Audit Report: DOE-OIG-19-55

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September 30, 2019

Implementation of Employee Concerns Programs at Selected Office of Environmental Management Sites

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (Environmental Management) mission is the safe cleanup of the environmental legacy resulting from 5 decades of nuclear weapons development and Government-sponsored nuclear energy research.  Two Environmental Management sites with active cleanup operations are the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina, and the Idaho National Laboratory Site near Idaho Falls, Idaho.  Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, LLC (SRNS), with Savannah River Operations Office oversight, manages cleanup at the Savannah River Site.  Fluor Idaho, LLC (Fluor Idaho), with Idaho Operations Office oversight, currently manages cleanup at the Idaho National Laboratory Site. 

Department Order 442.1A, Department of Energy Employee Concerns Program, established an employee concerns program (ECP) to ensure that employee concerns related to the environment, safety, health, and management of Department programs and facilities are addressed in an independent, timely, and objective manner.  The Department’s ECP is designed to encourage free and open communication without the fear of reprisal.  Both SRNS’s and Fluor Idaho’s contracts require establishing their own ECPs to support the Department’s ECP.  We initiated this audit to determine whether ECPs of select Environmental Management contractors addressed employees’ concerns in a timely, thorough, and objective manner.

Nothing came to our attention to indicate that SRNS’s and Fluor Idaho’s ECPs did not address concerns in a timely, thorough, and objective manner.  Generally, we found that SRNS’s and Fluor Idaho’s ECPs adequately handled the concerns officially filed by employees.  Also, although we did not evaluate the actions ultimately taken to address substantiated concerns, there was documentation in the ECPs’ files that provided evidence that the concerns were tracked to closure.  However, during our review, we noted an opportunity that could improve the overall effectiveness of ECPs at both SRNS and Fluor Idaho.  Specifically, we found that SRNS and Fluor Idaho could better foster environments of free and open expression of concerns, a key aspect of an effective ECP.

Department leadership has communicated its commitment to the safety of its workforce, the public, and the environment.  In a March 2019 memo announcing improvements to the Department’s ECP, the Deputy Secretary of Energy stated that Federal and contractor employees are important to identifying and reporting conditions that could affect the quality or safety of operations.  In addition, the goal of fostering an environment that encourages free and open expression of employee concerns is essential to the safe and efficient accomplishment of the Department’s missions.  The contractors’ ECPs are essential to achieving this goal because of their direct support of the Department’s ECP.  The issues identified in this report do not warrant specific corrective actions, and accordingly, we are not making formal recommendations.  However, it is clear that additional management attention and focus to this important area may be prudent.  We suggest that management direct the contractors to develop action plans to improve the environment for free and open communication and address negative employee perceptions of their respective ECPs.   Although this audit was limited to two Environmental Management contractor operations, we believe that any actions taken should be promulgated throughout the entire Environmental Management complex.

Topic: Management & Adminstration