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WORKING HYPOTHESIS

The committee observes that DOE/EM-40 does not pay an adequate level of attention to the application of good science and engineering in the implementation of environmental remediation. The committee finds repeatedly that organizational behavior is driven by adaptation to the bureaucratic environment. Although this problem has many manifestations, the committee hypothesizes that there is a common pattern:

What happens is driven too often by the internal needs of the organizations charged with the remediation work rather than by the overall goal of environmental remediation.

Frequently, actions are taken without due consideration of how they contribute to the ultimate objective of remediation. Process displaces goals. Externally imposed regulations, such as those of EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), are treated as immutable requirements rather than rules that can be interpreted against their effectiveness in protecting public health and the environment. Incentive structures are distorted, with large penalties for any criticism, whether deserved or not, and little reward for substantive accomplishment. In sum, the internal needs of the various organizational units involved in the program frequently displace overall mission as the motivation for decision-making and subsequent action.

These internal needs are of several kinds. Some are political in character—that is, they respond to different forces in the broader body politic within which DOE must operate. Others are typical of many large organizations in which procedures, paperwork, and externally imposed constraints take on a life of their own.

Still others of these internal needs represent normal, healthy aspirations for organizational growth and economic gain which, without the needed discipline of commitment to a common mission, manifest themselves as duplication and lack of coordination among the elements of the large and diverse remediation program. In a great many cases, the problems are exacerbated by a widespread disbelief that the stated goals will actually be reached, which leads to a failure to work diligently toward them and thus becomes a “self-fulfilling prophesy”.

As getting things done in the DOE system has become harder to achieve and less likely to be recognized, DOE’s line organizations such as EM-40 have found it harder to recruit and retain the best scientific and engineering talent. This problem is exacerbated by lessening appreciation for public service and for the people who make it a career. Any decrease in the technical level of management personnel tends to reinforce the problems of bureaucratization, again setting in motion a self-reinforcing process.



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OCR for page 5
Barriers to Science: Technical Management of the Department of Energy Environmental Remediation Program WORKING HYPOTHESIS The committee observes that DOE/EM-40 does not pay an adequate level of attention to the application of good science and engineering in the implementation of environmental remediation. The committee finds repeatedly that organizational behavior is driven by adaptation to the bureaucratic environment. Although this problem has many manifestations, the committee hypothesizes that there is a common pattern: What happens is driven too often by the internal needs of the organizations charged with the remediation work rather than by the overall goal of environmental remediation. Frequently, actions are taken without due consideration of how they contribute to the ultimate objective of remediation. Process displaces goals. Externally imposed regulations, such as those of EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), are treated as immutable requirements rather than rules that can be interpreted against their effectiveness in protecting public health and the environment. Incentive structures are distorted, with large penalties for any criticism, whether deserved or not, and little reward for substantive accomplishment. In sum, the internal needs of the various organizational units involved in the program frequently displace overall mission as the motivation for decision-making and subsequent action. These internal needs are of several kinds. Some are political in character—that is, they respond to different forces in the broader body politic within which DOE must operate. Others are typical of many large organizations in which procedures, paperwork, and externally imposed constraints take on a life of their own. Still others of these internal needs represent normal, healthy aspirations for organizational growth and economic gain which, without the needed discipline of commitment to a common mission, manifest themselves as duplication and lack of coordination among the elements of the large and diverse remediation program. In a great many cases, the problems are exacerbated by a widespread disbelief that the stated goals will actually be reached, which leads to a failure to work diligently toward them and thus becomes a “self-fulfilling prophesy”. As getting things done in the DOE system has become harder to achieve and less likely to be recognized, DOE’s line organizations such as EM-40 have found it harder to recruit and retain the best scientific and engineering talent. This problem is exacerbated by lessening appreciation for public service and for the people who make it a career. Any decrease in the technical level of management personnel tends to reinforce the problems of bureaucratization, again setting in motion a self-reinforcing process.

OCR for page 5
Barriers to Science: Technical Management of the Department of Energy Environmental Remediation Program Solving this fundamental problem becomes even more important as DOE’s remediation efforts enter an era of shrinking budgets. There can be a tendency to reduce productive remediation activities while preserving “overhead” functions. Those doing hands-on work are farthest from the centers of power and less able to defend their budgets. The bureaucratic protection provided by overhead staff takes precedence over real achievement. Indeed, in a period of falling budgets, the incentive for self-preservation is increased by the drive to eliminate people and organizations. The committee is not the first to have identified this self-defeating pattern in DOE. The February 1995 Galvin Commission report (Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Task Force on Alternative Futures for the Department of Energy National Laboratories, 1995) found that DOE’s environmental remediation program is plagued by “acute and pervasive” problems (p. 27). The Task Force found in the DOE national laboratories many of the same problems the committee has identified in the remediation program, including overexpansion of administrative and support functions, inordinate focus on regulatory compliance, and gross inefficiency (pp. 7, 53). Specifically addressing the cleanup program, the Galvin Commission concluded that (p. 36) “Sustained improvements in DOE management and leadership are needed…those portions of the problems that DOE can control stem from managerial deficiencies at the top levels of the Department.” The current privatization initiatives in DOE will greatly affect and be affected by the problems the committee observes. Because the revenue supporting remediation activities will continue to come from government appropriations rather than sales in the marketplace, this initiative represents a change in contracting strategy rather than privatization as the term is usually understood. To the extent that privatization makes contractors more responsible for their performance, it can contribute to a solution to some of the DOE problems. But the committee is concerned that if this initiative is implemented with poorly designed incentives, is extended to areas where it is inappropriate, or undermines efforts to develop and implement a systems engineering framework for remediation activities, it could have the effect of giving subordinate organizational units more autonomy to pursue their own objectives to the detriment of accomplishing the DOE mission.