The Department of Energy (DoE) could improve how it manages its fraud, waste, and abuse practices by improving access to the data used by the agency and its contractors for data analysis, as well as using all tools available to keep the department’s research secure, according to a Nov. 26 DoE Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report.

The report, which detailed management challenges the agency faces, called the lack of data visibility and need to protect researchers’ intellectual property (IP) “cross-cutting challenges” for the agency and also gave a look at DoE’s progress on developing and deploying artificial intelligence (AI).

“As the largest civilian contracting agency in the Federal government, the Department of Energy spends approximately 90 percent of its annual budget on contracts to operate its scientific laboratories, engineering and production facilities, and environmental restoration sites,” the report says.

“Due to department’s reliance on contractors to execute much of its mission, we continue focusing on cross-cutting management challenges to modernize and improve department oversight of its contractors,” the report continues. “Realizing improvements within these areas will help protect the department from fraud, waste, and abuse.”

The IG’s report notes that DoE is currently having trouble implementing its Fraud and Risk Data Analytics Framework as a result of limited oversight, lack of resources, and lack of personnel trained in data analytics. The IG also said the agency needs to understand which data systems are being used by the agency and its contractors and gain access to that data before deciding how to assess and analyze the data.

OIG also noted that its office is using more data analytics than ever before to support its own mission.

“Over the past three years, we have developed and implemented a data analytics function focusing on two initial goals: (1) to identify and directly access relevant department and contractor systems, and (2) to analyze high-risk areas such as labor, pay, grants, subcontracts, and contract charges,” OIG writes.

Beyond data analytics, the research-heavy nature of DoE means that the agency, its labs, and its partners are all potential targets of IP theft. OIG warns of the target on DoE’s back and advises it to use all available tools at its disposal to combat such theft.

“The department’s prominent role in advanced research and development across multiple scientific disciplines, combined with its key role in nuclear weapons development, makes it particularly attractive to theft from adversaries of the U.S. government, the report says. “Due to the economic and scientific value of the research and intellectual property developed within the department, foreign governments and their proxies intensified their efforts to extract information from our institutions.”

As far as how the DoE’s Office of Science and Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office are doing in developing and deploying AI, OIG says the efforts, thus far, have been largely uncoordinated. This lack of coordination has led to investment in AI constantly competing with other priorities like quantum development.

“Realizing the department goal of AI leadership will require cross-cutting and enterprise-wide efforts with contributions from diverse elements such as: the Office of Science; the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response; the Office of the Chief Information Officer; department national laboratories; and, among others, NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration),” OIG wrote. “Achieving success in such a collaborative effort is inherently challenging given the scope of the subject matter and the manner in which the department conventionally operates.”

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.