9
Wrap-Up Observations

Robert G. Card, Undersecretary U.S. Department of Energy

A major challenge DOE faces is thinking through how the constituency is going to feel about major projects through their entire life cycle. Is the support still going to be there when we start spending money? Too often it really isn’t, and so we have to fall back again. The vitrification plant is an example of a project that is in its third or fourth generation right now, because each time talk was cheap and building was expensive.

Many times in the planning stages, a project’s constituents will bond together and select a technology, even though there may be far cheaper technologies that are more difficult to talk about and plan but that are in fact the only way to implement the project. Any time we have a project that is in the tens of billions of dollars range, the public is going to ask about opportunity costs for that money. They are going to ask: What can I do for AIDS, cancer, or a whole bunch of other things with that kind of money? Therefore the project isn’t stable when you go ahead with it, as those trade-offs begin to be made. Unfortunately, they don’t usually get made until we start spending the money, well after we have committed to the project. I think one of the things that as government project managers we need to worry about is what is really implementable. I have a whole list of horror stories within the Department of Energy, particularly with nuclear installations, of trying to merge complexity with nuclear, and it doesn’t work very well.

When you have to take a project like a chemical plant through a complex start-up operation, you don’t want too much junk in your way, so complex instrumentation control systems, complex safety systems may not in the net add safety value. If they are too complex, the operator can’t deal with them. I think DOE needs to be more vigilant about making sure that it is really building only what is absolutely necessary to achieve the business strategy that we should have thought out at the start.



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Proceedings of Government/Industry Forum: The Owner’s Role in Project Management and Preproject Planning 9 Wrap-Up Observations Robert G. Card, Undersecretary U.S. Department of Energy A major challenge DOE faces is thinking through how the constituency is going to feel about major projects through their entire life cycle. Is the support still going to be there when we start spending money? Too often it really isn’t, and so we have to fall back again. The vitrification plant is an example of a project that is in its third or fourth generation right now, because each time talk was cheap and building was expensive. Many times in the planning stages, a project’s constituents will bond together and select a technology, even though there may be far cheaper technologies that are more difficult to talk about and plan but that are in fact the only way to implement the project. Any time we have a project that is in the tens of billions of dollars range, the public is going to ask about opportunity costs for that money. They are going to ask: What can I do for AIDS, cancer, or a whole bunch of other things with that kind of money? Therefore the project isn’t stable when you go ahead with it, as those trade-offs begin to be made. Unfortunately, they don’t usually get made until we start spending the money, well after we have committed to the project. I think one of the things that as government project managers we need to worry about is what is really implementable. I have a whole list of horror stories within the Department of Energy, particularly with nuclear installations, of trying to merge complexity with nuclear, and it doesn’t work very well. When you have to take a project like a chemical plant through a complex start-up operation, you don’t want too much junk in your way, so complex instrumentation control systems, complex safety systems may not in the net add safety value. If they are too complex, the operator can’t deal with them. I think DOE needs to be more vigilant about making sure that it is really building only what is absolutely necessary to achieve the business strategy that we should have thought out at the start.