Nuclear Safety:

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board's First Year of Operation

RCED-91-54: Published: Feb 5, 1991. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the accomplishments, operations, and problems faced by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, focusing on: (1) the Board's mission to improve safety and health conditions at the Department of Energy's (DOE) defense nuclear facilities; (2) problems encountered in hiring technical staff; and (3) changes needed to enhance the Board's independence and credibility.

GAO found that the: (1) Board, in its first year of operation, established its financial operations, acquired office space, hired staff, and issued recommendations to improve safety at four major DOE facilities; (2) Board's recommendations for improving DOE facilities involved such issues as operation training, safety standards, radioactive waste storage, restarting plutonium operations, and the need for systematic evaluations of safety issues; (3) Board's inability to offer salaries sufficient to hire scientific and technical staff limited its ability to carry out its functions; (4) Board's independence and public knowledge of its recommendations were essential to establishing and maintaining public confidence in the Board; and (5) Board lacked a strategic plan to identify future work priorities to help ensure that its oversight was comprehensive and to make its agenda visible to the public.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Procedures have been established.

    Recommendation: The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board should establish procedures to document all reviews of safety and health issues at DOE defense nuclear facilities, including Board meetings, discussions and agreements with DOE, and analyses leading to recommendations to the Secretary of Energy.

    Agency Affected: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Procedures have been established.

    Recommendation: The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board should establish procedures to notify the public of all situations where potential conflict-of-interest situations are unavoidable and the hiring of a contractor or consultant with a potential conflict of interest is in the best interest of the government.

    Agency Affected: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Procedures have been established.

    Recommendation: The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board should establish procedures to review all hiring and contractual arrangements to determine the potential for conflicts of interest and, where potential conflicts are possible, disqualify the contractor or consultant or make a determination that the award of the contract is in the best interest of the United States and include mitigating provisions in the contract.

    Agency Affected: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Safety Board and GAO disagree on the definition of "independence." The Safety Board believes that it is operating independently of DOE and does not intend to change its operational methods.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Safety Board conducts its reviews independently from DOE and to ensure that all significant Safety Board concerns about health and safety at DOE defense nuclear facilities are made known to the public, the Chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board should direct that operating procedures be expeditiously established to ensure that all Safety Board activities are conducted in a manner that is clearly independent from DOE. Those procedures should include criteria for determining when safety and health concerns related to DOE defense nuclear facilities will result in the Safety Board's issuing formal recommendations to the Secretary of Energy. In developing such criteria, the Safety Board should recognize the importance of allowing the public to be aware of the Board's activities and of significant safety and health issues at DOE defense nuclear facilities.

    Agency Affected: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Safety Board included the strategic plan in its annual report to Congress.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board efficiently focuses its resources on the most critical safety issues, the Chairman should direct the preparation of a strategic plan for identifying future work areas. The plan should also delineate organizational structure and work-force staffing strategies that identify the kind, number, and pay levels for all scientific and technical positions required for future work.

    Agency Affected: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

 

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