Government construction: Keep it on time and on budget

Lamar Alexander
Lamar Alexander

Governing is about setting priorities, and a good example of that is the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12, in East Tennessee.

One of my priorities has been keeping large government construction projects on time and on budget, including this facility. Every time we would get a status update on the project, costs were increasing. We began holding regular meetings with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) three years ago to try to solve the problem.

Now, after years of oversight by the Senate Appropriations Subcom-mittee on Energy and Water Development, which I now chair, we have an agreement:

  • Construction of the Uranium Processing Facility’s uranium buildings isn’t supposed to begin until the buildings are at 90 percent design.
  • The cost isn’t supposed to exceed $6.5 billion.
  • The project needs to be completed by 2025.

This was a topic at a March 11 hearing I chaired on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s 2016 budget, one of four budget hearings our subcommittee held on the president’s budget proposal. Over the past two months we also held hearings on budget proposals for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The NNSA administrator asked Dr. Thom Mason, the laboratory director for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, to head a Red Team to review the project. They had 17 recommendations, nearly all of which the NNSA adopted.

NNSA recently completed a portion of the site preparation for this project under budget by $10 million. That’s a good start, but there’s a lot more work to be done.

Though there seems to be clear accountability now, it is crucial that we maintain this accountability throughout this entire construction process and on future projects. We need to make sure someone is responsible for meeting the goals we have set.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) may be reached via his website’s contact page.