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Killing DOE could have an upside for NM labs

Regarding “Perry regrets his call to eliminate DOE,” published in the Journal on Jan. 19, concern about the possibility of abolishing the U.S. Department of Energy has produced a short circuit in logic.

A false concern has been generated that abolishing the DOE necessitates wholesale cancellation of projects and firing of contractors.

In New Mexico the biggest worry in this matter involves the future of the national laboratories, which are directed by a dysfunctional DOE bureaucracy.

Decades ago, Congress created a top-heavy Cabinet-level energy department in response to a short-term oil embargo. When this bloated bureaucracy proved to be extraordinarily inept it was enlarged.

An agency within the DOE bureaucracy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, was created. Then an onerous internal regulatory process that lacked risk perspective was imposed.

Adding insult to injury, a totalitarian Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board supported by hundreds of martinets running amok in DOE facilities was created.

This convoluted bureaucracy took the art of bungling to a new level. Dozens of project failures and tens of billions of wasted tax dollars were the result.

A recent example is the WIPP project fiasco where a typographical error led to a long shutdown at a cost to the taxpayers of a billion dollars. A paramount criterion in the original WIPP waste acceptance criteria was a ban on organic material in the waste drums.

Somehow the waste drum packaging procedure inadvertently specified “an organic” material instead of “inorganic” material. Because of this typo, a drum ruptured and the underground was contaminated with radioactive material.

The tangled DOE oversight process failed to identify the error.

The former Advisory Committee on Nuclear Facility Safety got it right in their final report.

They recommended a risk management process that could produce greater safety and security with less cost to the taxpayers. Regrettably this wise proposal was ignored.

The DOE fiscal millstone can never be lifted from the national labs and other contractors unless congressional action is taken to abolish the DOE. The bureaucratic regulatory process and the totalitarian Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board should be abolished.

This irrational system should be replaced with a risk management process implemented by a streamlined government organization in which line managers are held accountable for safety.

Otherwise it would be fitting to rename the DOE as “DOZE” – the Department of Zero Energy.