New federal spending bill could reduce Hanford layoffs

January 14, 2014 

governor jay inslee washington hanford nuclear reservation

Three Hanford nuclear reservation contractors may not have to lay off employees as a result of a federal spending bill that may pass this week.

FILE — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

— The Hanford nuclear reservation could have $186 million more to spend than last fiscal year under an annual spending bill worked out by leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees late Monday.

The bill proposes a budget of $2.2 billion, which could give some relief from layoffs under consideration at Hanford.

The bill is expected to be voted on by the full House and Senate this week, with the House vote possibly coming as soon as today. It then would need the president's signature.

The Department of Energy had approved proposals by Hanford contractors to lay off up to 450 workers this fiscal year, including 350 because of budget uncertainty.

Hanford officials typically do not comment on annual budget numbers proposed by Congress until a budget is final. However, if the spending bill is approved, fewer Hanford layoffs are expected.

The contractors already have granted requests for 161 voluntary layoffs in December and more workers than usual took retirement in November.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, worked with colleagues to ensure Washington priorities, including Hanford, were included in the proposed spending package.

"(I) am pleased that this bill will roll back many of the devastating cuts from sequestration," Murray said in a

statement. "There's more work to be done to keep the Hanford cleanup project moving forward, but the funding secured in this bill is a critical 'win' for Hanford and our entire state."

Sequestration, or mandatory federal budget cuts, led to layoffs and furloughs and slowed or postponed some work at Hanford in fiscal 2013. Hanford already had been operating under a continuing resolution that kept spending at the level of previous years because no annual budget had been passed.

The proposed budget for fiscal 2014 includes $1.2 billion for the Department of Energy's Office of River Protection, which is responsible for the tank farms storing 56 million gallons of radioactive waste and the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste.

That would be an increase of $121.2 million over the last fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, which included a sequestration budget cut.

The tank farm budget in the new spending bill would be $520 million.

Tank farm workers have faced the most potential layoffs, with DOE approving up to 250 job cuts there. Under a worst-case scenario -- with no fiscal 2014 budget passed and sequestration -- the tank farm budget would be $409 million for the current fiscal year.

The vitrification plant would receive $690 million under the new proposed budget, the annual amount long-planned for the plant during construction and commissioning. An earlier budget proposal in the House would have reduced that by $15 million for the current fiscal year.

The DOE Richland Operations Office, responsible for the remainder of Hanford environmental cleanup, would receive about $1 billion. That includes $941 million in the standard cleanup budget plus about $70 million for safeguards and security and $2.5 million for the decommissioned Fast Flux Test Facility.

The proposed spending is an increase of $19.2 million over the administration's budget request and $65 million over fiscal 2013 spending.

The $941 million is a compromise between a House budget proposal of $899 million and a Senate budget proposal of $961 million.

The largest portion of the spending increase over the administration's budget request, about $15 million, would be used for cleanup of Hanford along the Columbia River. The budget for cleanup along the river, work being done by Washington Closure Hanford, would be $408.6 million.

Cleanup in central Hanford and groundwater cleanup would receive $512.7 million, a decrease of $785,000 from the administration's budget request.

The proposed spending bill would increase money for community and regulatory support about $5 million over the president's request to return the annual budget to the fiscal 2013 level of about $19.7 million.

The spending bill distributes the money included in the budget deal reached in December by Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee.

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