Environment, Safety, and Health:

Status of DOE's Reorganization of Its Safety Oversight Function

RCED-90-82BR: Published: Jan 30, 1990. Publicly Released: Mar 9, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the impact a proposed Department of Energy (DOE) reorganization plan would have on its safety oversight activities for nuclear facilities.

GAO noted that: (1) DOE responded to public concern over a 1979 nuclear accident by establishing the Office of Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety, and Health in September 1985; (2) a 1986 accident in the Soviet Union led to a 1988 congressional mandate for an external, independent oversight board; and (3) despite previous actions to address safety issues, the Secretary of Energy determined in 1989 that the DOE safety oversight program was a failure, primarily because clear lines of responsibility did not exist for DOE oversight activities. GAO found that the proposed restructuring plan would clearly identify lines of responsibility for DOE safety management and oversight by: (1) specifying safety responsibilities for management personnel; (2) reorganizing DOE offices for independent, internal oversight of safety activities; and (3) clarifying the external safety board's role in overseeing the internal safety program. GAO also found that the plan's success depended on: (1) the degree of personnel commitment to safety and reconciliation of safety concerns with production goals; (2) whether each oversight group had a clear role and adequate guidelines regarding its responsibilities and relationships with the other groups; (3) how effectively DOE oversight groups worked together to achieve safety goals; and (4) the availability of experienced and qualified personnel to perform safety oversight activities.

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