Source: Tri-City Herald | Susan Montoya Bryan| December 1, 2017

The Hanford nuclear reservation is included in a report on DOE that identifies millions of dollars in losses related to quality assurance. (Credit: Tri-City Herald)

The Department of Energy has its share of challenges as it conducts some of the world’s most high-tech research, maintains a stockpile of nuclear weapons and cleans up after decades of bomb-making.

A report released this week outlines some of those struggles while providing a look at the expansive scope of the department’s responsibilities and costly liabilities.

According to work during the past year, the agency’s inspector general says a growing problem is oversight and management of more than 11,300 contracts to keep operations humming at 17 national laboratories, dozens of contaminated sites and other facilities.

BIG JOB, BIG BUDGET

DOE is the largest civilian contracting agency within the federal government. About 90 percent of the $30 billion it gets each year goes toward contracts.

The inspector general’s findings this year on the oversight of those contracts is nothing new because federal accountants have called contract management within the agency “high risk” since 1990. The difference is officials are starting to look closer at subcontractors.

The report identifies millions of dollars in losses related to quality assurance at sites in Washington, New Mexico and South Carolina.

At Hanford, contractors have paid millions to settle allegations that they provided inadequate materials, claimed unnecessary overtime, mischarged costs and exposed the agency to undue financial risk, the report said.

At the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico, concerns about quality assurance were raised again in September, the report noted. The facility is ramping up work again following a nearly three-year shutdown caused by a radiation release. The closure put a serious wrinkle in the nation’s efforts to clean up Cold War-era waste.

Given the complexity of the work done by DOE and its role in national security, watchdog groups say federal agencies should manage the labs, not contractors, to solve many of the problems.

DOE officials did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

CLEANING UP CONTAMINATION

There are sites across the U.S. where the environmental legacy of the Cold War and development of the atomic bomb linger. Covering an area equal to the combined size of Rhode Island and Delaware, the cleanup operation is the largest in the world.

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