Architect of the Capitol:

Addressing Staffing and Training Issues Is Important for Efficient and Safe West Refrigeration Plant Operations

GAO-06-321R: Published: Feb 10, 2006. Publicly Released: Mar 13, 2006.

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The West Refrigeration Plant Expansion (WRPE) project is the centerpiece of an effort to expand the capacity of the Capitol Power Plant (CPP) to meet the U.S. Capitol's growing heating and cooling needs and to update plant equipment, some of which dates to the 1950s. CPP generates steam and chilled water to provide heating and cooling for the Capitol and 23 surrounding facilities that, together, encompass about 16 million square feet of space. CPP will also serve the 580,000-square-foot Capitol Visitor Center (CVC), which is under construction. When completed, the WRPE project will increase CPP's chilled water production capacity by about 23 percent and enable central operation of CPP's chillers. The WRPE construction contract was awarded in March 2003, work is ongoing, and the project is now scheduled for completion in March 2006. Future contract changes may, however, extend this date to June 2006. The budget for the WRPE project and associated administrative expenses is $81.7 million. Several modifications have been made to the WRPE contract to incorporate other capital improvements at CPP. The budget for these modifications is $19.2 million, bringing the total budget for the base WRPE project and related projects to $100.9 million. For clarity, we refer in this report to the base WRPE project and related projects collectively as the WRPE project. The Architect of the Capitol (AOC), who manages CPP, is responsible for commissioning the new West Refrigeration Plant equipment. According to the General Services Administration (GSA), which provides guidance to federal agencies on managing their facilities, commissioning is a systematic process to ensure, by verification and documentation, that all of a facility's systems perform interactively as designed and intended to meet the owner's operational needs. AOC and its contractors are carrying out the commissioning process, including a three-stage plan prepared by the construction contractor for testing the performance of the new WRPE equipment. AOC is also responsible for ensuring that CPP is staffed efficiently and that CPP personnel have the knowledge and skills to operate the plant safely. Over the years, we have reported on AOC's management of CPP several times and made recommendations for improvement. Our most recent report, issued in April 2005, included recommendations on CPP's staffing. As requested, this report updates our prior work and evaluates AOC's (1) commissioning activities to date and plans for commissioning the new equipment without disrupting current operations and (2) plans for staffing the modernized power plant efficiently and ensuring that CPP personnel are trained to operate it safely. In addition, the report estimates the costs to complete the WRPE project, taking into account the possible effects of anticipated contract changes, operational issues, and other challenges to a timely and successful startup.

The WRPE commissioning process has been effective thus far, although the bulk of the equipment testing remains to be done. According to our analysis, AOC's commissioning activities to date and commissioning plans are consistent with GSA's commissioning guidance and are designed to allow the new plant equipment to start up without disrupting CPP's current operations. Since March 2003, when construction began, CPP project managers and AOC's construction management consultant have been reviewing documents and monitoring WRPE construction and equipment installation activities. In addition, starting in November 2005, a commissioning agent retained by AOC, as we recommended, has been overseeing the construction contractor's execution of the contractor's three-stage plan for testing the functional performance of the equipment--the heart of the commissioning process. By contrast, AOC has made less progress in planning to staff the modernized power plant efficiently and ensure that CPP personnel are trained to operate it safely. Specifically, AOC has just begun to address long-standing CPP staffing recommendations and has not developed a plan for evaluating the training provided to CPP operators. To help ensure that CPP personnel are trained to operate the modernized plant safely, AOC has planned, developed, and begun to implement training for CPP operators that addresses safe plant operations, but AOC has not developed a plan for evaluating the training and using the evaluation results to guide future training investments or to help implement a new staffing plan. Without an evaluation plan, AOC cannot ensure that CPP personnel have acquired the skills needed to operate the modernized plant safely or that the best prepared operators are included in CPP's restructured workforce. Feedback from AOC's construction management consultant and our interviews with CPP operators have raised concerns about how well the initial training has prepared CPP staff to operate the new equipment. To address these concerns, AOC plans to hire a startup contractor to provide technical assistance for up to 8 weeks after WRPE's completion. AOC believes this technical assistance will help CPP staff operate the new equipment safely, without damaging it, and will help AOC identify and address any gaps in operators' training.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that CPP is staffed efficiently and that CPP personnel are trained to operate the modernized power plant safely, the Architect of the Capitol should develop and implement a staffing plan for CPP that is based on the results of its most recent consultant's study.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2008, the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) awarded a consulting contract for development of an organizational and operational study of CPP based on a workload survey of the required tasks, skills, and labor hours needed to operate the plant. In December 2009, AOC's consultant completed its study which indicates that the staff requirement for CPP generally matches the current number and types of authorized positions at the plant. Based on the results of its consultant's study, AOC has concluded that the CPP is properly staffed and will not need to develop and implement a plan to revise the CPP staffing structure.

    Recommendation: To ensure that CPP is staffed efficiently and that CPP personnel are trained to operate the modernized power plant safely, the Architect of the Capitol should evaluate the training provided to CPP operators and use the evaluation results in implementing the staffing plan.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The consultant to AOC who developed a workload analysis and staffing implementation plan also evaluated the program to train CPP operators. AOC expects to receive the results of the evaluation in February 2007.

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