Department of Energy

Need to Address Longstanding Management Weaknesses Gao ID: T-RCED-99-255 July 13, 1999

Recent revelations that foreign governments have obtained designs for nuclear weapons and other classified information have renewed concerns about management at the Department of Energy (DOE). This testimony discusses (1) longstanding weaknesses in DOE's management that GAO has identified over the past several years, (2) the effect that current proposals to deal with national security weaknesses would have on addressing these weaknesses, and (3) a framework for evaluating DOE's missions and possible reorganization.

GAO noted that: (1) the security problems facing DOE underscore long-standing weaknesses in the Department's management structure and processes; (2) while the security lapses raise serious concerns, any number of past DOE management problems could have easily triggered today's debate; (3) for example, DOE's longstanding failures in managing major environmental cleanup projects also illustrate the need to fundamentally change how DOE operates; (4) at the core of DOE's weaknesses is its inability to manage its disparate missions within a highly complex organizational structure; (5) in particular, unclear lines of authority throughout DOE have long resulted in weak oversight of contracts and poor accountability for program management, leading GAO to identify contracting as a high risk activity; (6) for decades, DOE has failed to respond to reports by GAO, external experts, and its own consultants that highlight these weaknesses; (7) additionally, DOE has resisted independent regulatory oversight over nuclear and worker safety, perpetuating a perception that it lacks accountability; (8) DOE has also been reluctant to open up key laboratory contracts to new bidders, reducing confidence that it has hired the most capable and responsive contractor; (9) while the recent proposals for reorganizing DOE's national security mission will clarify some lines of authority, a more complete solution is needed; (10) the proposals assume that existing missions are still valid in their present forms and that DOE is still the best place to manage them; (11) along with many of the experts GAO surveyed, GAO thinks a more fundamental rethinking of missions is in order; (12) a framework exists for evaluating DOE's missions by asking basic questions about both the validity of missions and their organizational placement; and (13) indeed, now is an ideal time for reconstructing DOE into a more manageable agency.

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