Research Projects



GAO: Fusion Energy: Actions Needed to Finalize Cost and Schedule Estimates for U.S. Contributions to an International Experimental Reactor

June 2015

Since the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Agreement was signed in 2006, the Department of Energy's (DOE) estimated cost for the U.S. portion of ITER has grown by almost $3 billion, and its estimated completion date has slipped by 20 years.

DOE has taken several actions that have reduced U.S. ITER Project costs by about $388 million as of February 2014, but DOE has not adequately planned for the potential impact of those costs on the overall U.S. fusion program. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have directed DOE to complete a strategic plan for the U.S. fusion program. Without a strategic plan for the U.S. fusion program, DOE does not have information to create an understanding among stakeholders about its plans for balancing the competing demands the program faces with the limited available resources or to help improve Congress' ability to weigh the trade-offs of different funding decisions for the U.S. ITER Project and overall U.S. fusion program. Report


GAO: Electricity Generation Projects: Additional Data Could Improve Understanding of the Effectiveness of Tax Expenditures

April 2015

Federal financial supports aided the development of new projects, but limited data hinder an understanding of the effectiveness of tax expenditures. From fiscal year 2004 through 2013, programs at the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Energy (DOE), and the Treasury (Treasury) provided supports including outlays, loan programs, and tax expenditures.

Tax expenditures accounted for an estimated $13.7 billion in forgone revenue to the federal government for renewable projects and $1.4 billion for traditional projects. The two largest tax expenditures GAO examined—the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and the Production Tax Credit (PTC)—supported renewable projects and accounted for $11.5 billion in forgone revenue. However, the total generating capacity they supported is unknown because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not required to collect project-level data from all taxpayers claiming the ITC or report the data it does collect, nor is it required to collect project-level data for the PTC. IRS officials stated that IRS is unlikely to collect additional data on these tax credits unless it is directed to do so. Since 1994, GAO has encouraged greater scrutiny of tax expenditures, including data collection. Without project-level data on the ITC and PTC, Congress cannot evaluate their effectiveness as it considers whether to reauthorize or extend them. Report.

Media Coverage

Green Tech Media: US Solar Electricity Production 50% Higher Than Previously Thought




GAO: America Competes Act: Overall Appropriations Have Increased and Have Mainly Funded Existing Federal Research Entities

June 2013

In fiscal years 2008-2012, $52.4 billion was appropriated out of the $62.2 billion authorized under the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act of 2007 (COMPETES 2007) and the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (COMPETES 2010). Almost all of these funds went to the entire budgets of three existing research entities--the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science (Science)--including all of the programs and activities the entities carry out. Appropriations for NSF, NIST, and Science generally increased under the acts but did not reach levels authorized by the acts. Report




GAO: Better Information Needed to Determine If Nonmajor Projects Meet Performance Targets 

December 2012

As of February 2011, EM and NNSA remained on GAO’s high-risk list for contracting and project management. These two offices manage numerous construction and cleanup projects that each cost less than $750 million and are called nonmajor projects. 

27 projects had insufficiently documented performance targets for scope, cost, or completion date, which prevented GAO from determining whether they met their performance targets. EM and NNSA often did not follow DOE requirements for documenting these performance targets, making it more difficult for GAO and DOE to independently assess project performance. Report

Media Coverage

Fed Week: Energy Needs Better Data to Determine if Projects Meet Performance Targets