GAO: Energy faces problems with stimulus billions

The Energy Department may not be prepared to effectively handle the almost $12 billion the economic stimulus law is giving it for three science and technology programs, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The $787 billion law includes $6 billion for Energy’s innovative technology loans, $3.5 billion for research on renewable energy and $2.3 billion for clean coal technologies.

However, recent reviews show shortcomings in those programs’ management and internal control capabilities that may create problems in accountability, GAO said. “Our prior work has identified several areas that deserve special attention from management and the inspector general’s office to ensure that funds are put to best use,” GAO wrote in a report released March 19.

For example, in July 2008 GAO reported that Energy was not well-positioned to manage the innovative technology loan program effectively because it had not completed a number of key management and internal control activities. That loan program is slated to receive the $6 billion to support $60 billion in new loan guarantees.

Regarding Energy’s research in renewable energy and fossil energy, the GAO found last December that the department does not determine whether industry would undertake identical renewable energy and fossil research without federal funding, raising questions about whether the federal work may be duplicating existing or planned research.

GAO also previously questioned whether Energy is capable of handling a large surge in scientific research funding. “Our work has questioned [an] R&D program’s ability to obligate a large influx of appropriations because the review, selection and approval of individual project proposals from the private sector can be lengthy and requires substantially more scientific peer review panels to assess the technical merits of each proposal and staff with expertise in making grant awards,” GAO said.

GAO also raised questions about the clean coal technology program that will get $2.3 billion in the stimulus bill. The research program has a history of delays, cost overruns, bankruptcies and performance problems. In February, GAO found that energy officials did not conduct a comprehensive analysis of costs, benefits and risks before restructuring the program.

About the Authors

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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