Auditors said the Energy Department may repeat missteps that led to cost and schedule overruns in an initiative to eliminate weapon-grade plutonium.
Officials used an “immature design” to establish a 2007 “baseline” plan for a new facility to convert the plutonium into mixed-oxide reactor fuel, the Energy Department’s inspector general said in a new report. Gregory Friedman and his audit team said the move led to inappropriately optimistic predictions on construction costs and employee turnover. Ultimately, ramifications included three years of delays and nearly $3 billion in unexpected costs for the project at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site.
“We remain concerned with the project management issues observed during the audit,” Friedman said in the May 22 assessment.
He said the problems found by his office’s investigation and by similar probes are “applicable to the future direction of the MOX Facility and other large department construction projects.” Previously, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that the MOX plant would cost $30 billion to build and maintain.
The Energy Department earlier this year announced plans to mothball the MOX facility, due to rising costs and schedule delays. The department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration is still evaluating options for disposing of the 34 metric tons of excess U.S. weapons-grade plutonium, as required under a nonproliferation deal with Russia.
“This assessment and [an] associated independent review are expected to be completed in the next 12 to 18 months,” according to the inspector general’s report. “We are hopeful that the audit results can help to inform the current project reassessment.”
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The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal to the "federal disclosure rules for political advertising," leaving in place the ruling by a lower court upholding a law requiring the disclosure of donors to political ads. The appeal came from "a Denver-based libertarian think tank that wanted to run an ad without being forced to divulge its major donors," which argued that the requirement was a violation of first amendment rights under the Court's Citizens United decision.
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Donald Trump announced in a tweet on Saturday that he would not attend the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in April. The move did not come as a surprise, another moment in his ongoing battle with the media, which he has dubbed the "enemy" of the American people and repeatedly refers to as "fake news." Multiple outlets have already cancelled their events surrounding the dinner and several are considering skipping the event outright.
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