DOE's Program to Develop New Technologies for Environmental Cleanup
T-RCED-97-161: Published: May 7, 1997. Publicly Released: May 7, 1997.
GAO discussed the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Environmental Management's (EM) technology development program, focusing on: (1) EM's progress in resolving management problems identified in reports GAO has issued since 1992; (2) barriers to the use of innovative technologies; (3) the Technology Deployment Initiative that EM has proposed to address these barriers; (4) the program's methods for computing cost savings from the use of innovative technologies; and (5) future challenges facing the technology development program.
14 GAO noted that: (1) in GAO's April 1992 report, GAO found that the program was not well managed and that EM's focus was on setting up the program, not on its future management; (2) in particular, GAO found that EM had not established key management tools; (3) in January 1994, EM implemented a management plan for the program that incorporated GAO's recommendations; (4) in GAO's August 1994 report, GAO identified several barriers to the use of innovative technologies, including the fact that DOE site officials may not be familiar with innovative technologies and fear that using new technologies may lead DOE to miss milestones if the technology fails to perform as expected; (5) in response to GAO's recommendations, the Office of Science and Technology took several steps, including establishing site technology coordination groups to improve two-way communication on sites' technology needs and the capabilities of newly developed technologies; (6) however, barriers to the use of innovative technologies still exist, such as DOE's reliance on site contractors for technical decisions and the possibility that contractors may favor particular technologies based on their own experiences and investments; (7) EM's fiscal year 1998 budget request proposes $50 million initiative, called the Technology Deployment Initiative, that would provide additional funding to sites that first deploy an innovative technology; (8) while the Office of Science and Technology hopes that this will increase the use of innovative technologies, several unresolved issues remain, such as whether additional sites beyond the first site will use the innovative technology; (9) the Office of Science and Technology has identified potential savings ranging from $476 to $490 million from the use of innovative technologies; (10) GAO conducted a limited review of the methods used to estimate the cost savings for five cases that account for nearly half of the estimated cost savings; (11) overall, GAO found that DOE used reasonable methods to estimate the cost savings associated with the five projects; (12) based on GAO's prior work on the Environmental Management and technology development programs, GAO believes that there are several new challenges facing the Office of Science and Technology; and (13) EM's initiatives to accelerate cleanup and privatize certain projects will affect the program because cleanup technologies now must be brought to fruition in time to be of use in a shortened 10-year time frame, rather than the 30 or more years originally planned.