Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010 - 6:18
Monday, August 2, 2010 - 12:13
A new GAO report makes it clear that the problems with the Department of Energy’s use of stimulus dollars are both abundant and a little scary.
Most of our posts tend to have a good news/bad news kind of feel. This one, sadly, is mostly bad news.
As part of the federal stimulus package, the Department of Energy received approximately $6 billion to accelerate the cleanup of nuclear reactor and nuclear weapons manufacturing sites. DOE directed that money toward 84 projects at 17 DOE sites in 12 states, with 4 sites receiving most of the money. But as the Government Accountability Office details in its recently released report, technical, regulatory, safety and contracting issues have plagued those projects, to the point that a full third of them have not met cost and/or schedule targets.
What’s more, the job creation benefits of those projects appear to be as contaminated as the sites being cleaned. According to the GAO, three different methodologies have been used to calculate the jobs created; depending on the method, these projects have created anywhere from 5,700 to 20,200 jobs. Ranges like this make us very nervous. It’s kind of like a car salesman telling someone the vehicle in question will cost somewhere between $5,000 and $20,000 dollars. Who’d buy a car from that fellow?.
Bad enough? It gets worse. According to the GAO report, the DOE doesn’t even have a clear sense of the environmental impact of these projects—their ostensible goal. We’ve seen many stimulus projects without great performance measures, but a failure to monitor traffic delay reduction or water leak improvements seems a small oversight compared to an inability to assess nuclear weapons site contamination. The GAO notes that the current DOE project measures “focus on outputs and are not directly linked to long-term outcomes such as reducing risks. For example, the performance measures do not indicate what impact installing groundwater wells or demolishing facilities will have on reducing risks to human health and the environment.”
What’s more, the DOE doesn’t even have a good sense of the long-term cost savings this Recovery Act spending will generate by acting now rather than later. The agency had estimated $4 billion in life cycle cost savings, but the GAO's own estimate showed that the real savings could be as much as 80% less than DOE estimated.
Finally, the GAO points out that in selecting these projects, the DOE chose cleanup work that could be begun and completed quickly, rather than targeting the most dangerous radioactive and hazardous wastes. To our minds, this is the great difficulty of trying to do good work and fast work, both at the same time.