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Staff Accomplishments

ETD team resolving complex multi-level agency relationships: Facilitating Hanford's Cleanup, Challenges & Constraints Team

March 2004
When working relationships were at an all-time low and something needed to be done to move Hanford cleanup forward, an independent technical analysis team from the Environmental Technology Directorate helped rebuild trust and improve the working relationships between the U.S. Department of Energy and its regulators by facilitating Hanford's Cleanup Constraints Challenges Team (C3T). It was clear in the spring of 2001 that something had to be done. Communications among regulators, tribes and members of the public were dysfunctional at best if not litigious in tone - At stake, cleaning up Hanford, the most contaminated radioactive and hazardous waste site in the United States. A multi-faceted process was implemented by the ETD team using workshops, conference calls, and subgroup meetings with representatives of all agencies plus contractors and significant stakeholders. Based on results from this daunting task, senior management identified a path forward built around four key principles:
  1. Leadership commitment to the partnership
  2. Independent technical analysis and communication of findings
  3. Respect for and recommitment to compliance agreements
  4. Equal value to all perspectives.
In approximately six months counter-productive interactions and damaging working relationships were being resolved and progressive cleanup solutions were being proposed. The Assistant Secretary of DOE became a champion in Washington D.C. for the collaborative course chartered by the Hanford contingent. To begin the process, ETD's independent technical analysis team identified various issues through numerous confidential interviews. Comments were distilled into common themes and disagreements. This data proved useful for the analysis team as they served as translators identifying communication disconnects and common issues for complex technical issues. All the parties agreed that Hanford's environmental cleanup is complex with technical uncertainties, numerous interfaces and decision pathways. The interviews revealed the following issues among the agencies and the cleanup contractors:
  • Strained relationships among the senior leadership of the state and federal agencies
  • Confrontational versus a collaborative culture
  • Dialogue centered around paperwork (frequently legal) rather than face-to-face meetings or phone calls
  • Mounting frustration and dissatisfaction from the general public on Hanford cleanup progress
During ongoing C3T activities a new DOE Headquarter policy embracing acceleration and reduction of the overall costs for cleanup was enacted. The DOE policy required regulator participation and approval. Serendipitously, Hanford's collaborative C3T process became an example for the entire DOE complex. As a direct result of the team's leadership in bridging communications and technical disconnects within the span of about one year, the participants were able to identify a mutually agreeable plan for Hanford's cleanup. The reinvigorated plan ensures that the Hanford Site could be cleaned up at least 35 years faster than the original estimate. "The mutual satisfaction here is that the cleanup will occur faster and cheaper without reducing the scope or the quality of the cleanup," said Tom Fitzsimmons, Director of Ecology for Washington State. The team also produced a number of important documents, including the Performance Management Plan for the Accelerated Cleanup of the Hanford Site. The work of the independent and technical analysis team relied upon relationship management skills while remaining technically focused on tackling complex cleanup problems. In complicated business environments, the skills of ETD's technical analysis team produced effective partnerships and dramatic results that moved cleanup forward.

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