Hanford is wasting money renting some office trailers, say federal auditors

Fixative application at Plutonium Finishing Plant

Watch as Hanford workers apply fixative to contaminated areas around the Plutonium Finishing Plant at Hanford.
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Watch as Hanford workers apply fixative to contaminated areas around the Plutonium Finishing Plant at Hanford.

Hanford may be leasing office trailers that cost up to three times as much to return to vendors after being used in contaminated areas than they would be to buy, according to a new report.

The Department of Energy Office of Inspector General raised questions in an audit released Monday about Hanford’s management of the office trailers it stages at environmental cleanup sites around the 580-square-mile nuclear reservation.

The audit made two findings related to Hanford.

It found that three Hanford contractors were not consistently logging their office trailers onto a real estate database used for making key property management decisions.

Blue fixative is sprayed onto an office trailer at Hanford after a spread of radioactive particles was discovered at the nuclear reservation. Courtesy Department of Energy

It also found that Hanford contractors may be wasting taxpayer money by leasing office trailers.

Not all contractors were considering the costs of making sure that trailers used at the nuclear reservation had been checked and determined to be free of radioactive contamination when deciding to lease trailers, according to the IG audit report.

Hanford contractor analyzes lease cost

Washington River Protection Solutions, the AECOM- and Atkins-owned tank farm contractor, was the exception, according to the audit report.

It performed a cost analysis on its existing leased office trailers and found it was too costly to continue leasing and instead purchased the trailers. Providing radiological clearance of the trailer before returning them was the deciding factor.

In one example, a triple-wide office trailer could be purchased for $107,000 to $140,000.

But the cost to clear a leased trailer of that size once it was used at Hanford was about $350,000 to $360,000.

An office trailer is set up at Hanford. Courtesy Department of Energy

In a check of nine office trailers of different sizes it found buying the trailers would cost about $737,000.

However, the cost of returning the trailers to vendors, including transportation and radiological clearance, would cost about $2.2 million.

“We suggest that the Hanford Site conduct a comprehensive analysis of leased trailers . . . to determine whether continuing to lease is in the best interest of the government,” the audit report said.

Hanford in Eastern Washington state is contaminated with radioactive and other hazardous chemical waste from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Database used for DOE decisions

The lack of good information about Hanford office trailers in a nationwide DOE database appears to stem from a change in regulations in 2010.

Since then, office trailers have been required to be entered in the database.

Auditors initially looked at a sample of 45 leased facilities at Hanford. After realizing that some trailers were not classified as real property, an additional 25 office trailers were checked. None of the 25 was in the real property database.

Hanford contractors Mission Support Alliance, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. and Washington River Protection Solutions each had not properly classified some office trailers.

In addition, some trailers were incorrectly listed as having no workers assigned to them when they were in use, according to the audit report.

“As a result of the identified issues, the Department (of Energy) does not have correct information to make sound business decisions and may incur additional costs,” the audit report said.

Hanford contractors were directed to update the real estate management database before the audit was completed.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.