The Department of Energy's method to plan for declining budgets at its environmental cleanup sites, including Hanford, is fine for relatively modest funding changes, according to a new audit report.
The audit by the DOE Office of Inspector General was released Tuesday.
However, even though the annual budget planning process is adequate for budget decreases of about 5 percent, more extensive reductions could put legal deadlines at risk, it said.
"Given the current widespread calls for dramatic reductions in federal spending, it is possible that the process currently in place that is based on site needs and requirements may lead to an increase in missed regulatory and agreement milestones as budget allocations are further reduced across the complex," it said.
In that case, DOE might need to turn to a nationwide triage system for cleaning up environmental contamination to concentrate on high risk work, according to the new audit. A DOE Office of Inspector General report released in November proposed the nationwide triage system.
Now DOE requires Hanford and other sites to use individually a priority list based on seven risk factors and also consider legal cleanup agreements, such as Hanford's Tri-Party Agreement.
The risk factors start with work needed to maintain sites in a safe condition. Then they focus on tank waste, spent nuclear fuel, weapons-grade nuclear material, stored low-level radioactive waste or transuranic waste, soil and ground water cleanup, and tearing down or otherwise decommissioning unneeded buildings.
However, officials at individual sites do have authority to make some changes to budgets at the project level. That could be because of unforeseen problems, technology advancements, contractor changes, staffing changes or changes in higher-level priorities, the audit report said.
The report made no formal recommendation to DOE's Office of Environmental Management.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com; more Hanford news at hanfordnews.com