The Department of Energy has been without an assistant secretary in charge of nuclear cleanup for about four years. However, now that a qualified candidate has been nominated, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he will block her appointment if DOE does not address whistleblower and other concerns he has with Hanford’s vitrification plant.
So, what he is really doing is delaying the hiring of the one person who could provide the leadership he wants and move the cleanup effort forward.
That makes zero sense.
Unless, of course, his actual goal is political posturing — which may be the case considering he has attached two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate is considering.
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He said his threat to block the appointment of Monica Regalbuto, a leader of DOE’s environmental management program, is not a judgment of her qualifications, but rather “an insistence that needed changes at Hanford cannot be put off any longer.”
Wyden wants to handle that by requiring DOE to hire an engineering firm to help oversee the completion of the vitrification plant at Hanford. This “owner agent” would be a full-time watchdog looming over Bechtel’s construction plans and progress.
Gary Petersen, vice president of federal programs at the Tri-City Development Council, said adding another level of oversight and bureaucracy at the vitrification plant is not necessary, likely will add more delays and take money away from the cleanup effort.
The oversight at Bechtel is many layered already, Petersen said.
In addition to Bechtel’s own monitoring system, other agencies that review Bechtel’s work include the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the DOE Office of Inspector General and the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection.
Petersen said Wyden’s idea to add an owner agent to the supervision at the vitrification plant is counterproductive, and likely would be expensive.
Besides, whatever firm is hired to be the owner agent would find it in its best interest to dog Bechtel as long as possible so it can keep its contract.
In addition to more oversight at the vitrification plant, Wyden also wants whistleblowers at the Hanford site to be able to go to the new owner agent with their concerns, regardless of whether they are federal employees or employees of site contractors.
During her Senate interview, Regalbuto said she believes that every DOE and contractor worker should feel free to raise concerns. “The whistleblower program is what keeps us honest,” she said.
Wyden’s threat to block Regalbuto’s appointment goes against what he says he wants — progress at Hanford.
He’s expecting change before agreeing to put someone in charge who could make it happen. That’s just backward and accomplishes nothing.