Department of Energy:

Need to Address Longstanding Management Weaknesses

T-RCED-99-255: Published: Jul 13, 1999. Publicly Released: Jul 13, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed proposals for reorganizing the Department of Energy (DOE), focusing on: (1) longstanding weaknesses in DOE's management that GAO has identified over the past several years; (2) the effect that the proposals to deal with national security weaknesses would have on addressing these weaknesses; and (3) a framework for evaluating DOE's missions and possible reorganization.

GAO noted that: (1) the security problems facing DOE underscore long-standing weaknesses in the Department's management structure and processes; (2) while the security lapses raise serious concerns, any number of past DOE management problems could have easily triggered today's debate; (3) for example, DOE's longstanding failures in managing major environmental cleanup projects also illustrate the need to fundamentally change how DOE operates; (4) at the core of DOE's weaknesses is its inability to manage its disparate missions within a highly complex organizational structure; (5) in particular, unclear lines of authority throughout DOE have long resulted in weak oversight of contracts and poor accountability for program management, leading GAO to identify contracting as a high risk activity; (6) for decades, DOE has failed to respond to reports by GAO, external experts, and its own consultants that highlight these weaknesses; (7) additionally, DOE has resisted independent regulatory oversight over nuclear and worker safety, perpetuating a perception that it lacks accountability; (8) DOE has also been reluctant to open up key laboratory contracts to new bidders, reducing confidence that it has hired the most capable and responsive contractor; (9) while the recent proposals for reorganizing DOE's national security mission will clarify some lines of authority, a more complete solution is needed; (10) the proposals assume that existing missions are still valid in their present forms and that DOE is still the best place to manage them; (11) along with many of the experts GAO surveyed, GAO thinks a more fundamental rethinking of missions is in order; (12) a framework exists for evaluating DOE's missions by asking basic questions about both the validity of missions and their organizational placement; and (13) indeed, now is an ideal time for reconstructing DOE into a more manageable agency.

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