Nuclear Waste:

Further Actions Needed to Increase the Use of Innovative Cleanup Technologies

RCED-98-249: Published: Sep 25, 1998. Publicly Released: Oct 9, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Environmental Management's (EM) efforts to deploy innovative cleanup technologies, focusing on: (1) the extent to which innovative technologies developed by the Office of Science and Technology (OST) have been deployed at DOE sites and how this rate of deployment compares with the rates of other government organizations that develop environmental technologies; (2) what progress EM has made in overcoming obstacles to deploying innovative technologies at DOE cleanup sites; and (3) what EM is doing to increase the deployment of innovative technologies.

GAO noted that: (1) OST has initiated 713 technology development projects and has reported that 152 projects have been deployed one or more times, for an overall deployment rate of 21 percent; (2) GAO found many errors in the office's deployment data and estimates that EM has deployed between 88 and 130 of these projects, for an overall deployment rate of 12 to 18 percent; (3) OST overstated its deployment information because it had not previously maintained comprehensive deployment data; compiled the data rapidly in response to congressional requests; and lacked procedures for compiling the data; (4) in comparison with the deployment rates of other programs that demonstrate environmental technologies--the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund Innovative Technology Evaluation Program and the Department of Defense's Environmental Security Technology Certification Program--OST's deployment rate for projects at comparable stages of development falls between the rates of these two programs; (5) however, comparisons of OST's deployment rate with the rates of other organizations' programs must be viewed with caution because no organization is fully comparable with OST, and the deployment rate is not the only possible measure of success for research and development programs; (6) as DOE's Environmental Management program has matured, its waste cleanup sites have made progress in overcoming some obstacles to implementing innovative technologies; (7) other obstacles that are internal to the operations of EM and its OST continue to slow the use of innovative technologies, including the lack of: (a) involvement by technology users in the development of cleanup technologies by OST; and (b) technical assistance by OST to help sites select and implement technologies; (8) after congressional hearings in May 1997, EM initiated changes in its organization and processes to increase the deployment of innovative technologies; (9) some of these initiatives address the internal obstacles limiting deployment; (10) however, the office has not yet improved developer-user cooperation in individual technology development projects; (11) OST does not consistently and rigorously use its existing decisionmaking process for managing the development of innovative technologies; and (12) EM has yet to determine how it will: (a) provide technical assistance to sites in selecting and implementing innovative technologies; and (b) make modifications to completed technologies to meet sites' specific needs and conditions.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To increase the deployment of existing technologies and ensure that technologies developed in the future are used, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management to use their annual performance expectations to hold EM headquarters managers responsible for increasing the deployment of innovative technology.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Officials in the Office of Environmental Management told GAO that they do not intend to implement this recommendation because performance expectations for headquarters managers already tend to be lengthy and could not include details on every responsibility. Also, they believe that it is more important to include responsibilities for technology deployment in field managers' performance agreements, which was already being done.

    Recommendation: To increase the deployment of existing technologies and ensure that technologies developed in the future are used, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management to direct that the gates system be used rigorously and consistently as a decisionmaking tool for managing technology development projects and as a vehicle for increasing developer-user cooperation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Science and Technology issued new guidance for implementing the gates system on Feb. 10, 2000. Each technology focus area in the Office of Science and Technology was required to follow the new guidance in their project reviews beginning in the spring of 2000.

    Recommendation: To increase the deployment of existing technologies and ensure that technologies developed in the future are used, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management to direct the cleanup programs and OST to: (1) use existing data to identify OST-developed technologies that can be cost-effectively modified to meet sites' needs; and (2) identify funds to modify these technologies if needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE has not addressed this recommendation. In their formal response to GAO's report and the May 1999 hearing, DOE officials cited an ongoing program that facilitates the deployment of some new technologies (46 projects over the past 2 years that the program has been in existence). DOE cleanup sites propose projects under this program. The program does not involve the Office of Science and Technology in proactively identifying potential uses for its technologies, as the recommendation suggests, and this office does not intend any further action.

    Recommendation: To increase the deployment of existing technologies and ensure that technologies developed in the future are used, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management to direct the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology to establish centers of expertise for innovative technology by using existing focus areas or another approach if needed and require that a representative from one of these centers participate in the technology selection process on each cleanup project.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Science and Technology has established lead national laboratories to provide its focus areas with additional expertise. This action addresses the first part of the recommendation. However, the Office of Environmental Management has not required that innovative technology experts participate in technology selection processes on each cleanup project.

    Recommendation: To increase the deployment of existing technologies and ensure that technologies developed in the future are used, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management to implement a system to verify the accuracy of future deployment data and label any existing data that have not been verified as an estimate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Deployment data for fiscal years 1997 and 1998 were verified, and the agency's deployment report dated February 1999 stated that data from earlier years were not verified. During 1998, DOE also issued a definition of deployment for use in gathering deployment data. DOE continued to verify deployment data for its fiscal year 1999 deployment report. These actions address the recommendation. In addition, the agency plans to study reasons for the poor quality of data input and develop corrective measures.

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