Nuclear Waste:

Department of Energy's Program for Financial Assistance

RCED-86-4: Published: Apr 1, 1986. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 1986.

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GAO evaluated the Department of Energy's (DOE) program to provide grants under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, focusing on: (1) DOE decisions on who received grants and for what activities; (2) the level of assistance provided; and (3) DOE grant administration and oversight.

The act provides that state and public participation in the nuclear waste repository program is essential to promote public confidence in the safety of radioactive waste disposal. Financial assistance grants to the affected parties are a way to ensure this participation. DOE has used its discretionary funding authority to award grants to second-repository states, national associations, and Indian tribes. The guidelines, which provide general policy guidance for grant awards and administration of the repository programs, have not ensured consistent decisions on who receives grants and what activities are funded. In some instances, DOE decisions on grant awards have been influenced more by budgetary considerations than by grantees' needs. GAO believes that: (1) incorporating consideration of grantees' projected needs into program budget planning could help DOE more realistically anticipate those needs; (2) congressional oversight of the financial assistance program could be better facilitated if DOE presented specific budget estimates on the funding it expected to provide for the first and second repository programs and other parties; and (3) with more realistic budgets, DOE could focus on grantee application merits in making funding judgments. Although DOE regulations describe the grantee requirements and provide an opportunity to request a waiver of the requirements, grantees have neither consistently complied with nor requested waivers of the requirements, and DOE has not enforced them.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987 (NWPA) directed DOE to terminate financial assistance to states, except Nevada. DOE advised the project offices that no further financial assistance may be provided under NWPA to Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Utah, and Washington. Consequently, consistency among financial assistance programs is no longer a relevant issue.

    Recommendation: To help ensure consistent program evaluation, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM), to better define what activities should be funded in OCRWM internal grant guidelines for first- and second-repository states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE specified grant funding as a separate item in its fiscal year (FY) 1988 budget request, submitted in January 1987. OCRWM directed its project offices to survey their eligible recipients for funding needs estimates, included in the FY 1987 budget request.

    Recommendation: To assist Congress in its oversight of the DOE financial assistance program under the act, the Secretary of Energy should specify, in future budget requests for the Nuclear Waste Fund, grant funding for the first repository program, second repository program, and other parties. The Secretary should also survey grantees as to their projected needs for the budget period, in order to make appropriate financial assistance estimates.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OCRWM provided training in July 1986 to its staff administering financial assistance to ensure that they comply with DOE regulations. OCRWM instructed project offices to take actions to enforce compliance. DOE does not intend to seek a waiver of the requirements.

    Recommendation: To ensure management control over grant awards, the Secretary of Energy should ensure compliance with the requirements of DOE financial assistance regulations. These requirements could, of course, be waived if DOE determines that the conditions for granting a waiver are present.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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