Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Frank Munger | March 16, 2015
Beginning in 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office received nearly $1.9 billion in federal funds under the auspices of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the government-backed stimulus program that was designed to create jobs and stir the U.S. economy back to life.
Six years later, the DOE has finally reached the bottom of that prodigious barrel of money and is wrapping up the paperwork on the final few projects. In fact, some of the funding will go unspent. When the clock runs out on the Recovery Act program later this year, the DOE’s Oak Ridge Office plans to return several million dollars to the U.S. Treasury.
Overall, whatever the measure, the stimulus effort was considered a big success in Oak Ridge.
“The Recovery Act-funded projects will have a tremendous and lasting impact on all of Oak Ridge’s major programs,” DOE spokesman Ben Williams said. “The $1.9 billion in funds allowed DOE to complete shovel-ready cleanup projects years ahead of schedule, advance scientific discoveries, and improve energy-efficient infrastructure in communities nationwide.”
Not all of the total allotted to Oak Ridge was actually spent in Oak Ridge because the DOE field office was put in charge of administering stimulus funds for other sites, including a program that awarded grants to communities for energy efficiency and conservation projects.
But more than half of the Recovery Act windfall — about $1.2 billion — directly supported dozens of Oak Ridge projects, ranging from demolition of old and dirty buildings at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to construction of new research facilities and fellowships for early-career scientists.
Unlike some other federal sites, the DOE’s Oak Ridge office spread out the Recovery Act-funded work over a few years to avoid steep up-and-down employment levels. The stimulus projects were audited by the DOE’s Office of Inspector General and other agencies, but there were no fiscal scandals and seemingly little criticism of the Oak Ridge projects.
Of the $1.9 billion in Recovery Act money originally received in Oak Ridge, only about $14.5 million remains, and that’s spread among multiple accounts, the DOE said.
The biggest chunk — about $7.8 million — is left in the account for the energy efficiency grants. About $3.1 million is still available for projects that come under the watch of the DOE’s Office of Science; $3 million for the Office of Environmental Management; and about half a million dollars is associated with other, smaller programs.
Williams said all of the Oak Ridge environmental cleanup activities approved for Recovery Act funding have already been completed, and he said the DOE will return the remaining $3 million to the U.S. Treasury by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Claire Sinclair, spokeswoman in the DOE’s site office at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said about $1.4 million in the science account will be spent on four active projects that are part of the Early Career Research. Some other funds are associated with activities at SLAC facility in California and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state, as well as the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.
Sinclair indicated about $179,000 from ORNL’s Recovery Act funding would be returned to the Treasury.