The benefits of a Department of Energy effort to reduce its safety directives at sites such as Hanford are uncertain despite the cost of the program, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday.
The report on the 2010 DOE initiative was requested by Congress.
DOE intended to enhance productivity and reduce costs while maintaining or improving safety under the initiative. But there is no clear evidence that any of those goals were totally achieved, according to the GAO report.
In the past two years DOE has reduced safety directives from 80 to 42, and some of those retained have been extensively revised. Requirements were eliminated or combined if they were believed to be unclear, duplicated other requirements or could be covered by industry standards.
But DOE did not assess whether the cost to implement the revised directives would exceed the benefits, the GAO report said.
Several Hanford officials told GAO that contractors will have to perform cost-impact analyses before to implementing the revised directives in their contracts. These officials estimated that it can cost $20,000 to $50,000 to conduct this type of analysis for each revised directive, according to the GAO report.
Some officials GAO interviewed at DOE sites said the reform effort also may not produce any productivity or safety improvements.
The revised directives still are being implemented at Hanford, but DOE and contractor officials there said "they have neither seen any changes in project safety performance, nor do they expect to see any changes in the future as a result of the reform effort," the GAO report said.
DOE's reform efforts were driven by a belief that some requirements in its safety directives have placed excessive burdens on its contractors and that revisions would give contractors more flexibility in operating safely, the GAO report said.
"The elimination of potentially burdensome, duplicative and costly requirements that offer little or no contribution to improved safety is a worthy goal," it said. "If high levels of safety could be assured at DOE's sites while unnecessary requirements were eliminated, then DOE's reform effort would be considered a success."
But DOE did not determine if the directives it planned to revise were burdensome or costly and it does not have results-oriented outcome measures to show the effectiveness of the changes.
Counting the number of directives eliminated does not indicate the benefit of the reform on productivity or safety, the report said.
"Safety should not be measured by the amount of paper that is saved but by actual improvements in safety performance across the environment," the GAO report said.
GAO also is concerned that many of the directives DOE revised were originally developed to correct problems. DOE could be undermining hard-won progress over the years in safety performance at its sites, the GAO report said.