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Highlights

The Department of Energy (DOE) is working to obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to construct a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The project, which began in the 1980s, has been beset by delays. In a 2004 report, GAO raised concerns that persistent quality assurance problems could further delay the project. Then, in 2005, DOE announced the discovery of employee e-mails suggesting quality assurance problems, including possible falsification of records. Quality assurance, which establishes requirements for work to be performed under controlled conditions that ensure quality, is critical to making sure the project meets standards for protecting public health and the environment. GAO was asked to examine (1) the history of the project's quality assurance problems, (2) DOE's tracking of these problems and efforts to address them since GAO's 2004 report, and (3) challenges facing DOE as it continues to address quality assurance issues within the project.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy To strengthen the project's management tools and to improve the effectiveness of DOE's efforts to monitor performance in key areas at the Yucca Mountain project, including quality assurance, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to reassess the coverage that the management tools provide for the areas of concern identified in the Management Improvement Initiatives and ensure that performance in these important areas is effectively monitored, especially in light of the more recent condition reports and associated cause analyses, trend reports, and other reviews indicating continuing problems.
Closed - Implemented
DOE has conducted additional reviews and concluded that the Yucca Mountain Project's corrective action program--a key component of the quality assurance framework--was not effectively implemented, primarily because senior management had failed to recognize the significance of repeated internal and external reviews (including those by GAO) and did not aggressively act to correct the problem. DOE has subsequently made significant changes to the corrective action program by rewriting the program's procedures and creating new teams of senior program managers to implement them. Most importantly, DOE has taken direct control of the corrective action program away from its management and operations contractor and has placed the Yucca Mountain project's deputy director in charge.
Department of Energy To strengthen the project's management tools and to improve the effectiveness of DOE's efforts to monitor performance in key areas at the Yucca Mountain project, including quality assurance, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to base future management tools, such as the trend evaluation reports, on projectwide analysis of problems, unless there are compelling reasons for a lesser scope.
Closed - Implemented
DOE has improved the Yucca Mountain Project's quality assurance program by (1) instituting new more frequent and more rigorous monthly program review meetings, chaired by the program director, that focus directly on issues of concern to management and (2) developing four new high-level performance indicators that replace the roughly 250 indicators used in the previous performance indicator panel.
Department of Energy To strengthen the project's management tools and to improve the effectiveness of DOE's efforts to monitor performance in key areas at the Yucca Mountain project, including quality assurance, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to establish quality guidelines for trend evaluation reports to ensure sound analysis when reporting problems for management's attention. Such guidelines should address, among other things, having reliable and complete data and appropriate benchmarks.
Closed - Implemented
DOE has restructured the Yucca Mountain Project's trend evaluation process by (1) creating new procedures, organizations, and working groups to analyze program trends; (2) appointing a new program manager to oversee this process; (3) changing the scope of the reports to monitor and synthesize trends projectwide; and (4) creating new categories of trends to ensure the significance of trends is accurately represented.
Department of Energy To strengthen the project's management tools and to improve the effectiveness of DOE's efforts to monitor performance in key areas at the Yucca Mountain project, including quality assurance, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to, to the extent practicable, make analyses and indicators of performance consistent over time so that trends or progress can be accurately identified and, where changes to analyses or indicators are made for compelling reasons, provide a clear history of the changes and their impact on measuring progress.
Closed - Implemented
DOE has improved the Yucca Mountain Project's quality assurance program by (1) instituting new more frequent and more rigorous monthly program review meetings, chaired by the program director, that focus directly on issues of concern to management and (2) developing four new high-level performance indicators that replace the roughly 250 indicators used in the previous performance indicator panel.
Department of Energy To strengthen the project's management tools and to improve the effectiveness of DOE's efforts to monitor performance in key areas at the Yucca Mountain project, including quality assurance, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to focus the management tools' rating categories on the significance of the monitored condition, not on a judgment of the need for management action.
Closed - Implemented
DOE has improved the Yucca Mountain Project's quality assurance program by (1) instituting new more frequent and more rigorous monthly program review meetings, chaired by the program director, that focus directly on issues of concern to management and (2) developing four new high-level performance indicators that replace the roughly 250 indicators used in the previous performance indicator panel.

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