Nuke Agency Rejects Mandate to Provide Cost-Savings Details

A recently renovated centrifuge used in nuclear weapon assessments at Sandia National Laboratories. The Energy Department branch overseeing the lab is rejecting a finding by congressional auditors that it should know how much money could be saved by enacting certain efficiency projects.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
May 16, 2014, 10:48 a.m.

The U.S. nuc­le­ar weapons agency is re­ject­ing a find­ing by aud­it­ors that it should know how much money it could save by pur­su­ing cer­tain ef­fi­cien­cies.

The Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion was re­quired un­der the fisc­al 2012 de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion law to is­sue a re­port to Cap­it­ol Hill ex­amin­ing areas with­in its en­ter­prise where it could op­er­ate more ef­fi­ciently and save money by do­ing so. A Thursday re­port by the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice found that while the agency’s as­sess­ment — even­tu­ally de­livered to law­makers in Novem­ber 2013 — did high­light sev­en “op­por­tun­it­ies for ef­fi­ciency,” it failed to provide es­tim­ates on the cost sav­ings that could be real­ized with those pro­jects.

The semi­autonom­ous En­ergy De­part­ment branch, in its com­ments to aud­it­ors, dis­puted the find­ing that it was re­quired un­der the 2012 le­gis­la­tion to “cas­u­ally and quant­it­at­ively link its cost ef­fi­ciency ini­ti­at­ives to spe­cif­ic cost sav­ings.”

Ac­cord­ing to the 25-page audit re­port, the Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion had ar­gued it lacked “re­li­able in­form­a­tion to ac­cur­ately de­vel­op cost es­tim­ates” for the ini­ti­at­ives it out­lined to Con­gress.

The aud­it­ors dis­agreed with this con­ten­tion, not­ing that, while ana­lyt­ic­ally dif­fi­cult to de­vel­op, a “sound meth­od­o­logy for es­tim­ated sav­ings helps en­sure that pro­posed sav­ings can be achieved.”

The nuc­le­ar agency’s spend­ing de­cisions are cur­rently un­der the mi­cro­scope in light of a broad­er con­gres­sion­al at­mo­sphere of budget-tight­en­ing and, more spe­cific­ally, be­cause NNSA of­fi­cials in re­cent years have over­seen a num­ber of pro­jects that have far ex­ceeded ini­tial cost pro­jec­tions.

One of the ef­fi­ciency pro­jects the agency out­lined in its re­port to Con­gress was the planned Urani­um Con­ver­sion Fa­cil­ity at the Y-12 Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Com­plex in Ten­ness­ee. That ini­ti­at­ive today is in jeop­ardy due in part to how much its es­tim­ated price tag has ris­en, skyrock­et­ing from ini­tial pro­jec­tions of no more than $1.1 bil­lion to al­most $20 bil­lion.

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