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United States Government Accountability Office:



Before the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency 
Organization, Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives:

Tuesday, April 25, 2006:

Yucca Mountain:

DOE's Planned Nuclear Waste Repository Faces Quality Assurance and 
Management Challenges:

Statement of Jim Wells, Director Natural Resources and Environment:


GAO Highlights:

Highlights of GAO-06-550T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on the 
Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, Committee on Government 
Reform, House of Representatives.

Why GAO Did This Study:

The Department of Energy (DOE) is working to obtain a license from the 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to construct a nuclear waste 
repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The project, which began in the 
1980s, has been beset by delays. In 2004, GAO raised concerns that 
persistent quality assurance problems could further delay the project. 
Then, in 2005, DOE announced discovery of employee e-mails suggesting 
quality assurance problems. Quality assurance, which establishes 
requirements for work to be performed under controlled conditions that 
ensure quality, is critical to making sure the project meets standards 
for protecting public health and the environment.

This testimony, which summarizes GAO’s March 2006 report (GAO-06-313), 
provides information on (1) the history of the project’s quality 
assurance problems, (2) DOE’s tracking of these problems and efforts to 
address them since GAO’s 2004 report, and (3) challenges facing DOE as 
it continues to address quality assurance issues within the project

What GAO Found:

DOE has had a long history of quality assurance problems at the Yucca 
Mountain project. In the 1980s and 1990s, DOE had problems assuring NRC 
that it had developed adequate plans and procedures related to quality 
assurance. More recently, as it prepares to submit a license 
application for the repository to NRC, DOE has been relying on costly 
and time-consuming rework to resolve lingering quality assurance 
problems uncovered during audits and after-the-fact evaluations.

DOE announced, in 2004, that it was making a commitment to continuous 
quality assurance improvement and that its efforts would be tracked by 
performance indicators that would enable it to assess progress and 
direct management attention as needed. However, GAO found that the 
project’s performance indicators and other key management tools were 
not effective for this purpose. For example, the management tools did 
not target existing areas of concern and did not track progress in 
addressing them. The tools also had weaknesses in detecting and 
highlighting significant problems for management attention. 

DOE continues to face quality assurance and other challenges. First, 
DOE is engaged in extensive efforts to restore confidence in scientific 
documents because of the quality assurance problems suggested in the 
discovered e-mails between project employees, and it has about 14 
million more project e-mails to review. Second, DOE faces quality 
assurance challenges in resolving design control problems associated 
with its requirements management process—the process for ensuring that 
high-level plans and regulatory requirements are incorporated into 
specific engineering details. Problems with the process led to the 
December 2005 suspension of certain project work. Third, DOE continues 
to be challenged to manage a complex program and organization. 
Significant personnel and project changes initiated in October 2005 
create the potential for earlier problem areas, such as confusion over 
roles and responsibilities, to reoccur.

View of Yucca Mountain and the Exploratory Tunnel for the Repository:

[See PDF for Image]

Source: DOE:

[End of Image]

What GAO Recommends:

In its March 2006 report, GAO recommended actions DOE can take to 
improve the project’s management tools and their use in identifying and 
addressing quality assurance and other problems.  In commenting on a 
draft of the report, DOE agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above.
For more information, contact Jim Wells at (202) 512-3841 or

[End of Section]

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased to be here today to discuss our work concerning quality 
assurance and other management challenges facing the Department of 
Energy (DOE) as it prepares to construct a deep geological repository 
at Yucca Mountain in Nevada for the nation's nuclear wastes. My 
testimony is based on our March 2006 report entitled Yucca Mountain: 
Quality Assurance at DOE's Planned Nuclear Waste Repository Needs 
Increased Management Attention.[Footnote 1]

DOE is preparing an application for a license from the Nuclear 
Regulatory Commission (NRC) to construct an underground geological 
repository at Yucca Mountain for the permanent storage of highly 
radioactive nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is a by-product of the 
production of nuclear power, which provides about 20 percent of U.S. 
electricity. About 50,000 metric tons of nuclear waste are stored at 72 
sites around the country, principally at commercial nuclear power 
plants. These wastes have been accumulating for several decades in 
surface storage designed to be temporary. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act 
of 1982 required DOE to construct a repository for permanent storage 
and to begin accepting these wastes by January 31, 1998. In 2002, after 
more than 15 years of scientific study, the President recommended and 
the Congress approved Yucca Mountain as a suitable location for the 
repository. However, DOE continues to encounter delays, and it is not 
certain when it will apply for the license to construct the repository.

The licensing process requires DOE to demonstrate to NRC that its plans 
for the repository will meet Environmental Protection Agency standards 
for protecting public health and the environment from harmful exposure 
to the radioactive waste. To show that it can meet these standards, DOE 
has been conducting scientific and technical studies at the Yucca 
Mountain site that will provide supporting documentation for its 
planned license application. DOE has also established a quality 
assurance program to meet NRC requirements and ensure that its work and 
the technical information it produces are accurate and defensible. To 
accomplish this goal, the program established procedures that require 
scientific, design, engineering, procurement, records keeping, and 
other work to be performed under controlled conditions that ensure 
quality and enable the work to be verified by others. However, 
persistent problems implementing these procedures and resulting 
questions about the quality of the work are significantly contributing 
to delays in DOE's submission of the license application. Resolving 
these quality assurance issues is essential to proceeding with 

In April 2004, we reported that recurring quality assurance problems at 
the Yucca Mountain project could delay the licensing and operation of 
the repository. At that time, we also reported that DOE had completed 
efforts--known as Management Improvement Initiatives (Initiatives)--to 
better manage quality assurance problems, but could not assess their 
effectiveness because its performance goals lacked objective measures 
and time frames for determining success.[Footnote 2] Then, in early 
2005, DOE reported that it had discovered a series of e-mail messages 
written in the late 1990s by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employees 
working on the Yucca Mountain project under a contract with DOE that 
appeared to imply that workers had falsified records for scientific 
work. Several of these messages appeared to show disdain for the 
project's quality assurance program and its requirements. In October 
2005, DOE began planning an aggressive series of changes--known as the 
"new path forward"--to the facility design, organization, and 
management of the Yucca Mountain project. These efforts are intended to 
address quality assurance and other challenges, including those 
associated with the USGS e-mails, and advance the license application 
process. However, in December 2005 and again in February 2006, some 
project work was stopped due to continuing quality assurance problems.

Our March 2006 report examined (1) the history of the project's quality 
assurance problems since its start in the 1980s, (2) DOE's tracking of 
quality problems and progress implementing quality assurance 
requirements since our April 2004 report, and (3) challenges that DOE 
faces as it continues to address quality assurance issues with the 
project. To determine the history of quality assurance problems, we 
reviewed previous GAO, DOE, and NRC documents, visited the Yucca 
Mountain site, and interviewed officials from DOE, NRC, and Bechtel/ 
SAIC Company, LLC (BSC), which is DOE's management contractor for the 
Yucca Mountain project. To assess DOE's tracking of quality-related 
problems and progress in addressing them, we examined management tools 
and associated documentation, and interviewed BSC and DOE officials 
regarding those tools. To identify current quality assurance and other 
challenges, we attended quarterly NRC management meetings, interviewed 
the Acting Director and other senior managers of the DOE project, and 
gathered information on management turnover. The work on our report was 
conducted from July 2005 through January 2006 in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards.

In summary, we found the following:

* DOE has had a long history of quality assurance problems at the Yucca 
Mountain project. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, DOE had problems 
assuring NRC that it had developed adequate plans and procedures 
related to quality assurance. As we reported in 1988, NRC had found 
that DOE's quality assurance procedures were inadequate and its efforts 
to independently identify and resolve weaknesses in the procedures were 
ineffective. By the late 1990s, DOE had largely addressed NRC's 
concerns about its plans and procedures, but its own audits identified 
quality assurance problems with the data, software, and models used in 
the scientific work supporting its potential license application. For 
example, in 1998, a team of project personnel determined that 87 
percent of the models used to simulate the site's natural and 
environmental conditions, and to demonstrate the future repository's 
performance over time, did not comply with requirements for 
demonstrating their accuracy in predicting geologic events. More 
recently, DOE has relied on costly and time-consuming rework to resolve 
lingering quality assurance concerns. Specifically, in the spring of 
2004, DOE implemented a roughly $20 million, 8-month project called the 
Regulatory Integration Team to ensure that scientific work was 
sufficiently documented and explained to support the license 
application. This effort involved about 150 full-time employees from 
DOE, USGS, and multiple national laboratories, such as Sandia and Los 
Alamos, working to inspect technical documents to identify and resolve 
quality problems.

* DOE cannot be certain that its efforts to improve quality assurance 
have been effective because the management tools it adopted did not 
target existing management concerns and did not track progress in 
addressing significant and recurring problems. DOE announced in 2004 
that it was making a commitment to continuous quality assurance 
improvement and that its efforts would be tracked by performance 
indicators that would enable it to assess progress and direct 
management attention as needed; however, its management tools have not 
been effective for this purpose. Specifically, its one-page summary, or 
"panel," of selected performance indicators that project managers used 
in monthly management meetings was not an effective tool for assessing 
progress because the indicators poorly represented the major management 
concerns and were changed frequently. For example, the panel did not 
include an indicator to represent the management concern about unclear 
roles and responsibilities--a problem that could undermine 
accountability within the project. Use of the indicator panel was 
discontinued in late 2005, and DOE is deciding on a tool to replace it. 
Moreover, a second management tool--trend evaluation reports--also did 
not track relevant concerns. The reports generally had technical 
weaknesses for identifying recurrent and significant problems and 
inconsistently tracked progress toward resolving the problems. For 
example, lacking reliable data and an appropriate performance benchmark 
for determining the significance of human errors as a cause of quality 
problems, DOE's trend reports offered no clear basis for tracking 
progress on such problems. In addition, under the trend reports' rating 
categories, the rating assigned to convey the significance of a problem 
was overly influenced by a judgment in the report that there were 
already ongoing management actions to address the problem, rather than 
solely assessing the problem's significance. For example, the trend 
report's rating of one particular problem at the lowest level of 
significance did not accurately describe the problem or sufficiently 
draw management's attention to it.

* DOE's aggressive "new path forward" effort faces substantial quality 
assurance and other challenges, as it prepares to submit the license 
application to construct the repository at Yucca Mountain. First, the 
March 2005 announcement of the discovery of USGS e-mails suggesting the 
possible falsification of quality assurance records has resulted in 
extensive efforts to restore confidence in scientific documents, and 
DOE is conducting a wide-ranging review of approximately 14 million e- 
mails to determine whether they raise additional quality assurance 
issues. Such a review creates a challenge not just because of the sheer 
volume of e-mails to be reviewed, but also because DOE will have to 
decipher their meaning and determine their significance, sometimes 
without clarification from authors who have left the project. 
Furthermore, if any of the e-mails raise quality assurance concerns, 
further review, inspection, or additional work may need to be 
performed. Second, DOE faces quality assurance challenges associated 
with an inadequate requirements management process--the process 
responsible for ensuring that broad plans and regulatory requirements 
affecting the project are tracked and incorporated into specific 
engineering details. In December 2005, DOE issued a stop-work order on 
some design and engineering work until it can determine whether the 
requirements management process has been improved. Third, DOE continues 
to be challenged by managing a changing and complex program and 
organization. The significant project changes initiated under the new 
path forward create the potential for confusion over accountability as 
roles and responsibilities change--a situation DOE found to contribute 
to quality assurance problems during an earlier transition period. For 
example, one proposed reorganization--establishing a lead laboratory to 
assist the project--would not only have to be effectively managed, but 
also would introduce a new player whose accountability DOE would have 
to ensure. DOE has also experienced turnover in 9 of 17 key management 
positions since 2001--including positions related to quality assurance-
-that has created management continuity challenges. For example, three 
individuals have directed the project since 1999, and the position is 
currently occupied by an acting director. Since DOE is still 
formulating its plans, it is too early to determine whether its new 
path forward effort will resolve these challenges.

In our report, we recommend that DOE strengthen its management tools by 
(1) improving the tools' coverage of the Initiatives' areas of concern, 
(2) basing the tools on projectwide analysis of problems, (3) 
establishing quality guidelines, (4) making indicators and analyses 
more consistent over time, and (5) focusing rating categories on 
problem significance rather than a judgment on the need for management 
action. In commenting on the report, DOE agreed with our 


The Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to establish 
a comprehensive policy and program for the safe, permanent disposal of 
commercial spent nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive wastes in 
one or more mined geologic repositories. The act charged DOE with (1) 
establishing criteria for recommending sites for repositories; (2) 
"characterizing" (investigating) three sites to determine each site's 
suitability for a repository (1987 amendments to the act directed DOE 
to investigate only the Yucca Mountain site); (3) recommending one 
suitable site to the President, who would submit a recommendation of 
such site to the Congress if he considered the site qualified for a 
license application; and (4) upon approval of a recommended site, 
seeking a license from NRC to construct and operate a repository at the 
site. The Yucca Mountain project is currently focused on preparing an 
application for a license from NRC to construct a repository. DOE is 
compiling information and writing sections of the license application, 
conducting technical exchanges with NRC staff, and addressing key 
technical issues identified by NRC to ensure that sufficient supporting 
information is provided.

In February 2005, DOE announced that it does not expect the repository 
to open until 2012 at the earliest, which is more than 14 years later 
than the 1998 goal specified by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. 
More recently, the conference report for DOE's fiscal year 2006 
appropriations observed that additional significant delays to 
submitting a license application are likely. In October 2005, the 
project's Acting Director issued a memorandum calling for the 
development of wide-ranging plans for the "new path forward" to 
submitting the license application. The plans address the need to 
review and replace USGS work products, establish a lead national 
laboratory to assist the project, and develop a new simplified design 
for the waste canisters and repository facilities, among other things. 
In addition, DOE announced, in April 2006, that it was proposing 
legislation intended to accelerate licensing and operations. For 
example, the legislation provides that if NRC authorizes the 
repository, subsequent licensing actions would be conducted using 
expedited, simplified procedures.

Given the delays, the Congress has considered other options for 
managing existing and future nuclear wastes, such as centralized 
interim storage at one or more DOE sites. In addition, the conference 
report for DOE's fiscal year 2006 appropriations directed DOE to 
develop a spent nuclear fuel recycling plan to reuse the spent fuel. 
However, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents 
the nuclear energy industry, none of technological options being 
considered will eliminate the need to ultimately dispose of nuclear 
waste in a geologic repository.

DOE Has a Long History of Quality Assurance Problems at Yucca Mountain:

DOE has had a long history of quality assurance problems at the Yucca 
Mountain project. In the project's early stages, DOE had problems 
assuring NRC that it had developed adequate quality assurance plans and 
procedures. By the late 1990s, DOE had largely addressed NRC's concerns 
about its plans and procedures, but its own audits identified quality 
assurance problems with the data, software, and models used in the 
scientific work supporting its potential license application. While 
recently resolving these quality problems, DOE is now relying on costly 
and time-consuming rework to ensure the traceability and transparency 
of several technical work products that are key components of the 
license application.

As we reported in 1988, NRC reviewed DOE's quality assurance program 
for the Yucca Mountain project and concluded that it did not meet NRC 
requirements[Footnote 3] and that DOE's quality assurance audits were 
ineffective. In 1989, NRC concluded that DOE and its key contractors 
had yet to develop and implement an acceptable quality assurance 
program. However, by March 1992, NRC determined that DOE had made 
significant progress in improving its quality assurance program, noting 
among other things, that all of the contractor organizations had 
developed and were in the process of implementing quality assurance 
programs that met NRC requirements, and that DOE had demonstrated its 
ability to evaluate and correct deficiencies in the overall quality 
assurance program.

By the late 1990s, however, the DOE quality assurance program began 
detecting new quality problems in three areas critical to demonstrating 
the repository's successful performance over time: data management, 
software management, and scientific models.

* Data management. In 1998, DOE identified quality assurance problems 
with the quality and traceability of data, specifically that some data 
had not been properly collected or tested to ensure its accuracy and 
that data used to support scientific analysis could not be properly 
traced back to its source. DOE found similar problems in April and 
September 2003.

* Software management. DOE quality assurance procedures require that 
software used to support analysis and conclusions about the performance 
and safety of the repository be tested or created in such a way to 
ensure that it is reliable. From 1998 to 2003, multiple DOE audits 
found recurring quality assurance problems that could affect confidence 
in the adequacy of software.

* Model validation. In 1998, a team of project personnel evaluated the 
mathematical models used to simulate natural and environmental 
conditions and determined that 87 percent of them did not comply with 
validation requirements to ensure they accurately predict geologic 
events. In 2001, and again in 2003, DOE audits found that project 
personnel were not properly following procedures, specifically in the 
areas of model documentation, model validation, and checking and 
review. Further, the 2003 audit concluded that previous corrective 
actions designed to improve validation and reduce errors in model 
reports were not fully implemented.

After many years of working to address these quality assurance problems 
with data, software, and models, DOE had mostly resolved these problems 
by February 2005.

As DOE prepares to submit the Yucca Mountain project license 
application to NRC, it is relying on costly and time-consuming rework 
to ensure that the documents supporting its license application are 
accurate and complete. Although the department had known for years 
about quality assurance problems with the traceability and transparency 
of technical work products called Analysis and Model Reports (AMR)--a 
key component of the license application---DOE did not initiate a major 
effort to address these problems until 2004. AMRs contain the 
scientific analysis and modeling data that demonstrate the safety and 
performance of the planned repository and, among other quality 
requirements, must be traceable to their original source material and 
data and be transparent in justifying and explaining their underlying 
assumptions, calculations, and conclusions. In 2003, based in part on 
these problems, as well as DOE's long-standing problems with data, 
software, and modeling, NRC conducted an independent evaluation of 
three AMRs to determine if they met NRC requirements for being 
traceable, transparent, and technically appropriate for their use in 
the license application. In all three AMRs, NRC found significant 
problems with both traceability and transparency.[Footnote 4] NRC 
concluded that these findings suggested that other AMRs may have 
similar problems and that such problems could delay NRC's review of the 
license application, as it would need to conduct special inspections to 
resolve any problems it found with the quality of technical information.

To address problems of traceability and transparency, DOE initiated an 
effort in the spring of 2004 called the Regulatory Integration Team 
(RIT) to perform a comprehensive inspection and rework of the AMRs and 
ensure they met NRC requirements and expectations.[Footnote 5] 
According to DOE officials, the RIT involved roughly 150 full-time 
personnel from DOE, USGS, and multiple national laboratories such as 
Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore. The RIT decided that 89 of 
the approximately 110 AMRs needed rework. According to DOE officials, 
the RIT addressed or corrected over 3,700 problems, and was completed 
approximately 8 months later at a cost of about $20 million. In a 
February 2005 letter to DOE, the site contractor stated that the RIT 
effort had successfully improved the AMRs' traceability and 

Subsequently, however, DOE identified additional problems with 
traceability and transparency that required further inspections and 
rework. DOE initiated a review of additional AMRs that were not 
included in the scope of the 2004 RIT review after a March 2005 
discovery of e-mails from USGS employees written between May 1998 and 
March 2000 implying that employees had falsified documentation of their 
work to avoid quality assurance standards. These additional AMRs 
contained scientific work performed by the USGS employees and had been 
assumed by the RIT to meet NRC requirements for traceability and 
transparency. However, according to DOE officials, DOE's review 
determined that these AMRs did not meet NRC's standards, and rework was 
required. DOE identified similar problems as the focus of the project 
shifted to the design and engineering work required for the license 
application. In February 2005, the site contractor determined that, in 
addition to problems with AMRs, similar traceability and transparency 
problems existed in the design and engineering documents that 
constitute the Safety Analysis Report--the report necessary to 
demonstrate to NRC that the repository site will meet the project's 
health, safety, and environmental goals and objectives. In an analysis 
of this problem, the site contractor noted that additional resources 
were needed to inspect and rework the documents to correct the problems.

DOE Cannot Be Certain Its Efforts to Improve Quality Assurance Have 
Been Effective Because of Weaknesses in Tracking Progress and 
Identifying Problems:

DOE's management tools for the Yucca Mountain project have not enabled 
it to effectively identify and track progress in addressing significant 
and recurring quality assurance problems. Specifically, its panel or 
one-page summary of selected performance indicators did not highlight 
the areas of management concern covered by its Management Improvement 
Initiatives (Initiatives) and had weaknesses in assessing progress 
because the indicators kept changing. Its trend reports also did not 
focus on tracking these management concerns, had technical weaknesses 
for identifying significant and recurrent problems, and has 
inconsistently tracked progress with problems. Furthermore, the trend 
reports have sometimes been misleading as to the significance of the 
problems being presented because their significance ratings tend to be 
lower if corrective actions were already being taken, without 
considering the effectiveness of the actions or the problem's 
importance to the project.

In April 2004, DOE told us it expected that the progress achieved with 
its Initiatives for improving quality assurance would continue and that 
its performance indicators would enable it to assess further progress 
and direct management attention as needed. By that time, the actions 
called for by the Initiatives had been completed and project management 
had already developed a "panel" of indicators to use at monthly 
management meetings to monitor project performance. The panel was a 
single page composed of colored blocks representing selected 
performance indicators and their rating or level of performance. For 
example, a red block indicated degraded or adverse performance 
warranting significant management attention, a yellow block indicated 
performance warranting increased management attention or acceptable 
performance that could change for the worse, and a green block 
indicated good performance. The panel represented a hierarchy of 
indicators where the highest-level indicators were visible, but many 
lower-level indicators that determined the ratings of the visible 
indicators were not shown. Our review analyzed a subset of these 
indicators that DOE designated as the best predictors in areas 
affecting quality.

We found that the panel was not effective for assessing continued 
progress because its indicators poorly represented the management 
concerns identified by the Initiatives. The Initiatives had raised 
concerns about five key areas of management weakness as adversely 
affecting the implementation of quality assurance requirements, and had 
designated effectiveness indicators for these areas. (These areas of 
concern are described in app. I.) However, two of the Initiatives' five 
key areas of concern--roles and responsibilities as well as work 
procedures--were not represented in the panel's visible or underlying 
indicators. In other cases, the Initiatives' effectiveness indicators 
were represented in underlying lower-level indicators that had very 
little impact on the rating of the visible indicator. For example, the 
Initiatives' indicator for timely completion of employee concerns was 
represented by two lower-level indicators that together contributed 3 
percent of the rating for an indicator visible in the panel.

Another shortcoming of the panel was that frequent changes to the 
indicators hindered the ability to identify problems for management 
attention and track progress in resolving them. The indicators could 
change in many ways, such as how they were defined or calculated. Such 
changes made it difficult to measure progress because changes in 
indicator ratings could reflect only the changes in the indicators 
rather than actual performance changes. Some of the indicators tracking 
quality issues changed from one to five times during the 8-month period 
from April 2004 through November 2004. Even after a major revision of 
the panel in early 2005, most of the performance indicators tracking 
quality issues continued to change over the next 6 months--that is, 
from March 2005 through August 2005. Only one of these five indicators 
did not change during this period. One indicator was changed four times 
during the 6-month period, resulting in it being different in more 
months than it remained the same. Moreover, the panel was not always 
available to track problems. It was not created for December 2004 
through February 2005, and it has not been created since August 2005. 
In both cases, the panel was undergoing major revisions. In December 
2005, a senior DOE official told us that the project would begin to 
measure key activities, but without use of the panel.

According to DOE, a second management tool, the project's quarterly 
trend evaluation reports, captured some aspects of the Initiatives' 
areas of concern and their associated effectiveness indicators that 
were not represented in the performance indicators. However, the trend 
reports are designed more to identify emerging and unanticipated 
problems than to monitor progress with already identified problems, 
such as those addressed by the Initiatives. In developing these 
reports, trend analysts seek to identify patterns and trends in 
condition reports, which document problematic conditions through the 
project's Corrective Action Program. For example, analysis might reveal 
that most occurrences of a particular type of problem are associated 
with a certain organization.

In practice, DOE missed opportunities to use trend reports to assess 
progress in the Initiatives' areas of concern. For example, DOE missed 
an opportunity to use trend reports to discuss the Initiatives' goal 
that the project's work organizations become more accountable for self- 
identifying significant problems. The August 2005 trend report briefly 
cited an evaluation of a condition report highlighting the low rate of 
self-identification of significant problems during the previous quarter 
and reported the evaluation's conclusion that it was not a problem 
warranting management attention. However, the trend report did not 
mention that about 35 percent of significant problems were self- 
identified during the previous quarter, while the Initiatives' goal was 
that 80 percent of significant problems would be self-identified.

Beyond whether they effectively track the Initiatives' areas of 
concern, trend reports generally face serious obstacles to adequately 
identifying recurrent and significant problems. For example, trend 
analysis tends to focus on the number of condition reports issued, but 
the number of reports does not necessarily reflect the significance of 
a problem. For example, the number of condition reports involving 
requirements management decreased by over half from the first quarter 
to the second quarter of fiscal year 2005. However, this decrease was 
not a clear sign of progress. Not only did the number rise again in the 
third quarter, but the May 2005 trend report also noted that the number 
of all condition reports had dropped during the second quarter. 
According to the report, the volume of condition reports had been high 
in the first quarter because of reviews of various areas, including 
requirements management.

Due, in part, to these obstacles, trend reports have not consistently 
determined the significance of problems or performed well in tracking 
progress in resolving them. For example, trend reports have 
questionably identified human performance as a significant problem for 
resolution and ineffectively tracked progress in resolving it because 
there was (1) no clearly appropriate or precise benchmark for 
performance, (2) a changing focus on the problem, and (3) unreliable 
data on cause codes. The February 2004 trend report identified a human 
performance problem based on Yucca Mountain project data showing the 
project's proportion of skill-based errors to all human performance 
errors was two times higher than benchmark data from the Institute of 
Nuclear Power Operations (INPO).[Footnote 6] Interestingly, the report 
cautioned that other comparisons with these INPO data may not be 
appropriate because of differences in the nature, complexity, and scope 
of work performed, but did not explain why this caution did not apply 
to the report's own comparison. While this comparison has not appeared 
in trend reports since May 2004, a November 2004 trend report changed 
the focus of the problem to the predominance of human performance 
errors in general, rather than the skill-based component of these 
errors. (Later reports reinterpreted this predominance as not a 
problem.) The report cited an adverse trend based on the fact that the 
human performance cause category accounted for over half of the total 
number of causes for condition reports prepared during the quarter. 
Nevertheless, by February 2005, trend reports began interpreting this 
predominance as generally appropriate, given the type of work done by 
the project. That is, the project's work involves mainly human efforts 
and little equipment, while work at nuclear power plants involves more 
opportunities for errors caused by equipment. In our view, this 
interpretation that a predominance of human performance errors would be 
expected implies an imprecise benchmark for appropriate performance.

Further, although trend reports continued to draw conclusions about 
human performance problems, the February 2005 report indicated that any 
conclusions were hard to justify because of data reliability problems 
with cause coding. For example, the majority of problems attributed to 
human performance causes are minor problems, such as not completing a 
form, that receive less-rigorous cause analysis. This less-rigorous 
analysis tends to reveal only individual human errors--that is, human 
performance problems--whereas more-rigorous analysis tends to reveal 
less-obvious problems with management and procedures.

Another shortcoming of the trend reports was that their rating 
categories made it difficult to adequately determine the significance 
of some problems. Specifically, trend reports sometimes assigned a 
problem a lower significance than justified because corrective actions 
were already being taken. The rating categories for a problem's 
significance also involve an assessment of the need for management 
action. In their current formulation, DOE's rating categories cannot 
accurately represent both these assessments, and the designated rating 
category can distort one or the other assessment. For instance, a 
November 2005 trend report rated certain requirements management issues 
as a "monitoring trend"--defined as a small perturbation in numbers 
that does not warrant action but needs to be monitored closely. 
However, this rating did not accurately capture the report's 
simultaneous recognition that significant process problems spanned both 
BSC and DOE and the fact that the numbers and types of problems were 
consistently identified over the previous three quarters. A more 
understandable explanation for why the problem received a low rating is 
that designating the problem at any higher level of significance would 
have triggered guidelines involving the issuance of a condition report, 
which, according to the judgment expressed in the report, was not 
needed. Specifically, the report indicated that existing condition 
reports have already identified and were evaluating and resolving the 
problem, thereby eliminating the need to issue a new condition report.

However, by rating the problem at the lowest level of significance, the 
trend report did not sufficiently draw management's attention to the 
problem. At about the same time the trend report judged no new 
condition reports were necessary, a separate DOE investigation of 
requirements management resulted in 14 new condition reports--3 at the 
highest level of significance and 8 at the second-highest level of 
significance. These condition reports requested, for instance, an 
analysis of the collective significance of the numerous existing 
condition reports and an assessment of whether the quality assurance 
requirement for complete and prompt remedial action had been met. As a 
result of the investigation and a concurrent DOE root cause 
analysis,[Footnote 7] DOE stated during the December 2005 quarterly 
management meeting with NRC that strong actions were required to 
address the problems with its requirements management system and any 
resulting uncertainty about the adequacy of its design products.

I would now like to update you on the project's February 2006 stop-work 
order, which occurred too late to be included in our report. We believe 
this incident is an example of how the project's management tools have 
not been effective in bringing quality assurance problems to top 
management's attention. After observing a DOE quality assurance audit 
at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in August 2005, NRC 
expressed concern that humidity gauges used in scientific experiments 
at the project were not properly calibrated--an apparent violation of 
quality assurance requirements. According to an NRC official, NRC 
communicated these findings to BSC and DOE project officials on six 
occasions between August and December 2005, and issued a formal report 
and letter to DOE on January 9, 2006. However, despite these 
communications and the potentially serious quality assurance problems 
involved, the project's acting director did not become aware of the 
issue until January 2006, after reading about it in a news article. Due 
to concerns that quality assurance requirements had not been followed 
and the length of time it took top management to become aware of the 
issue, BSC issued a February 7, 2006, stop-work order affecting this 
scientific work. Project officials have begun a review of the issue.

DOE's New Path Forward to Submitting a License Application Faces 
Substantial Quality Assurance and Other Challenges:

In pursuing its new path forward, DOE faces significant quality 
assurance and other challenges, including (1) determining the extent of 
problems and restoring confidence in the documents supporting the 
license application after the discovery of e-mails raising the 
potential of falsified records, (2) settling the design issues and the 
associated problems with requirements management, and (3) replacing key 
personnel and managing the transition of new managers and other 
organizational challenges.

The early 2005 discovery of USGS e-mails suggesting possible 
noncompliance with the project's quality assurance requirements has 
left lingering concerns about the adequacy of USGS's scientific work 
related to the infiltration or flow of water into the repository and 
whether other work on the project has similar quality assurance 
problems. As part of its new path forward, DOE has taken steps to 
address these concerns. It is reworking technical documents created by 
USGS personnel to ensure that the science underlying the conclusions on 
water infiltration is correct and supportable. In addition, DOE is 
conducting an extensive review of approximately 14 million e-mails to 
determine whether they raise additional quality assurance concerns. 
According to NRC on-site representatives, screening these millions of e-
mails to ensure that records were not falsified will be challenging. 
Further, many of the e-mails were written by employees who no longer 
work at the project or may be deceased, making it difficult to learn 
their true meaning and context. Moreover, if additional e-mails raise 
quality assurance concerns, DOE may have to initiate further review, 
inspections, or rework.

DOE officials have stated that it will need to resolve long-standing 
quality assurance problems involving requirements management before it 
can perform the design and engineering work needed to support the 
revised project plans called for by its new path forward. According to 
a 2005 DOE root cause analysis report, low-level documents were 
appropriately updated and revised to reflect high-level design changes 
through fiscal year 1995. However, from 1995 through 2002, many of 
these design documents were not adequately maintained and updated to 
reflect current designs and requirements. Further, a document that is a 
major component of the project's requirements management process was 
revised in July 2002, but has never been finalized or approved. 
Instead, the project envisioned a transition to a new requirements 
management system after the submission of the license application, 
which at that time was planned for December 2004. However, for various 
reasons, the license application was not submitted, and the transition 
to a new requirements management system was never implemented. The DOE 
report described this situation as "completely dysfunctional" and 
identified the root cause of these conditions as DOE's failure to fund, 
maintain, and rigidly apply a requirements management system. According 
to an NRC on-site representative, repetitive and uncorrected issues 
associated with the requirements management process could have direct 
implications for the quality of DOE's license application.

In December 2005, DOE issued a stop-work order on design and 
engineering for the project's surface facility and certain other 
technical work. DOE stated that a root cause analysis and an 
investigation into employee concerns had revealed that the project had 
not maintained or properly implemented its requirements management 
system, resulting in inadequacies in the design control process. The 
stop-work order will be in effect until, among other things, the lead 
contractor improves the requirements management system, validates that 
processes exist and are being followed, and requirements are 
appropriately traced to implementing mechanisms and products. Further, 
DOE will establish a team to take other actions necessary to prevent 
inadequacies in requirements management and other management systems 
from recurring.

Finally, DOE continues to be challenged to effectively manage a 
changing and complex program and organization. The significant project 
changes initiated under the new path forward create the potential for 
confusion over accountability as roles and responsibilities change--a 
situation DOE found to contribute to quality assurance problems during 
an earlier transition period. An important part of this challenge is 
ensuring that accountability for quality and results are effectively 
managed during the transition to the new path forward. For example, 
DOE's plan to establish a lead laboratory to assist the project would 
not only have to be effectively managed, but also would introduce a new 
player whose accountability DOE would have to ensure. According to one 
DOE manager, transitioning project work to a lead laboratory under a 
direct contract with DOE could pose a significant challenge for quality 
assurance because the various laboratories assisting with the project 
are currently working under BSC quality assurance procedures and will 
now have to develop their own procedures.

In addition, the project faces management challenges related to 
ensuring management continuity at the project. DOE has experienced 
turnover in 9 of 17 key management positions since 2001. For example, 
in the past year, the project has lost key managers through the 
departures of the Director of Project Management and Engineering, the 
Director of the License Application and Strategy, the Director of 
Quality Assurance, and the contractor's General Manager. To ensure the 
right managers move the project forward to licensing, the project has a 
recruitment effort for replacing key departing managers. Further, the 
director position for the project has been occupied by three 
individuals since 1999 and is currently filled by an acting director. 
The current Acting Director took his position in summer 2005, and 
initiated the new path forward in October 2005. DOE is currently 
awaiting congressional confirmation of a nominee to take the director 
position. However, the current Acting Director told us he expects that 
the new path forward will be sustained after the new director assumes 
the position because it has been endorsed by the Secretary of Energy.


DOE has a long history of trying to resolve quality assurance problems 
at its Yucca Mountain project. Now, after more than 20 years of work, 
DOE once again faces serious quality assurance and other challenges 
while seeking a new path forward to a fully defensible license 
application. Even as DOE faces new quality assurance challenges, it 
cannot be certain that it has resolved past problems. It is clear that 
DOE has not been well served by management tools that have not 
effectively identified and tracked progress on significant and 
recurring problems. As a result, DOE has not had a strong basis to 
assess progress in addressing management weaknesses or to direct 
management attention to significant and recurrent problems as needed. 
Unless these quality assurance problems are addressed, further delays 
on the project are likely.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement, I would be happy to 
respond to any questions that you or other Members of the Subcommittee 
may have at this time.

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments:

For further information about this testimony, please contact Jim Wells 
at (202) 512-3841 or Casey Brown, John Delicath, Terry 
Hanford, and Raymond Smith also made key contributions to this 

[End of section]

Appendix I: The Management Improvement Initiatives' Key Areas of 

The Department of Energy's Management Improvement Initiatives 
(Initiatives) perceived five key areas of management weakness as 
adversely affecting the implementation of quality assurance 
requirements at the Yucca Mountain project:

1. Roles and responsibilities were becoming confused as the project 
transitioned from scientific studies to activities supporting 
licensing. The confusion over roles and responsibilities was 
undermining managers' accountability for results. The Initiatives' 
objective was to realign DOE's project organization to give a single 
point of responsibility for project functions, such as quality 
assurance and the Corrective Action Program, and hold the project 
contractor more accountable for performing the necessary work in 
accordance with quality, schedule, and cost requirements.

2. Product quality was sometimes being achieved through inspections by 
the project's Office of Quality Assurance rather than being routinely 
implemented by the project's work organizations. As a result, the 
Initiatives sought to increase work organizations' responsibility for 
being the principle means for achieving quality.

3. Work procedures were typically too burdensome and inefficient, which 
impeded work. The Initiatives sought to provide new user-friendly and 
effective procedures, when necessary, to allow routine compliance with 
safety and quality requirements.

4. Multiple corrective action programs existed, processes were 
burdensome and did not yield useful management reports, and corrective 
actions were not completed in a timely manner. The Initiatives sought 
to implement a single program to ensure that problems were identified, 
prioritized, and documented and that timely and effective corrective 
actions were taken to preclude recurrence of problems.

5.The importance of a safety-conscious work environment that fosters 
open communication about concerns was not understood by all managers 
and staff, and they had not been held accountable when inappropriately 
overemphasizing the work schedule, inadequately attending to work 
quality, and acting inconsistently in practicing the desired openness 
about concerns. Through issuing a work environment policy, providing 
training on the policy, and improving the Employee Concerns Program, 
the Initiatives sought to create an environment in which employees felt 
free to raise concerns without fear of reprisal and with confidence 
that issues would be addressed promptly and appropriately.

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[1] GAO-06-313 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 17, 2006).

[2] GAO, Yucca Mountain: Persistent Quality Assurance Problems Could 
Delay Repository Licensing and Operation, GAO-04-460 (Washington, D.C.: 
Apr. 30, 2004).

[3] GAO, Nuclear Waste: Repository Work Should Not Proceed Until 
Quality Assurance Is Adequate, GAO/RCED-88-159 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 
29, 1988).

[4] U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory 
Commission Staff Evaluation of U.S. Department of Energy Analysis Model 
Reports, Process Controls, and Corrective Actions (Washington, D.C., 
Apr. 7, 2004).

[5] In addition, the RIT edited the AMRs to assure consistency and ease 
of technical and regulatory reviews.

[6] Skill-based errors are defined in trend reports as unintentional 
errors resulting from people not paying attention to the task at hand.

[7] A root cause analysis seeks to determine the root cause of a 
problem, which is the underlying cause that must change in order to 
prevent the problem from reoccurring.