Last week, POGO sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu challenging the decision to bestow upon the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) an award for "Project Management Excellence" for the performance of what is ironically one of its most poorly managed projects, the National Ignition Facility (NIF).
In the letter, we highlighted the absurdity of rewarding such a wasteful project with an award for management excellence, pointing out that, among many major clear management failures, NIF is “more than 600 percent over budget and at least 8 years behind schedule.” We also pointed out that, despite some claims that the project has finally been completed, according to NIF's website it will not begin to attempt 'ignition' until next year (and, even by using the most optimistic of predictions, no commercial use will be available through this program for at least twenty years).
The release of POGO's letter garnered some immediate and much-needed media attention. Robert O'Harrow at The Washington Post's "Government Inc." talked to an NNSA spokesman today who said that we were providing misleading information. Here was our response:
"It is misleading for the DOE to give out an award for project excellence before it has been shown that it works. In fact, the Congress recently tasked the GAO with an investigation to determine if the NIF will achieve its goal and timeline for ignition, something that was deemed 'unlikely' by the lead scientific body JASON in 2005. This body found that: 'The NIF Ignition Program has scientific and technical risks that demand involvement by experienced personnel to the greatest extent possible. We are concerned by indications of trends to the contrary.”
POGO recommends that DOE take a second look at this award, review the evidence, realize their mistake, and rescind the award. For the sake of protecting taxpayers' dollars, for the sake of good governance, for the sake of guarding against waste, and for the sake of distinguishing between project excellence and project mismanagement, we hope that happens as soon as possible.
-- Jerry Dunleavy