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Project on Government Oversight

POGO letter to DOE Under Secretary Thomas D’Agostino requesting a stop work order for the CMRR at Los Alamos due to construction concerns

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November 30, 2007

Mr. Thomas P. D’Agostino
Under Secretary for Nuclear Security & Administrator for NNSA
National Nuclear Security Administration
Department of Energy
Washington, DC  20585

Via Email

Dear Under Secretary D’Agostino:

I am writing to you to suggest NNSA immediately issue a stop-work order on the Chemical and Metallurgical Research Replacement (CMRR) program. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has learned that Austin Commercial of Dallas, TX, the contractor hired for building the first stage of the CMRR, is not building the facility to ASME NQA-1 Quality Assurance (QA) standards for nuclear facilities, nor to other DOE QA requirements.  In fact, Austin Commercial is allegedly demanding an increase in their fixed fee from $10 million to $30 million if they are expected to meet these QA standards, and are even threatening taking Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to court. Did LANL actually enter into a contract that did not spell out these requirements?

Furthermore, POGO has learned that Austin Commercial already poured over 100 cubic yards of defective concrete that was out of spec because there was too much air in the concrete.  This error was discovered and rejected by LANL QA personnel.  In another instance this same contractor claimed they had poured concrete at particular grid coordinates.  However, apparently the QA personnel at LANL discovered there was no concrete poured anywhere close to those coordinates.  In other words, the pour cards, as a QA record associated with the construction of a DOE nuclear facility, may have been falsified by the contractor in order to meet milestones for payment.  There are also allegations that the new facility is not being built to recently increased earthquake standards. 

The Los Alamos Site Office (LASO) has done nothing to stop this potential train wreck. This latest debacle is in keeping with LASO’s long history of a hands-off approach to oversight, largely because of their policy of allowing the Lab to police itself. The construction of the CMRR appears to be travelling down the troubled path of Y-12’s Highly-Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF).  As you know, the inadequate use of rebar in the early construction of the HEUMF caused the cost of that project to balloon from $350 million to $500 million.

The rush to haphazardly build the CMRR is likely because of the project’s tenuous position in the Congress.  In May 2006 the House Appropriations Committee issued a report calling into question whether or not this facility should be built at all, describing the project as “irrational.”  At the time, the committee said, “CMRR will serve its primary production support function for only eight years before it is made obsolete by the new plutonium facility, thereby making the Category I and II security characteristics of the CMRR unnecessary. The Committee finds this type of planning by the NNSA simply irrational. It appears designed to maximize future budgets and the number of new facilities required, rather than provide an efficient balancing of required capabilities, limited resources, and programmatic risk.”

History tells us that DOE’s tendency is to quickly begin construction in order to make it that much harder for the Congress to kill the project.  On the current path, it would seem the taxpayers will end up with a poorly constructed facility of dubious value.  Please issue an immediate stop-work order to ensure we do not suffer that fate. I would gladly come meet with you to further discuss this important issue.

Sincerely,

Danielle Brian
Executive Director
Project On Government Oversight


NNSA Responds to POGO letter to DOE requesting a stop work order for the CMRR at Los Alamos due to construction concerns, December 31, 2007.