GAO – Environmental Liability Continues to Grow, and Significant Management Challenges Remain for Cleanup Efforts

Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management’s Fiscal Year 2017 Estimated Environmental Liability, by Cleanup Site

DOE Environmental Management’s (EM’s) environmental liability grew by $214 billion in fiscal years 2011 through 2018, even though EM spent over $48 billion on cleanup.

GAO found that this liability may continue to grow for several reasons:

•EM’s environmental liability does not include the costs of all future cleanup responsibilities. For example, as of April 2018, DOE and its contractor had not negotiated a cost for completing a large waste treatment facility, called the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, at the Hanford site.

•About 30 to 60 percent of EM’s cleanup budget goes toward recurring activities necessary to maintain the sites—such as physical security and infrastructure maintenance—rather than toward reducing EM’s environmental liability.

•EM officials have not analyzed the root causes of the cost growth.

GAO found that EM has not resolved long-standing management challenges.

EM manages most of its cleanup work as operations activities, under less stringent requirements than other environmental remediation projects. For example, operations activities are not subject to independent oversight outside EM, and therefore DOE cannot hold EM accountable for its performance.

GAO also found that EM has not consistently reported to Congress on its cleanup efforts as required, and the information EM has reported has been incomplete or inaccurate.

Read the GAO report here

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