The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has obtained an internal Department of Energy (DOE) memo that threatens to withdraw funding from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) if LANL does not immediately submit a planning document to explain what it is doing with the $13 million from DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, meant to be used to manufacture and process plutonium-238 as a power source for NASA space missions. In a highly unusual move, a DOE official states in the memo, “I cannot allow continued expenditures of taxpayer funds with no accountability.”
The memo, dated January 9, 2009, does not mince words about LANL’s role in the “chronic poor performance” of the plutonium-238 program: the LANL program has “no milestones or measurable deliverables attached to a $13 million budget,” and it has “no cost estimates for conduct of its work.”
“If LANL permits this kind of shoddy performance and lack of accountability on a $13 million contract, what’s the status of the rest of its $2.2 billion budget?” asks Danielle Brian, POGO Executive Director.
For several years, DOE has attempted to get other DOE offices and other federal agencies to hire DOE labs for special projects through a program called “Work for Others.” Other agencies have balked at utilizing the program because the management is too lax and the cost is too high, partly a result of the labs swimming in nuclear weapons money with little or no DOE and congressional oversight. For example, POGO has learned from a source that a Pentagon office that deals with anti-terrorism issues had to cancel a contract with LANL because “they simply didn’t understand cost and schedule.” Coming from the Pentagon, this is a most provocative assertion.
The DOE memo states “LANL performance issues on this program are not new and extend far beyond the receipt of this single planning document.” DOE gave LANL until February 15, 2009, to provide detailed financial and technical reporting. DOE requested that the Los Alamos Site Office (LASO) of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) assist in getting LANL to complete the tasks. POGO does not know the status of DOE’s request or if LASO has requested the information from LANL.