Hire more staff, NAPA tells Energy office

An Energy Department office that cleans up nuclear weapons waste doesn't  have the workforce needed to do its job or manage its responsibilities properly, according to a 146-page report released last Dec. 8 by the National Academy of Public Administration.

The department’s Environmental Management Office (EM) has lost nearly 40 percent of its staff members since 2001, causing delays in contract awards and cleanup projects in addition to rising costs, the report said.

EM’s previous leaders began laying off employees because they thought the office was in a downturn. The Government Accountability Office criticized that strategy, and when NAPA began its analysis in early 2006, EM’s assistant secretary, James Rispoli, was in the middle of reversing that situation. The House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations subcommittees asked NAPA to conduct the investigation in September 2005.

NAPA also found that the workforce problems led employees there to take on more responsibilities, which caused leadership confusion.

For example, EM’s headquarters uses site liaisons to coordinate with its remote cleanup sites. However, many liaisons found themselves saddled with other responsibilities. Some told NAPA they had to handle congressional inquiries, Freedom of Information Act requests and take on the role of action officer for important decisions. The liaisons’ location in Germantown, Md., complicated their communication with the office’s Washington headquarters, the report said.

Many off-site workers complained that the liaisons lacked field experience and the ability to work issues through upper managers at headquarters.

Many cleanup projects involve multiple agencies, including NASA and Energy-led national laboratories, which further exacerbates the problems.

NAPA recommended that EM hire more employees, and authorize the chief operating officer to define roles, strengthen administrative functions and establish a management analysis office to report to the assistant secretary.

Howard Messner, former NAPA president and chairman of the panel that oversaw the report, said it’s up to DOE to give the office the resources it needs.

“I am optimistic that, with the changes the panel has proposed and which are now under way, EM will continue to improve performance,” he said. “EM will need, however, support from the department to ensure that it has the resources necessary to turn this opportunity into reality.”

NAPA is an organization chartered by Congress that provides analysis to improve government efficiency and effectiveness.

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