The Department of Energy has moved to clarify who is in charge of the Hanford vitrification plant nearly two years after more oversight of the $12.2 billion project was moved from Hanford to Washington, D.C.
The federal project director for the vit plant reports to Scott Samuelson, manager of the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection, despite frequent communication with Washington, D.C., officials, according to a staff memo from Samuelson.
Samuelson will be accountable for all aspects of Office of River Protection work, the memo said. The office, based in Richland, oversees the tank farms, where 56 million gallons of radioactive waste are stored, and the vitrification plant being built to treat much of the waste.
"It's encouraging," said Jessica Gleason of the staff of Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
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In December, Hastings inserted language into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 saying that DOE must notify Congress of any changes to the Office of River Protection responsibility or reporting structure to ensure full transparency.
Hastings wanted to make clear that the Office of River Protection manager should be in charge of both functions of the office, the vitrification plant and the tank farms, Gleason said. There has been no question that the manager is in charge of the tank farms.
But in April 2010, with Energy Secretary Steven Chu taking a keen interest in the vitrification plant, DOE announced in a memo that the project manager, then Guy Girard, would report toheadquarters for the purposes ofproject management and execution. The memo appeared to catch Congress by surprise.
A few days later, DOE clarified changes in a second memo and revised organizational charts to show that Girard would report to the Office of River Protection manager, then Shirley Olinger, while communicating directly and frequently with DOE headquarters to strengthen oversight of the vit plant project management and execution.
But that did not appear to resolve the issue.
In a recent assessment of the vitrification plant safety culture by the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security, the final report said that the DOE organization for the vitrification plant may be organizationally a part of the Office of RiverProtection but it functions semi-autonomously. It also said the vit plant's federal project director does not report to the Office of River Protection manager, but in practice reports directly to DOE Headquarters.
The federal project director and the Office of River Protection manager are managing as if the vitrification plant is not part of the rest of the office, the report said.
Several people interviewed during the review said that the reporting structure had not been clarified. Although organizational charts exist, it is not clear who the federal project director "reports to, how the various lines fit together and who is responsible for what issues," the report said.
Issues raised about the vitrification plant by other workers at the Office of River Protection are not transmitted, and even employees who are supposed to support the vitrification plant project, such as those responsible for industrial safety, have lost communication with the project and cognizance of vit plant issues, the report said.
Moving forward, Samuelson's intention is that most issues will be resolved by Office of River Protection and Office of Environmental Management managers, although federal project director Dale Knudson will continue to have discussions with Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman, who serves as acquisition executive on the project, according to Samuelson.
However, Knudson and Samuelson will increase their collaboration to assure that Samuelson is able to provide his full support during those discussions, Samuelson said in the memo.
"We believe this will significantly 'close the daylight' between the project organization and the rest of ORP," Samuelson said in the memo.