Audit Report: DOE-OIG-19-37

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July 1, 2019

The Department of Energy’s Wildland Fire Prevention Efforts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The Department of Energy’s Golden Field Office is responsible for overseeing the management and operating contract with the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC (contractor) who operates the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).  The NREL is the Department’s primary national laboratory dedicated to researching and developing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.  The NREL’s South Table Mountain and National Wind Technology Center campuses are the two main areas where research operations are conducted.  Portions of both campuses border on large tracts of open space that contain vegetation known to be a wildland fire hazard.

While NREL has not been impacted by any major wildland fires, Jefferson County, CO, where NREL’s campuses reside, has experienced several large wildland fire events in recent years.  Given the risk posed by wildland fire to NREL’s facilities and workforce, we initiated this audit to determine whether the Golden Field Office and the contractor were taking necessary actions to identify possible hazards associated with and mitigate the impacts of wildland fire.

Our review found that the contractor had taken actions to identify and mitigate possible hazards associated with the impacts of wildland fire.  However, we observed areas related to Golden Field Office’s execution of the contract and oversight of the contractor that need to be improved to ensure that NREL facilities and personnel are adequately protected from fire-related events, including wildland fire.  Specifically, we found that Golden Field Office and contractor personnel may not be assessing all risks associated with the fire protection program at NREL.  We also found that Golden Field Office officials had not participated in the development and implementation of mutual assistance agreements with State, Tribal, and local authorities, as required.

To ensure that the Department’s mission and assets are fully protected from fire-related events, enhancements to the contractor’s fire protection programs are needed.  Therefore, we made two recommendations that, if fully implemented, should help ensure that NREL is adequately protected.

Topic: Management and Adminstration