DoE restructures management offices to cut waste, improve security

Thursday - 7/25/2013, 6:03am EDT

By Melissa Dawkins
Special to Federal News Radio

The Department of Energy is reshuffling its management deck in order to cut costs and improve security.

The restructuring, approved July 12 by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, reallocates responsibilities of the three undersecretary offices. DoE will expand the role of undersecretary of science to include the energy technology portfolio, establishing the Office of the Undersecretary for Science and Energy. This new office will expedite the process of translating scientific discovery into accessible technologies, Daniel Poneman, deputy secretary of energy, said at a House Energy and Commerce hearing Wednesday.

"We believe that this reorganization is going to synthesize and bring together mission and support in a much better way than has done before. We wouldn't do this reorganization otherwise," Poneman said.

The reorganization also consolidates primary mission and operational support within one department by moving the Office of Environmental Management (EM) and Office of Legacy Management from the undersecretary for nuclear security to the undersecretary for management and performance, Poneman said. The reorganization also established four new secretarial councils.

President Barack Obama announced his decision to nominate NASA Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson as DoE's undersecretary for management and performance in a July 18 press release.

"It was clear that the opportunity presented by taking one of the available undersecretary positions in the department and having that individual — an individual of authority and in whom the secretary and myself could impose confidence to work full time on these problems — was absolutely critical to getting our arms around this very daunting agenda," Poneman said.

The restructuring comes after numerous Government Accountability Office reports found DoE struggled to manage major projects with security and safety, and to produce reliable information, GAO Director of Natural Resources and Environment David Trimble said.

"All of the ongoing major projects continue to experience significant cost increases and schedule delays," Trimble said.

GAO placed EM and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on its list of areas at high risk of waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in 1990, and both agencies remain on the list today. Together, EM and NNSA received about $17 billion in fiscal 2013, roughly 60 percent of DoE's total budget, according to Trimble's testimony.

"Repeated audits for this subcommittee by GAO have found that over the past two decades, DoE has suffered from substantial and continued weaknesses in effectively overseeing contractors and managing large, expensive and technically complex projects," Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said at the hearing. "But multibillion dollar projects aren't the only problem. This past December, GAO told us that DoE did not have sufficient documentation to assess performance on almost 40 percent of its non-major projects."

Legislators on the oversight committee also are unhappy with DoE's inability to effectively manage contracts and measure progress moving forward.

"Because DoE so heavily relies on contractors to carry out its mission activities, effective governance is critical. But in January of this year, the inspector general reported that despite at least five years of effort, NNSA had not yet implemented fully functional and effective contractor insurance systems," said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.).

Moving forward, effective and active oversight of DoE contractors is necessary to cut costs and ensure projects are completed in a timely manner, said Energy Inspector General Gregory Friedman.

"As a general point, Congressman Johnson, we have found that the federal managers did not feel they could exercise the necessary oversight over the contractors, because they felt the contractors were so far better prepared for the tasks that they faced," Friedman said. "So certainly, it needs to be recognized professions. They need to get recognition within the department and outside the department. And the contractors need to understand that they're dealing with people on a par who are prepared to take necessary actions to ensure the government's interests are protected."

Melissa Dawkins is an intern for Federal News Radio

RELATED STORIES:

DOE: Budget cuts may slow nuclear waste cleanup

Energy's Environmental Management office still struggling to manage contracts