Contractor assurance: the DOE perspective

Michael Weis

Michael Weis, DOE Fermi Site Office manager, wrote this column.

What is all this talk about CAS? The Department of Energy Fermi Site Office, Fermi Research Alliance and Fermilab have worked together over the past four years to try to become more efficient and effective in our respective oversight processes to maximize science delivery through the use of a contractor assurance system (CAS) model. FSO has the independent oversight responsibility to ensure the Fermilab science mission is performed safely, securely and efficiently and within the terms of the contract with Fermi Research Alliance. We hold the lab to very high standards because the safest, most efficient lab is the most productive.

Beginning in 2010, the DOE Office of Science (SC) began to shift from a transactional, compliance-based oversight model to one that is centered on an analytical assessment of laboratory contractor assurance systems. The objective of CAS is to put strong laboratory management systems in place that generate relevant and reliable performance information that can be independently analyzed and confirmed. The belief is that CAS reinforces contractor accountability, eliminates duplicative work and focuses the federal role on performance evaluation.

DOE must “trust but verify” that the labs’ systems are capable of identifying potential problems before they happen. The CAS model replaces an audit-driven checklist mentality. The model helps define DOE expectations and allows the local DOE site office to focus on activity-based observation, contractor CAS data reviews through systems such as FermiDash, and confirmatory assessments as necessary.

The SC community has completed peer reviews of CAS systems at each of the national laboratories over the last few years and determined that the labs’ CAS systems are in varying stages of maturity. The SC community disseminated lessons learned, and a series of activities are under way to institutionalize CAS across the SC laboratory complex and to build a continuous learning culture into the processes.

DOE is still transitioning and will continue to advocate for a performance-based approach to oversight, embracing operational verification and promulgating this approach and expectation to federal staff. Laboratory site offices continue to have an important role in overseeing lab operations, but that role will need to change as the Fermilab CAS matures. We look forward to working with FRA and Fermilab on our continuing journey to build a stronger partnership and better CAS. Fermilab is one of this nation’s most precious resources, and we have a personal responsibility directly to the American public for its safe and effective operation. The primary tool we use to achieve our mutual goals is the strong, trusting partnership.