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INTRODUCTION

The Committee on Remediation of Buried and Tank Wastes of the National Research Council (NRC) has been in existence since early 1993 to provide scientific and technical oversight and evaluation of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Restoration (EM-40) program of remediation activities within the Defense Nuclear Waste Complex contaminated with radioactive and mixed wastes. During this period, committee members have spent considerable time reviewing various aspects of the DOE/EM-40 program, concentrating on technical issues within the tank and buried waste purview of the committee’s charter. Although receiving good response to requests for information in the form of technical documents, briefings, and site visits, the committee has been frustrated in its attempts to review programs and planning documents because of what appears to be a continuous state of change and redirection by DOE/EM-40. The committee has observed a lack of sufficient progress toward DOE’s remediation goals, it has observed inefficiency, and it believes that stated goals are in many cases not correctly formulated. The committee has observed that many in the public, government organizations, and the DOE complex share these perceptions.

To be sure, the scale and technical complexity of DOE’s clean-up mission pose difficult management challenges. Private companies have had difficulties in planning and controlling remediation of former plant sites that are smaller and less technically challenging than the major DOE facilities. Other federal and state agencies with clean-up responsibilities, in particular the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Defense, have also been criticized for confusion and inefficiency. But the judgment of the committee, a group with widely varied experience in federal and state agencies and commercial organizations, is that the DOE/EM-40 performance falls short, not only of the ideal, but of the standard of reasonable effectiveness set by other organizations in both the public and private sectors.

During its study, the committee has been searching for the causes of the lack of progress in environmental remediation. Although the committee is not sure that it could ever identify a single root cause—indeed almost surely there is more than one—it has developed a working hypothesis that may form a useful framework for both analysis and follow-up action. In this report the committee outlines the pattern of organizational behavior that it has observed, describes a number of general symptoms of the problem, and discusses some examples that illustrate how these symptoms reflect this pattern.

If the committee’s hypothesis is correct, a fundamental reexamination of the situation is called for at the highest level so that progress can be made on the important technical work to be done—something that is not always the case today—even though DOE remains an organization that values the best science and engineering and attracts outstanding technical talent to its endeavors.



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Barriers to Science: Technical Management of the Department of Energy Environmental Remediation Program INTRODUCTION The Committee on Remediation of Buried and Tank Wastes of the National Research Council (NRC) has been in existence since early 1993 to provide scientific and technical oversight and evaluation of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Restoration (EM-40) program of remediation activities within the Defense Nuclear Waste Complex contaminated with radioactive and mixed wastes. During this period, committee members have spent considerable time reviewing various aspects of the DOE/EM-40 program, concentrating on technical issues within the tank and buried waste purview of the committee’s charter. Although receiving good response to requests for information in the form of technical documents, briefings, and site visits, the committee has been frustrated in its attempts to review programs and planning documents because of what appears to be a continuous state of change and redirection by DOE/EM-40. The committee has observed a lack of sufficient progress toward DOE’s remediation goals, it has observed inefficiency, and it believes that stated goals are in many cases not correctly formulated. The committee has observed that many in the public, government organizations, and the DOE complex share these perceptions. To be sure, the scale and technical complexity of DOE’s clean-up mission pose difficult management challenges. Private companies have had difficulties in planning and controlling remediation of former plant sites that are smaller and less technically challenging than the major DOE facilities. Other federal and state agencies with clean-up responsibilities, in particular the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Defense, have also been criticized for confusion and inefficiency. But the judgment of the committee, a group with widely varied experience in federal and state agencies and commercial organizations, is that the DOE/EM-40 performance falls short, not only of the ideal, but of the standard of reasonable effectiveness set by other organizations in both the public and private sectors. During its study, the committee has been searching for the causes of the lack of progress in environmental remediation. Although the committee is not sure that it could ever identify a single root cause—indeed almost surely there is more than one—it has developed a working hypothesis that may form a useful framework for both analysis and follow-up action. In this report the committee outlines the pattern of organizational behavior that it has observed, describes a number of general symptoms of the problem, and discusses some examples that illustrate how these symptoms reflect this pattern. If the committee’s hypothesis is correct, a fundamental reexamination of the situation is called for at the highest level so that progress can be made on the important technical work to be done—something that is not always the case today—even though DOE remains an organization that values the best science and engineering and attracts outstanding technical talent to its endeavors.

OCR for page 3
Barriers to Science: Technical Management of the Department of Energy Environmental Remediation Program This page in the original is blank.