Department of Energy:

National Priorities Needed for Meeting Environmental Agreements

RCED-95-1: Published: Mar 3, 1995. Publicly Released: Mar 3, 1995.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) progress in cleaning up its nuclear weapons complex, focusing on: (1) its use of environmental agreements with state and federal regulators; and (2) the effectiveness of its cleanup strategy.

GAO found that: (1) DOE has focused on collecting data and investigating sites, rather than the actual cleanup of sites; (2) DOE has only put a small amount of effort into physically cleaning up its nuclear weapons complex and has yet to complete the cleanup of a major facility; (3) although DOE is improving its timeliness, it missed over 20 percent of the milestones it agreed to complete through 1994; (4) DOE is likely to fall further behind schedule as funding tightens, costs increase, and more milestones come due; (5) DOE has had difficulty meeting some milestones because it signed unrealistic agreements with regulators; (6) DOE has been unable to renegotiate milestones due to past delays in meeting its commitments; and (7) future progress of DOE cleanup activities depends on the adoption of a national risk-based strategy that will maximize the limited resources available for cleanup.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE continues to report that it is making significant progress toward making the future overall cleanup effort cost-effective. DOE has lowered the estimated cost to complete its environmental management mission to $227 billion over the next 75 years, down from $237 billion projected in 1995. DOE cites increased productivity, reduced program scope, better technology, privatization, and modification in compliance agreements as reasons for the change. Given this progress, DOE has no intention of creating a national, risk-based priorities process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should set national priorities for cleaning up its contaminated sites using data gathered during DOE ongoing risk evaluation as a starting point.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE continues to refine its cleanup responsibilities for the future, making some progress in renegotiating cleanup agreements with regulators at some sites that better reflect budget realities, technical capabilities, and a more complete understanding of future cleanup needs. However, it has no plan for restructuring their cleanup agreements.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should initiate discussions with regulators to renegotiate milestones that no longer reflect national priorities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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