GAO: DOE needs to improve oversight of Work for Others

The Government Accountability Office released a report today saying the Department of Energy needs to increase its oversight of the so-called “work for others” — work done for other federal agencies, etc. — at its national laboratories.

ornlentranceOak Ridge National Laboratory, which is DOE’s largest and most diverse Science lab, is also one of the leaders in doing work for others. In Fiscal Year 2012, ORNL  did about $207 million in work for others out of a total budget of $1.62 billion — or about 13.5 percent of its total budget. That was the third most among all national labs, with Sandia performing the most outside work ($803 million), which accounted for almost a third of its budget.

In its intro, the report noted, “In a time of uncertainty over future federal budgets and calls to reduce spending, DOE may have difficulty sustaining its current laboratory structure.” That, in turn, could make labs more dependent on outside funding from other agencies and potential impact overall objectives.

The amount and type of work depends on the individual laboratories and their missions, the report said citing an explanation from the Department of Energy. Because Sandia has experience in systems engineering, its work was highly sought after from other federal agencies, the report said.

The Department of Defense is one of DOE’s biggest customers, and ORNL was among the six DOE labs doing most of that work. Those labs were identified as Idaho, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest and Sandia.

According to the GAO report, the Department of Energy has not always ensured that work for others programs requirements are consistently met or the agency has largely depended on the labs to make those determinations.

Also, DOE has not always lived up to its requirement for achieving cost recovery for the projects done for outside agencies.

The report concluded that the WFO program enables DOE to share the labs’ highly specialized facilities, cutting-edge technologies and top scientists and technicians, but has fallen short in making sure the federal requirements are met and that the costs of these outside projects are being delivered.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.