Forrestal Building, Washington DC (copy) (copy) (copy)

The James Forrestal Building, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C.

Citing a notable decline in potential funding, U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee leadership recently asked a federal watchdog to examine the Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management's science and technology development efforts as well as how new remediation methods are adopted.

"DOE's Office of Environmental Management (EM) is responsible for most of the Department's cleanup activities and faces an environmental liability of $377 billion as of fiscal year 2018," wrote Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the committee chairwoman, and Frank Lucas, the ranking member, in a March 25 letter.

"The National Academies found that while" science and technology development "can increase the efficiency and reduce future costs of cleanup, this has been a diminishing priority for EM," the Texas Democrat and Oklahoma Republican continued.

Both the Savannah River Site, overseen by Environmental Management, and the Savannah River National Laboratory, Environmental Management's lead lab, are mentioned in the three-page request sent to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The Savannah River Site – south of Aiken and neighboring New Ellenton and Jackson – is home to metric tons of plutonium as well as more than 30 million gallons of radioactive waste, stored in aging, underground tanks. Handling and processing that liquid waste falls to Amentum-led Savannah River Remediation, a contractor.

The Government Accountability Office last year described tank waste as "particularly costly and complicated to treat."

"Several remaining sites – including Hanford, Savannah River and Idaho – pose particularly complex cleanup challenges for EM," Johnson and Lucas wrote.

The two asked the Government Accountability Office, among other things, to look at what "challenges, if any, does EM face in developing and adopting new remediation technologies" and if there are any incentives for implementation.

Nonmilitary research and development is under the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Rep. Ralph Norman, a South Carolina Republican representing the state's 5th Congressional District, is a member of the committee.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin