The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Small firms may see future bids in plant cleanup
Bechtel Jacobs contract expires this fall, and DOE has indicated it wants smaller, more efficient contractors.

By Bill Bartleman bbartleman@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

The U.S. Department of Energy wants more small contractors doing cleanup work at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant as part of a plan that apparently includes replacing Bechtel Jacobs as the oversight cleanup contractor.

Although DOE has not given Bechtel Jacobs official notification, those close to the cleanup operation say they have been hearing speculation for several months that DOE plans changes.

Bechtel Jacobs' five-year contract expires Sept. 30. DOE could extend it annually for up to five years, extend it until 2008 or cancel it and seek proposals for a new contractor.

Mark Donham, former chairman of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant citizensí advisory committee, said he has heard that the contract might be extended for up to a year while DOE searches for a new contractor.

DOE officials have expressed concern in the past that cleanup work at Paducah is going too slowly. The government has already spent more than $1 billion at the Paducah plant, and most has been to manage existing waste and study ways to eliminate the sources of contamination.

Ken Wheeler, chairman of a local task force that is working to preserve the plant, said the philosophy in hiring small contractors is that they would be more efficient than larger firms that work at several DOE sites.

"Government is always encouraged to deal with small businesses, rather than giant corporations," Wheeler said. "The theory is that smaller contractors that are technically capable of doing the work are more focused than large companies working at a large number of sites."

Like others, Wheeler said he has been hearing speculation of pending changes for several months but hasn't been told anything official by DOE.

DOE would not comment. "We will not discuss contract issues until we have something to announce," said Walter Perry, DOE spokesman in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

DOE officials in Washington have not responded to a request made by the Sun last week for an interview with Jessie Roberson, DOE assistant secretary in charge of cleanup at DOE sites.

DOE's current contract with Bechtel Jacobs covers cleanup work in Paducah, Portsmouth, Ohio, and Oak Ridge, Tenn. Another indication that changes are planned is that DOE is negotiating a five-year contract with Bechtel Jacobs covering work in Oak Ridge. Those negotiations do not include work in Paducah and Portsmouth, Ohio.

Roberson has said the new contract in Oak Ridge will require Bechtel Jacobs to place emphasis on hiring small businesses to do much of the cleanup work. Also, she said the new contract would include performance measures to document that progress is being made to clean contamination from DOE sites.

The lack of progress in cleanup at Paducah has been a concern of U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, who has said that more money is being spent "managing" waste that removing it. Of the more than $1 billion spent on Paducah, more than 75 percent has been spent on managing waste to keep it from causing additional environmental problems.

Donham, meanwhile, said he doesn't know if hiring another contractor would improve the cleanup progress. "When Bechtel Jacobs replaced Lockheed Martin (in 1998), I didn't see a huge difference in the way they handled things," Donham said.

He said Bechtel Jacobs people who hired worked Lockheed.

Donham said he is not surprised that DOE is considering a change. He said the only noticeable progress made by Bechtel Jacobs in five years has been the removal of a pile of metal containers and other waste known as drum mountain; testing cleanup procedures for eliminating groundwater contamination; and shipment of hazardous waste to disposal sites in other states.