In recent testimony before Congress, Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General (IG) Gregory Friedman once again recommended consolidating the country’s 16 nuclear and science research labs.
As part of a larger DOE initiative to implement large-scale, high-impact strategies to reduce costs and increase operational efficiency in the nuclear stockpile stewardship program, IG Friedman suggested a comprehensive review of the 16 labs. Specifically, he recommended a delegation similar to the Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commissions used by the Department of Defense to asses, adjust, and close their excess military installations. Friedman said: “We recommended that the Department, using a BRAC-style formulation, analyze, realign, and consolidate laboratory operations to reduce indirect costs and, as a result, provide greater funds for science and research.”
This has long been a recommendation from both IG Friedman and Project On Government Oversight. In a November 2011 Special Report on management challenges at the Department, Friedman laid out the case for a DOE BRAC Commission, focusing on the millions of dollars spent on support costs at the labs. “Specifically the proportion of scarce science resources diverted to administrative, overhead, and indirect costs for each laboratory, may be unsustainable in the current budget environment.”
Almost two years later the budget environment has only gotten worse and neither the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) nor the DOE has taken the steps necessary to consolidate the labs.
Just last year, POGO released a leaked Department of Defense memo that criticized the waste and redundancies at DOE labs. The memo outlines several arguments for downsizing and consolidating DOE labs, citing four different expert panels that have recommended this action going all the way back to 1995. Additionally the memo points out that DoD conducted five BRAC Commissions to remove their excess lab sites and workforce in the years after the Cold War.
POGO, too, has been recommending consolidating nuclear material and labs for years. In 2005, POGO’s report, U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Homeland Security Opportunities, spelled out how billions of dollars could be saved by consolidating nuclear materials and de-inventorying bomb-grade material from unnecessary nuclear sites.
At a time when many agencies are desperate to save even pennies, the DOE needs wake up and realize that if an Inspector General with 21 years of experience is repeatedly making a recommendation that could save the U.S. billions of dollars, it might be time to listen.