Nuclear Waste Cleanup:

Progress Made but DOE Management Attention Needed to Increase Use of Innovative Technologies

T-RCED-99-190: Published: May 26, 1999. Publicly Released: May 26, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Department of Energy's (DOE) efforts to implement GAO's recommendations to improve the deployment of innovative cleanup technologies, focusing on whether DOE: (1) established coordination between technology developers and users; (2) modified completed technologies to meet site-specific needs; (3) provided technical assistance to sites; and (4) improved the quality of deployment data.

GAO noted that: (1) DOE's Office of Science and Technology (OST) has begun several actions to improve coordination between technology developers and users, such as setting its priorities according to the users' stated technology needs; (2) however, OST is still not using the decision-making system it developed that requires user involvement during development and user commitment before investing in demonstrating a technology; (3) rather, OST is using elements of this system in its annual project reviews; (4) although these reviews have benefits, they are being implemented inconsistently and they may not provide enough management attention to developer and user cooperation as a technology progresses through development phases; (5) more assurance may be needed that users will ultimately deploy the technologies being pursued and that a specific go/no-go decision is made before substantial investments are made; (6) DOE cites its Accelerated Site Technology Deployment program as addressing concerns about technologies being too generic to be readily implemented at cleanup sites; (7) this program provides funding to DOE sites for their first use of an innovative technology developed by OST or other organizations; (8) however, the program funds only a limited number of projects and funding does not necessarily have to be used for modifications; (9) OST is establishing lead national laboratories for each of its focus areas to increase its level of technical expertise; (10) since OST is still defining the role of the lead laboratories, it is too early to assess the impact of this change on improving expertise; (11) furthermore, without requiring that an OST representative participate in technology selection, it is unclear whether improving focus areas' expertise alone will result in more consultations with sites; (12) OST has conducted a study that verified the deployments reported for fiscal years 1997 and 1998 and has taken several steps to improve the quality of data input; (13) however, the data being entered into OST's database continue to have a high degree of errors with only about half of the deployments being correct as listed in the database; (14) OST plans to hire consultants to help identify the causes of poor data quality and recommend improved approaches; and (15) OST plans to improve the information on vendors in its database by linking information in the database with credit of deployment.

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