Did a Misplaced Glove Cause Nuke Waste Dump Fire?

By Bob Brewin // July 25, 2014

Thomas Herbert/AP

A glove accidentally left in a drum of nuclear waste may have been responsible for rupturing the container leading to the spewing of radiation in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in February.

That’s according to a new report this week filed by Patrick Malone of the Santa Fe New Mexican

Nan Sauer, associate director for chemistry, life and Earth sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory, told the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee the container “held a volatile mix: a lead-laden glove, highly acidic waste, organic kitty litter and trace metal residue,” which ripped open the container stored in the WIPP – the country’s only storage site for waste generated during the development of nuclear weapons.  

Ryan Flynn, secretary for the New Mexico Environment Department, said “these were materials that were mixed that should not have been mixed together.”

In May, the department theorized the use of organic rather than ordinary cat litter – which is used to help neutralize the contents of the waste drums – may have caused the rupture. 

No New VA Patient Scheduling System Until 2016

By Bob Brewin // July 24, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs in Phoenix
The Department of Veterans Affairs in Phoenix // Matt York/AP

The Department of Veterans Affairs will not field a new patient scheduling system to replace its existing system until 2016, Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told a House VA committee hearing today.

Gibson said the time line for procurement of the new scheduling system is a “bit up in the air” as VA works out its planned procurement strategy. The current system was fielded in 2002. 

Ryan Gallucci, the deputy legislative director for the national veterans service at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in his testimony the outdated appointment scheduling and tracking technology is “central” to the current patient wait time crisis. 

He said: “VA’s appointment-scheduling software has not changed much over the years -- except for the occasional patches and workarounds designed to gather new information. Moreover, VA’s systems that track incoming patients and specialty consults are only loosely linked to the scheduling system, meaning VA scheduling is rife with inaccuracies, allowing patients to easily slip through the cracks.

“VA has asked repeatedly for a new scheduling system, but IT funding shortfalls have made it nearly impossible to take the major steps of replacing a systemwide software platform."

McDonald Will Apply West Point Honor Code, Prayer to His VA Leadership

By Bob Brewin // July 23, 2014

spirit of america/

Robert McDonald, former Procter & Gamble chairman, chief executive and president who graduated from West Point in 1975 and then served with the 82nd Airborne division for five years before joining P&G in 1980, yesterday told the Senate VA committee hearing that applying the West Point Honor Code and Prayer could go a long way toward resolving the falsehoods that have long plagued the department’s patient scheduling and disability systems.

The Honor Code simply states, “a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do,” a practice he would like to institute at VA, McDonald said in his oral testimony.

In his written testimony, McDonald said he is also guided by a key sentence in the West Point Cadet Prayer, which if applied to VA management could produce the cultural change the troubled department needs. It “encourages us to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong.”

McDonald also emphasized: “My values are steeped in my experiences at West Point and in the military. Those values are what allowed me to be an effective leader at Procter & Gamble – and those values are what I will bring to the management of the VA.”

(Image via spirit ...

VA Still Mulling Timeline for New Scheduling System

By Bob Brewin // Government Executive // July 22, 2014

Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson // Jose Luis Magana/AP File Photo

Last month, acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said development of a new scheduling system would help move veterans out of the waiting-list limbo that delayed vets’ medical care across the country and contributed to the resignation of Eric Shinseki as VA Secretary.

“Our top priority is getting veterans off wait lists and in to see their doctors … We need lasting, long-term reforms, including a complete overhaul to replace the outdated technology for our scheduling system,” Gibson said June 18.

More than a month has passed since Gibson called for that overhaul, and VA spokeswoman Jo Schuda told me today the VA information technology staff is still mulling how to proceed. “OIT (Office of Information and Technology) says VA is still determining what acquisition route to pursue and a potential date,” she said.

After a decision is made and VA acquires a new scheduling system to replace the Electronic Wait List system, which was first deployed in 2002, VA will roll it out incrementally across its health-care regions, according to presentations made to industry June 18.

Steve Green, a program manager in the VA OIT, told industry-day attendees VA will first field-test the new scheduling system in small, medium and ...

Bonusland: Nuke Waste Dump Contractor Awarded $1.9M after Fire

By Bob Brewin // July 21, 2014

Firefighters practice responding to a simulated incident involving a WIPP shipment during an exercise.
Firefighters practice responding to a simulated incident involving a WIPP shipment during an exercise. // Energy Department

Put this in the strange but true department: This February, the Energy Department awarded Nuclear Waste Partnership--which operates the country’s only underground nuclear waste dump--a $1.9 million performance bonus for excellent work five days after a mining truck caught fire in the facility, the Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday in a story by Lauren Villagran.

The Nuclear Waste Partnership is a joint venture of URS Corp., the B&W Technical Services Group division of Babcock & Wilcox and AREVA Federal Services, owned by the government of France.

The bonus was paid Feb. 14, just before a radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which stores 3.2 million cubic feet of plutonium-contaminated waste generated during the development and manufacturing of nuclear weapons by the Defense Department. The waste is stored in caverns carved out of salt 2,150 feet underground. WIPP has been closed since the fire and leak and may not accept any additional waste for storage for three years pending cleanup.

Following the yearlong safety and maintenance problems at WIPP, the bonus “looks to some like insult atop injury,” the Journal said, though the award was for work performed in 2013.

The Journal observed, since this year ...