Nuclear Waste:

Questionable Uses of Program Funds at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory

RCED-92-157: Published: May 28, 1992. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's use of nuclear waste funds to support independent research projects and to manage project activities for the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, underground repository site for permanent disposal of radioactive wastes.

GAO found that: (1) in fiscal year (FY) 1990 and FY 1991, Livermore used almost 5 percent of the $32.5 million in nuclear waste funds it spent to finance independent research and development activities that were not directly related to the authorized purposes; (2) Livermore obtains independent research funds by charging overhead for work it performs for DOE, but neither DOE nor the laboratories reconcile nuclear waste fund assessments with independent research project expenditures; (3) Livermore does not determine whether its independent research projects benefit the nuclear waste disposal program; (4) DOE maintains that independent research contributes to the vitality of laboratories and that federal programs must financially support such research; (5) the DOE Los Alamos National Laboratory diverted $1.6 million in nuclear waste funds for independent research in FY 1990 and FY 1991, and the DOE Sandia National Laboratory intends to begin such diversion in 1992; (6) DOE deemphasis on waste package development has sharply decreased Livermore's spending on scientific and technical activities, although Livermore's management expenses for the decreased workload have remained constant; (7) DOE project managers stated that Livermore's project management costs reflected DOE increased emphasis on quality assurance, project control, and records and data management; and (8) Livermore did not adequately justify its noncompetitive award of 7 contracts totalling about $1.8 million for Yucca Mountain project activities between FY 1988 and FY 1990.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The DOE General Counsel has issued an opinion that the use of nuclear waste funds for laboratories' independent research and development activities is a valid cost to DOE of doing business with the laboratories. GAO does not agree.

    Recommendation: To ensure that nuclear waste funds are used only for activities directly related to the purposes of the nuclear waste act, the Secretary of Energy should take actions to ensure that nuclear waste funds are used by the laboratories only for authorized purposes. Such actions might include inserting language in contracts with DOE laboratories that either specifies the statutory restrictions on the use of nuclear waste funds or specifically exempts those funds from assessment for laboratory independent research.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE has determined that it will not implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: In view of the growing proportion of Livermore's nuclear waste funds used to manage a declining work load, the Secretary of Energy should determine if there is a way to more efficiently accomplish the limited scientific work now assigned to Livermore, for example, by assigning this work to one or more other existing project contractors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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