Originally created 02/04/03

Criticism stays on SRS manager



AIKEN - Just as Savannah River Site's environmental concerns haven't gone away overnight, neither has criticism of the Energy Department's contractor in charge of daily operations, Westinghouse Savannah River Co.

Assistant Secretary of Energy Jessie Hill Roberson said in a conference call Monday that the department is still struggling to bring Westinghouse in line with department objectives for cleanup but that some progress has been made.

"They're moving some people around, but we tend not to measure that as an indication of performance," Ms. Roberson said. "We're clearly looking at the work to be done. We are in discussions with Westinghouse right now on some necessary changes to the incentives and the work identified in their contract and the priorities."

She declined to grade SRS because she said she would be its toughest judge.

Criticism of Westinghouse came last year after an assessment of the department's environmental management programs, which coincided with the new administration's push for accelerated cleanup. The Energy Department said Westinghouse needed a better approach to planning projects and managing costs.

Although a progress report in December stated, "the Site appears to be moving in the right direction," an official in the Office of Operations Oversight recommended continued quarterly visits.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2004, announced Monday, would keep cleanup on the fast track. Emphasis will be on SRS' nuclear waste tank farms and the plants that yielded deadly chemical byproducts during Cold War weapons production.

The proposal also would create the Office of Legacy Management. The new agency would be funded as a separate line item and manage post-cleanup activities, making sure all government commitments are kept.

"We want the people who live around those sites to know that we won't abandon them," Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said.

The department's funding request for environmental cleanup is the highest ever. Mr. Abraham said it would accelerate cleanup by 35 years and save taxpayers more than $50 billion in program costs.

He said the goal is for people residing near Energy Department reserves to see substantial progress within their lifetimes.

Reach Eric Williamson at (803) 279-6895 or eric.williamson@augustachronicle.com.