Hanford Advisory Board recommends evening sessions, mentoring to increase diversity

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJune 9, 2013 

More evening sessions and mentoring of new members are being proposed by the Hanford Advisory Board to increase the diversity of the board and those participating in its activities.

Department of Energy officials in Washington, D.C., announced in 2012 that DOE would be instituting term limits for some members of the board and making other unspecified changes. Changes could ensure ethnic, racial and gender diversity on the board and allow more working parents to participate, DOE said then.

It was the third time DOE has pushed to change the composition of the board since 2000, which some members have interpreted as an attempt to exert more control over the board or even rid it of members with opinions it disliked.

Instead of DOE making unilateral changes, the board proposed looking at ways that it could make sure it was hearing from and representing diverse groups. No term limits have been instituted.

"The board is effective," said Susan Leckband, who represents the Washington League of Women Voters on the board, at its Friday meeting in Richland.

"But as I look around the table, there are some voices that are not here. We want to include those groups," she said.

Board members have had limited success in recruiting and retaining Hispanics on the board. The volunteer board also tends to attract retirees and other older members who have time to attend committee and board meetings organized in day-long sessions because participants come from across Washington and Oregon.

The board was formed almost two decades ago with most seats assigned to interest groups affected by the Hanford nuclear reservation, including local governments, tribes, organized labor, public health, environmental and civic groups, and universities. The groups pick their own representatives to the board, and some board members said they represent the diverse people in their groups, reaching out to hear opinions and share information about Hanford.

Board members agreed that each group with a seat on the board and the board as a whole would work toward a succession plan to help ensure a more diverse demographic as members leave the board.

A mentoring program is proposed to help new members become knowledgeable about the complex issues involved in the cleanup of radiological and chemical contamination of the 586-square-mile nuclear reservation.

"We understand that cleanup will go on for decades, and each interest group will examine its pool of potential appointees to strategically seek and engage younger people to ensure balance and diversity," the board said in a letter to be sent to the Department of Energy and its regulators.

It also is proposing some evening sessions to help increase participation of working board members and allow more people with jobs to attend meetings.

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