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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"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."
Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."
At an open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, former CIA chief John Brennan said he saw information on Trump-Russia contacts that were worth a further look. "Having been involved in many counterintelligence cases in the past, I know what the Russians do. They try to suborn individuals," Brennan said. "And they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to act on their behalf, whether wittingly or unwittingly. And I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons, and so therefore by the time I left office ... I had unresolved questions in my mind."
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