What GAO Found
Since the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Agreement was signed in 2006, the Department of Energy's (DOE) estimated cost for the U.S. portion of ITER has grown by almost $3 billion, and its estimated completion date has slipped by 20 years. DOE has identified several reasons for the changes, such as increases in hardware cost estimates as designs and requirements have been more fully developed over time.
DOE's current cost and schedule estimates for the U.S. ITER Project reflect most characteristics of reliable estimates, but the estimates cannot be used to set a performance baseline because they are linked to factors that DOE can only partially influence. A performance baseline would commit DOE to delivering the U.S. ITER Project at a specific cost and date and provide a way to measure the project's progress. According to DOE documents and officials, the agency has been unable to finalize its cost and schedule estimates in part because the international project schedule the estimates are linked to is not reliable. DOE has taken some steps to help push for a more reliable international project schedule, such as providing position papers and suggested actions to the ITER Organization. However, DOE has not taken additional actions such as preparing formal proposals that could help resolve these issues. Unless such formal actions are taken to resolve the reliability concerns of the international project schedule, DOE will remain hampered in its efforts to create and set a performance baseline for the U.S. ITER Project.
DOE has taken several actions that have reduced U.S. ITER Project costs by about $388 million as of February 2014, but DOE has not adequately planned for the potential impact of those costs on the overall U.S. fusion program. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have directed DOE to complete a strategic plan for the U.S. fusion program. GAO has previously reported that strategic planning is a leading practice that can help clarify priorities, and DOE has begun work on such a plan but has not committed to a specific completion date. Without a strategic plan for the U.S. fusion program, DOE does not have information to create an understanding among stakeholders about its plans for balancing the competing demands the program faces with the limited available resources or to help improve Congress' ability to weigh the trade-offs of different funding decisions for the U.S. ITER Project and overall U.S. fusion program.
Why GAO Did This Study
This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's June 2014 report, entitled Fusion Energy: Actions Needed to Finalize Cost and Schedule Estimates for U.S. Contributions to an International Experimental Reactor, (GAO-14-499).
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