Department of Energy:

Better Information Needed to Determine If Nonmajor Projects Meet Performance Targets

GAO-13-129: Published: Dec 19, 2012. Publicly Released: Jan 22, 2013.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

David C. Trimble
(202) 512-3841
trimbled@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Of the 71 nonmajor projects that the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) completed or had under way from fiscal years 2008 to 2012, 21 met or are expected to meet their performance targets for scope, cost, and completion date. These projects included a $22 million EM project to expand an existing waste disposal facility at the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee and a $199 million NNSA project to equip a radiological laboratory and office building at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Another 23 projects did not meet or were not expected to meet one or more of their three performance targets for scope, cost, and completion date. Among these, 13 projects met or are expected to meet two targets, including a $548 million NNSA project to shut down a nuclear reactor in Russia for nonproliferation purposes; 8 projects met or are expected to meet one target; 1 project did not meet any of its targets; and 1 project was cancelled. Of the remaining 27 projects, many had insufficiently documented performance targets for scope, cost, or completion date, which prevented GAO from determining whether they met their performance targets. EM and NNSA often did not follow DOE requirements for documenting these performance targets, making it more difficult for GAO and DOE to independently assess project performance.

Several factors affected EM's and NNSA's management of their nonmajor projects that were completed or ongoing from fiscal years 2008 to 2012. These factors included the suitability of a project's acquisition strategy, contractor performance, and adherence to project management requirements. For example, EM officials managing an ongoing project to remediate soil and water at the Idaho National Laboratory used an acquisition strategy that tied incentives for the contractor to different performance milestones across the multiple subprojects within the contract, which will help the project meet its performance goals, according to EM officials. In contrast, NNSA encountered problems meeting its performance goals for a project to build an office building and radiological laboratory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory partly due to its acquisition strategy. According to NNSA project officials at the Los Alamos site office, the project team should have hired one contractor to design the project and solicited bids from other contractors to build the project rather than using the same contractor for both activities. The former strategy might have resulted in a more mature project design and more time to evaluate various contractors' qualifications to construct the project, according to the NNSA project officials.

EM's workforce plans do not consistently identify mission-critical occupations and skills and current and future shortfalls in these areas for its federal workforce. In addition, many EM workforce plans indicate that EM may soon face shortfalls in a number of important areas, including project and contract management. EM officials said that they recognize these issues and have taken a number of steps to address them, including conducting a skills assessment to identify key occupational series to target for succession planning. However, the inconsistent terms used to describe mission-critical occupations and skills in EM's workforce plans make it difficult for GAO and DOE to understand EM's most critical needs regarding its workforce. GAO recommends that EM and NNSA clearly define, document, and track the scope, cost, and completion date targets for each of their nonmajor projects and that EM clearly identify critical occupations and skills in its workforce plans. EM and NNSA agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Why GAO Did This Study

As of February 2011, EM and NNSA remained on GAO's high-risk list for contracting and project management. These two offices manage numerous construction and cleanup projects that each cost less than $750 million and are called nonmajor projects. DOE requires its program offices to establish performance targets for the expected scope, cost, and completion date of each project before starting construction or cleanup. GAO has encouraged federal agencies to use strategic workforce planning to help them meet present and future mission requirements. Two key elements of workforce planning are to identify mission-critical occupations and skills and any current and future shortfalls in these areas. GAO was asked to examine the (1) extent to which EM and NNSA nonmajor projects have met their scope, cost, and completion date targets, (2) factors affecting EM's and NNSA's management of nonmajor projects, and (3) extent to which EM's workforce plans identify mission-critical occupations and skills and any current and future shortfalls in these areas. GAO reviewed DOE documents and project data, examined EM workforce plans, toured selected DOE facilities, and interviewed DOE officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that EM and NNSA clearly define, document, and track the scope, cost, and completion date targets for each of their nonmajor projects and that EM clearly identify critical occupations and skills in its workforce plans. EM and NNSA agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

For more information, contact David C. Trimble at (202) 512-3841 or trimbled@gao.gov.

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 DOE better tracks information on its nonmajor projects, including the extent to which these projects meet their performance targets, and that EM consistently identifies mission-critical occupations and skills, as well as any current and future shortfalls in these areas, in its workforce plans, the Secretary of Energy should ensure that the department clearly defines performance targets-- including targets for scope, cost, and completion date--for each of its projects and documents the targets in appropriate critical decision (CD)-2 documentation, as is required by DOE's project management order.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOE better tracks information on its nonmajor projects, including the extent to which these projects meet their performance targets, and that EM consistently identifies mission-critical occupations and skills, as well as any current and future shortfalls in these areas, in its workforce plans, the Secretary of Energy should ensure that the department tracks the performance of its projects using the performance targets, particularly scope, it establishes for its projects, as is required by DOE's project management order.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOE better tracks information on its nonmajor projects, including the extent to which these projects meet their performance targets, and that EM consistently identifies mission-critical occupations and skills, as well as any current and future shortfalls in these areas, in its workforce plans, the Secretary of Energy should ensure that each project is reviewed by an independent team of experts before the department approves performance targets, as is required by DOE's project management order.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOE better tracks information on its nonmajor projects, including the extent to which these projects meet their performance targets, and that EM consistently identifies mission-critical occupations and skills, as well as any current and future shortfalls in these areas, in its workforce plans, the Secretary of Energy should direct EM to develop a summary document or a single workforce plan that contains information on mission-critical occupations and skills, as well as current and potential future shortfalls in these areas, for all EM sites.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOE better tracks information on its nonmajor projects, including the extent to which these projects meet their performance targets, and that EM consistently identifies mission-critical occupations and skills, as well as any current and future shortfalls in these areas, in its workforce plans, the Secretary of Energy should ensure that EM follows through on its plan to address the use of consistent terms across all EM sites for mission-critical occupations and skills.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Aug 11, 2014

    Jul 17, 2014

    Jul 11, 2014

    Jun 23, 2014

    Jun 9, 2014

    Jun 5, 2014

    May 30, 2014

    May 16, 2014

    May 15, 2014

    May 7, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here