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A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has found that though the Department of Energy has made good progress in re-establishing a domestic capability for providing NASA with Plutonium-238 as a nuclear power source for its deep space missions, the management of the program has continuing problems.
The report’s [pdf] introduction described the issues so vaguely I was left somewhat baffled. Here’s just part of it:
Moreover, while DOE has adopted a new approach for managing the Supply Project and RPS production—based on a constant production approach—the agency has not developed an implementation plan that identifies milestones and interim steps that can be used to demonstrate progress in meeting production goals and addressing previously identified challenges. GAO’s prior work shows that plans that include milestones and interim steps help an agency to set priorities, use resources efficiently, and monitor progress in achieving agency goals. By developing a plan with milestones and interim steps for DOE’s approach to managing Pu-238 and RPS production, DOE can show progress in implementing its approach and make adjustments when necessary. Lastly, DOE’s new approach to managing the Supply Project does not improve its ability to assess the potential long-term effects of challenges DOE identified, such as chemical processing and reactor availability, or to communicate these effects to NASA.
It sounds like DOE has taken a very lax approach to getting this done, and the GAO is noting this, but doing so in as gentle a way as possible.