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Suggested Citation:"9. Wrap-Up Observations." National Research Council. 2002. Proceedings of Government/Industry Forum: The Owner's Role in Project Management and Preproject Planning. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10343.
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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.

Suggested Citation:"9. Wrap-Up Observations." National Research Council. 2002. Proceedings of Government/Industry Forum: The Owner's Role in Project Management and Preproject Planning. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10343.
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Recurrent problems with project performance in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in the 1990s raised questions in Congress about the practices and processes used by the department to manage projects. The 105th Committee of Conference on Energy and Water Resources directed DOE to investigate establishing a project review process. Many of the findings and recommendations in this series of reports identified the need for improved planning in the early project stages (front-end planning) to get the project off to the right start, and the continuous monitoring of projects by senior management to make sure the project stays on course. These reports also stressed the need for DOE to act as an owner, not a contractor, and to train its personnel to function not as traditional project managers but as knowledgeable owner's representatives in dealing with projects and contractors.

The NRC Committee for Oversight and Assessment of Department of Energy Project Management determined that it would be helpful for DOE to sponsor a forum in which representatives from DOE and from leading corporations with large, successful construction programs would discuss how the owner's role is conducted in government and in industry. In so doing, the committee does not claim that all industrial firms are better at project management than the DOE. Far from it-the case studies represented at this forum were selected specifically because these firms were perceived by the committee to be exemplars of the very best practices in project management. Nor is it implied that reaching this level is easy; the industry speakers themselves show that excellence in project management is difficult to achieve and perhaps even more difficult to maintain. Nevertheless, they have been successful in doing so, through constant attention by senior management.

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