By MIA STEINLE
In light of the country's growing debt, many government agencies are facing budget cuts and, anticipating this inevitability. Last week, Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman released a report identifying the agency's weaknesses and ways to reduce its operating costs.
Among the proposed cost-saving measures are three suggestions that piqued our interest here at POGO.
First, the report questions if it makes sense for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to function as a semiautonomous agency. The NNSA, which oversees nuclear weapons, was made a separate agency to allow it “to concentrate on its defense-related mission, free of other bureaucratic distractions.” Unfortunately, this freedom has resulted in redundant bureaucracy—the report suggests considering the reincorporation of NNSA into DOE in order to eliminate these costs.
Second, the report notes that DOE’s 16 federally funded research centers cost more than $10.4 billion annually to operate. If some of the centers were consolidated, DOE could eliminate redundant support costs (total support costs account for nearly 40 percent of laboratory budgets), decreasing the overall research center budget. This reevaluation of DOE structure is long overdue. “While there has been some evolution over the years,” the report says, “the Department's research complex is organized essentially as it has been for over a half-century.”
Finally, DOE spends nearly $700 million annually on its 4,000-person “protective force,” or security staff, which is largely composed of contractors. According to the report, the agency has no uniform contract for its protective force, and management and training can vary from site to site. The report asks if standardizing this system could save money, suggesting, among other options, federalizing DOE’s protective force—that is, hiring government workers rather than private contractors. DOE as a whole has “one of the largest contracting portfolios on the civilian side of the Federal government,” according to the report, with 99,000 contractors and only 16,000 federal employees in fiscal year 2010. As POGO recently found in its Bad Business report, contractors cost almost twice as much as federal employees on average for 35 occupations examined.
As Matt Wald reported in The New York Times last Tuesday, DOE has so far been silent on these suggestions:
The Energy Department had no immediate comment on the new report. But the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, said, “The broad concepts make a lot of sense.”
Mia Steinle is a POGO Investigator.