Laser Beam Spending?

Energy Secretary Steven Chu says the manager of the National Ignition Facility project at the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration deserves praise for project management excellence.

The Project On Government Oversight said the giant laser beam project is a poster child for ineptitude and waste. In a letter to Chu, the POGO folks said it's 600 percent over budget and eight years behind schedule.

"It is extraordinary that NNSA is currently claiming the NIF construction was completed within budget, because the project is the most egregious rubber baseline--constantly changing the cost and schedule--that we have ever seen," the non-profit group said in the May 6 letter.

"In the early 1990s, the DOE sold the NIF project to Congress with a reported cost estimate of $700 million and an original completion date of 2002. With its 192 laser beams to simulate a thermonuclear burn, the NIF was to be a critical part of certifying that nuclear warheads are safe and reliable," the letter said. "The most recent cost estimate is $5-6 billion with a completion date of 2010--more than 600 percent over budget and at least 8 years behind schedule. In addition, NNSA has recently morphed the NIF's mission into helping to solve the energy crisis."

They told our colleague Al Kamen that it's not the first time that an incoming energy secretary has been led to giving inappropriate praise. A decade ago, incoming secretary Bill Richardson gave his kudos in a speech, only to find out later the project was already costing $2 billion more than expected.

Here's what the folks at Energy told Kamen:

"'This is a one-of-a-kind project that will make critical contributions to maintaining the safety and reliability of our nuclear stockpile and could produce groundbreaking scientific advances on everything energy research to basic astrophysics,' said NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera."

In a follow up call today, a spokesman for the agency said in a message that POGO is providing misleading information. He said the award was for the federal project manager who took over after the troubles in year 2000 and did a fine job with the program's budget and schedule.

POGO's Danielle Brian had this to say about that:

"It is misleading for the DOE to give out an award for project excellence before it has been shown that it works. In fact, the Congress recently tasked the GAO with an investigation to determine if the NIF will achieve its goal and timeline for ignition, something that was deemed "unlikely" by the lead scientific body JASON in 2005. This body found that: 'The NIF Ignition Program has scientific and technical risks that demand involvement by experienced personnel to the greatest extent possible. We are concerned by indications of trends to the contrary.'"

By Robert O'Harrow |  May 12, 2009; 11:39 AM ET energy
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O'Harrow there you go again carrying the water for POGO. You really need to do some honest investigating and reporting for a change. Then again, POGO may be providing you some other benefits or a possible soft landing. While I am at it have you seen the stuff that David Cho and Brady Denis did today? This is great investigative and explanatory writing...Pulitizer stuff that may get the Post back on track after a dismal year.

Posted by: chuckaluk66 | May 13, 2009 4:10 PM

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