A June 27 Senate subcommittee hearing spotlighted the difficulties with contracts for nuclear-waste cleanup under the Energy Dept.'s Office of Environmental Management (EM).

Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, highlighted the problems at legacy sites, saying, "Unfortunately for the taxpayer, for EM's large contracts, cost overruns, schedule delays and technical failures are the rule, not the exception." For example, the cost of the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) at the Savannah River site, near Aiken, S.C., has increased to $1.2 billion from an original estimate of $340 million, she said.

DOE Inspector General Gregory Friedman said, "Significant problems with contract administration and project management have adversely impacted the department's ability to achieve program goals and to effectively manage the many issues confronting its multibillion-dollar cleanup effort." He said the frequency of such problems seemed to indicate that they are systemic.

Jack Surash, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and project management at DOE EM, said his office has made progress in implementing contract and project reforms. However, he acknowledged challenges at Hanford and at the SWPF. "Applying the lessons learned over the last decade, EM would have taken a different approach to these projects," he said. EM is now resolving technical issues and establishing revised baselines for both projects.

Frank Shepherd—deputy project manager for Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons, contractor on the SWPF—said the latest cost estimates for the project are "right about in the midrange" of the 2001 estimates and that Parsons and the DOE expect to complete construction by December 2016.