The Department of Energy should hold new Hanford contractors accountable to help the communities they join as three large Hanford contracts expire in the coming years, said the Hanford Advisory Board.
The board sent a letter to DOE after its Richland meeting concluded Thursday, making recommendations on selecting new contractors, who will influence the success of Hanford environmental cleanup for at least the next decade and possibly longer.
The board’s advice was driven by getting the best value for taxpayers, improving worker safety, reducing the stress on workers of contract changes, nurturing small business and supporting the community, said board member Mike Korenko.
In the past, DOE’s bid packages have asked prospective contractors how they would help the community they are joining, the letter said. But allowing contractors to be reimbursed for community support fell out of favor because it reduced the money available for environmental cleanup.
Yet, the state and local communities have costs associated with the contractors, ranging from those related to the work force commute to higher education to prepare future workers for Hanford jobs, board members said.
Current contractors are not investing enough in the communities given their lucrative pay, the letter said.
The Hanford contracts for tank farm operations and central Hanford cleanup are set to expire in 2018, followed by the support services contract a year later.
The board suggested that offering a credit of just 3 to 5 percent for community commitment in the bid evaluation could help communities.
The Environmental Management Site Specific Advisory Board, which includes representatives of advisory boards for cleanup sites across the nation, also proposes investment within the community to be considered in contract awards.
Draft advice by the national board says contractors should be encouraged “to become good stewards by investing resources back into the communities that serve them.”
Investments ranging from scholarships to purchasing goods locally help foster healthy relationships between DOE and local communities, the draft says.
The Hanford Advisory Board struggled with a proposal that contractors be allowed to stay longer at Hanford.
Many of the prime contracts are awarded for an initial five years, with possible extensions capped at a total of another five years.
The board was unable to reach consensus among all members for extensions to be granted for a total contract length of 20 years.
But the letter said increasing the potential for extending the duration of contracts would have multiple benefits.
In my history of 30 years out on the reservation, the biggest, most costly deterrent to progress on cleanup is contract change.
Jerry Peltier, Hanford Advisory Board member
“A large number of contract bids of shorter duration strains DOE and contractor resources,” the letter said. “There are 16 prime contracts across the DOE complex that will all be up for re-bid between 2016 and 2018.”
At Hanford, DOE is working on bid packages as the tank farm contract held by Washington River Protection Solutions is expected to expire in September 2018. The central Hanford and groundwater cleanup contract held by CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. will expire at the same time and the support services contract held by Mission Support Alliance is set to expire a year later.
Contracts with the potential for more than 10 years would encourage contractors to invest in new technologies with longer-term payoffs, the letter said.
Fewer transitions would eliminate the months spent by new contractors getting up to speed and would reduce the stress on employers and their families caused by job uncertainty at each contractor transition. It also would mean less time spent by DOE employees preparing new contracts.
“In my history of 30 years out on the reservation, the biggest, most costly deterrent to progress on cleanup is contract change,” said board member Jerry Peltier.
Board member Don Bouchey pointed out that Battelle has had its DOE contract to operate Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland extended for a total of more than 50 years because of its good performance. Hanford is under the DOE Office of Environmental Management and the national lab is under the DOE Office of Science.
Unfortunately, cost saving in the new contract often comes at the expense of workers by the removal of pension benefits, insurance benefits, cost sharing for benefits and vacation/sick leave.
Hanford Advisory Board
The board also said the transition period between the old and new contractor should have a fixed price, rather than DOE reimbursing costs, which would encourage a short transition with a detailed plan. A short transition reduces disruption to work and stress on the work force.
The board favors reducing the overall number of Hanford prime contractors, saying duplication of management and administration could be avoided to save money.
There would be more consistency in engineering, safety and training practices and improved ability to move workers among projects.
The board recommended two contracts for Hanford cleanup work, one for the tank farms and one for other cleanup work in central Hanford, the remaining cleanup along the Columbia River and for site infrastructure. The vitrification plant construction would continue under a separate contract.
To strengthen DOE oversight of contracts, the board advises the government hire registered professional engineers and certified project managers who meet or exceed contractor qualifications.
Mandatory loss of pay for health and safety violations, including retaliation against whistleblowers, would help provide strong oversight, the letter said.
The board also wants DOE to emphasize the need to maintain current labor agreements in new contracts, rather than letting contractors lower their cost estimates by reducing benefits.
To help small businesses, contractors should be required to describe their small business strategies, including offering multi-year subcontracts and incentives for prompt payments.