GAO: Energy's contract reforms slowly moving forward

While the Department of Energy has taken "encouraging steps" to fix long-standing flawed contract management practices, it still "has a long way to go" before declaring its problems have been solved, a federal executive said.

In testimony prepared for a House Government Reform Committee hearing March 20, Robin Nazzaro of the General Accounting Office said contracting and project management reforms are continuing, although "available information raises doubts about the extent to which these reforms have resulted in improved contractor performance."

Citing a September 2002, GAO report, she said "it did not appear that DoE's contractors had significantly improved their performance" on projects between 1996 and 2001.

The Energy Department's contract-management practices have been under the microscope since 1990, and inspectors have faulted a confusing organizational structure, poor leadership and a weak culture of accountability.

The department spent $18.2 billion on contracts in fiscal 2001, 90 percent of its total budget, the highest of any civilian agency.

One 1999 independent review by the National Research Council found the department's construction and environmental cleanup projects take longer and cost 50 percent more than similar projects done by other agencies or private business. A follow-up report in 2001 found little evidence of improvement in project-management practices.

Nazzaro, a director on the GAO's Natural Resources and Environment team, noted progress in budget, training, management information and "human capital" systems.

Energy Department leaders, responsible for more than 50 major operations in 35 states, have acknowledged problems and continue to make changes.

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