Planned Contract Award for the Fort Hood Solar Project Should Be Reconsidered

EMD-80-37: Published: Dec 7, 1979. Publicly Released: Dec 7, 1979.

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During a review of Department of Energy's (DOE) management of solar energy research and development projects, GAO determined that DOE should reconsider its plan to award a prime contract on the reinitiated large-scale total energy project at Fort Hood, Texas, to the American Technological University (ATU). The Fort Hood project has been plagued with problems since its beginning in May 1974. By November 1976, after two modifications in the sole-source contract with ATU increased funding from $200,000 to $680,000 and extended the original period of performance by 1 year, an acceptable conceptual design had not been completed. After award of another sole-source contract in December 1976 to reconsider or modify its conceptual design, the design task was deleted from the scope of work to be performed by ATU and given to two other contractors. After acceptance of the conceptual design by one of the two contractors, ATU was awarded a prime sole-source contract to develop the design, with the firm that produced the successful conceptual design serving as systems engineering design subcontractor. After completion of an unacceptable preliminary design, DOE allowed the contract and the project to expire in October 1978. DOE offered to entertain new ATU proposals that would return the project to a conceptual design stage, employing a completely different solar thermal technology. In response, ATU submitted two proposals, one of which was being considered for the sole-source contract award.

Throughout the Fort Hood project's history, technical managers at Sandia Laboratories (where the project was monitored) and DOE headquarters identified poor performance on the part of ATU as a major contributor to the serious project problems. These managers cited a lack of technical expertise, organizational experience, and management ability to implement so large a project and provided numerous specific examples of these shortcomings. GAO formed the opinion that the magnitude and severity of the criticism raised concerning the prior project performance and capabilities of ATU call into question whether proceeding with ATU as the prime contractor for the Fort Hood project would be in the best interest of the solar program.

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