not impose term limits for any Hanford Advisory Board seats as appointments are made for 2013, according to David Huizenga, senior adviser for DOE's Office of Environmental Management.

He made the announcement in a recent letter to the board before its meeting Thursday and Friday in Richland.

Instead, DOE will work with the Hanford Advisory Board's Executive Issues Committee to continue discussions and consider the recommendations the board made to DOE in September concerning DOE's issues with the board.

"This is a real, positive step forward," said outgoing board Chairwoman Susan Leckband. "We are part of the solution. That's what we asked for."

In September, some DOE officials in Washington, D.C., were considering changes to the board structure, including term limits for certain seats. It is the third time since the turn of the new century that DOE has moved to impose changes on the board that some members have interpreted as an attempt to exert more control over the board or even rid it of members with opinions it disliked.

The Federal Advisory Committee Act charter that covers all DOE environmental management advisory boards requires term limits.

But the Hanford Advisory Board, at almost 19 years old, was formed before the Federal Advisory Committee Act was created.

It assigns most seats to organizations picked to represent a diverse group of people -- including tribes, civic groups, local governments, unions and universities that pick their own representatives and alternates to the board. DOE then approves the appointments.

However, among the 32 seats on the board are seats for the public-at-large and Hanford workers, which have no group to pick them and have been targeted for term limits in the latest round of DOE-proposed changes to the board.

Some federal officials believe some turnover on the board is needed, and ethnic, racial and gender diversity can benefit boards, said Cate Alexander, the designated federal officer for DOE's eight Environmental Management Site Specific Advisory Boards, in September.

Hanford Advisory Board members said the board appeared to be diverse by age, gender and race, but that it has had difficulty recruiting and retaining Hispanic members.

The board recommended to DOE in September that it work with the board if it wants changes, rather than imposing term limits or other changes.

Solutions to provide diversity could include looking at attendance to see if seats could be opened up, adding another board position for the public or encouraging groups represented on the board to consider diversity as they choose new representatives for the advisory board, the board told DOE.

"We need to remove ambiguity from the issue," said Dana Bryson, the deputy designated federal officer for the Hanford Advisory Board, Friday.

DOE has been waiving requirements for term limits in the charter, but it needs to be clear on how the charter is implemented to end the recurring debate, he said.

One possibility would be to change the charter, which is redone and renewed every two years, he said.

"(The Hanford Advisory Board) is very unique and DOE values HAB," he said. "We need to assure HAB is maintained as a productive, functioning organization."

The board's Executive Issues Committee is expected to meet with DOE officials and have a proposal ready by the board's next meeting in February.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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