HAB Under Fire

Have you heard about the HAB?  The Hanford Advisory Board (HAB, Board) is a 31 seat Federal Advisory Commission Act (FACA) board of interests that advises the Tri-Party Agencies (Dept. of Energy (DOE), EPA, and WA Dept. of Ecology) about Hanford cleanup.  The Board writes consensus based policy-level advice through a long process involving groups of “issue managers” who monitor issues of concern for the various committees on the Board.  There are monthly committee meetings and phone calls and five large board meetings a year where the advice is finalized through the consensus process.  The HAB committees are the River and Plateau Committee; Tank Waste Committee; Health, Safety and Environmental Protection Committee; Budgets and Contracts Committee; and the Public Involvement Committee, each of which has a chair and vice chair who make up the Executive Issues Committee.  Sounds fun doesn’t it?  Actually, it is.

The Board is comprised of members with a range of backgrounds and expertise.  It is able to tackle technical issues to pull out policy level concerns, draw on the extensive history and experience Board members bring to the table, and leverage great working relationships with TPA agency staff to have informative and meaningful conversations about cleanup issues.  These conversations are often referenced as being equally as important for the Agencies in setting cleanup policy as the advice the Board brings forward.

So far, the Board has functioned so that each seat has a primary member and an alternate.  Some seats have had permission to have more than one alternate on a case-by-case basis.  The primary and alternates may each serve on up to two committees not including the Public Involvement committee.  This enables the Board to cover a significant amount of ground as documents are released and need to be reviewed.  Hanford cleanup involves A LOT of documents so the more people able to review them, the better.   Each year the Board has asked for the DOE headquarters office to waive the term-limit restrictions for each seat so that Board members may continue to serve.

Institutional memory is a critical factor when it comes to Hanford.  Board members that bring decades of experience and knowledge about Hanford to discussions add immeasurable value to the Board’s ability to ask questions, provide insights and information, and write meaningful, effective advice.  Recently there has been a move to start imposing term limits on two of the seats on the HAB, the Public-at-Large seats and the Non-Union, Non-Management seats.

At the September 2012 Board meeting, the Hanford Advisory Board (HAB) responded to a recommendation by the Department of Energy’s Headquarters office (DOE HQ) to impose six year term limits on the public-at-large and non-union, non-management seats by passing advice opposing this recommendation.   The reasoning provided by DOE HQ, was that this action was being taken to increase the Board’s age, gender, ethnic, and racial diversity.

I agree that the Board would benefit from more diversity of this nature.  However, using term-limits is the wrong approach.  The Board offered in its advice that the TPA agencies work with the Board to find solutions to increase diversity instead of imposing term-limits.

Many Board members commented that they suspect the diversity argument is cover for the real reason these changes are being proposed, to get trouble-makers out of the way and make the Board less effective.  This is probably a bit harsh, but holds a grain of truth.  Implementing the term-limits for these seats would result in many of the more diverse and most active and long-standing Board members being cycled out of the Board entirely which would be a huge blow to the Board’s institutional memory and would contradict the asserted goal of increasing diversity.

The Board is known among the other FACA boards around the country as being a model board.  The HAB is the hub of public involvement for Hanford cleanup with board members disseminating information gained through board meetings with members of their communities, and as advocates for open and transparent public meetings, information sharing, and input seeking.  Why undermine such a stellar process that also provides such a valuable foundation for Hanford public involvement efforts around the region?

Another approach to the “decide, announce defend” path is collaboration and working together.  Truly collaborating to find solutions that work for all involved stakeholders generally leads to results that are supported by everyone.   It is a win-win.  Is DOE HQ really ready to work with and support the HAB to find solutions that will succeed?

We are waiting to see HQ’s next move, and want to remind them, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

By: Liz Mattson

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