Government Accountability Office: More oversight needed at national labs

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldNovember 25, 2013 

The Department of Energy needs to improve oversight of work performed at its national laboratories for other agencies, according to a Government Accountability Office report to Congress released Monday.

The GAO visited Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland and two other national labs, plus did phone interviews with the remaining 14 DOE labs to reach its conclusions.

PNNL had the second largest percentage of work done for agencies other than DOE, according to the GAO.

However, PNNL meets the requirements laid out in DOE orders for "Work for Others" program activities, said Larry Moore, spokesman for the DOE Pacific Northwest Site Office, which oversees PNNL.

"DOE reviews and approves each scope of work to ensure compliance with the requirements," Moore said. "We at the Pacific Northwest Site Office take this review very seriously and do not delegate it to the contractor."

Although the GAO found that overall DOE needed to improve its oversight of extra work done at its labs, it also noted that Work for Others Agreements benefited DOE.

The program helps leverage DOE investment in its laboratories by further developing technical expertise that can be used by DOE and helps retain scientists and engineers at times when their DOE work has slowed.

The GAO did not break down its findings by lab, but said eight of the 17 laboratories reported making determinations about whether work for others met DOE requirements before work was accepted, rather than DOE making the determination or verifying the determination.

The GAO also found that DOE could not ensure the full costs of the extra projects were not charged to DOE because 12 of 17 labs had limited or no written procedures for developing budgets for the extra work or charging the costs.

The Pacific Northwest Site Office makes sure at PNNL the extra work does not compete with the private sector, does not adversely affect DOE programs and does not create a future burden on DOE resources, according to Moore.

The GAO broke down numbers for fiscal 2012, when PNNL said it did about $1 billion in work, with 70 percent of that paid for by DOE. The rest was done for public and private agencies through mechanisms that included not only Work for Others Agreements, but Cooperative Research and Development Agreements and Agreements for Commercializing Technologies.

The major agencies that have Work for Others Agreements at PNNL include the Departments of Defense and State, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Work for the Department of Homeland Security also is done at PNNL, but is not included in the Work for Others program.

Among PNNL projects in the Work for Others program is training the Air Force to use software technology developed at the lab that performs automatic analysis and organization graphically of large collections of documents.

-- For more information, go to www.gao.gov.

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

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