Critical decision overview



DOE’s Order 413.3B outlines a series of staged project approvals, each of which is referred to as a “Critical Decision (CD)”. The system has many details and nuances, varies slightly depending on the scale of the project, and allows for tailoring of the entire process for any given project. The system is also applied throughout all of DOE, and the following is only a general and incomplete description from the perspective of Fermilab. For example, the list of items to be prepared for each CD is not complete.


For more detail on Order 413.3B, see the DOE website.

Critical Decision Descriptions

CD-0 – Approve Mission Need

What is the function of CD-0?

CD-0 documents that a mission need, such as a scientific goal or a new capability, requiring material investment exists. The mission need does not necessarily specify the facility, technology, or configuration of the project though these things are often described at some level.

What is a project expected to prepare for CD-0 approval?

  • Pre-conceptual plans focusing on strategic goals and objectives, safety planning, and design.

What impacts does CD-0 approval have on a project?

Project teams grow and work on R&D, prototyping, conceptual designs, management plans, and cost and schedule estimates. Typically the cost “meter” begins running for projects following CD-0 approval, i.e. costs incurred are deducted from the dedicated project budget.

CD-1 – Approve Alternative Selection and Cost Range

What is the function of CD-1?

CD-1 serves as a determination that the selected alternative and approach is optimized to meet the mission need defined at CD-0. Key elements of the evaluation are the project’s conceptual design, cost and schedule range, and general acquisition approach. The cost range allows for uncertainty in the estimates and scope options such as a range of capabilities.

What is a project expected to prepare for CD-1 approval?

  • An analysis demonstrating that the proposed alternative is the correct one.
  • A complete and independently reviewed conceptual design of a chosen alternative and associated cost and schedule range estimates. Typically the design is described in a Conceptual Design Report (CDR) and cost and schedule are supported by a resource loaded schedule and a collection of supporting information called “Basis of Estimate” (BOE) documents.
  • A funding profile (time phased funding plan) that is compatible with the project’s expected spending over time.
  • Management plans including an Acquisition Strategy, Preliminary Project Execution Plan, Preliminary Hazard Analysis Report, Quality Assurance, Risk Management Plan, and a Risk Assessment.
  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) strategy and determination, i.e. whether a formal environmental assessment or impact statement is appropriate.

What impacts does CD-1 approval have on a project?

CD-1 allows for release of Project Engineering and Design (PED) funds, if available, for large projects and may allow for long lead procurements if specifically approved. Projects begin the next phases of design (preliminary design and perhaps final design for some elements) and development of a detailed resource loaded schedule. R&D and prototyping continue.

CD-2 – Approve Performance Baseline

What is the function of CD-2?

CD-2 is an approval of the preliminary design of the project and the baseline scope, cost, and schedule. The baseline is the definitive plan that the project will be measured against using Earned Value metrics for cost and schedule and Key Performance Parameters (KPPs) for technical performance.

What is a project expected to prepare for CD-2 approval?

  • A complete and independently reviewed preliminary design with a definitive scope, cost, and schedule. Cost and schedule information is supported by a resource loaded schedule that is of a quality that lends itself to measuring Earned Value.
  • Update of the documents initially submitted at CD-1 such as the Acquisition Strategy and Project Execution Plan.
  • Demonstration that EVMS has been fully implemented through measuring performance against a fixed baseline, formally processing changes, analyzing cost and schedule variances, and producing the metrics required for DOE’s project reporting system (PARS-II).
  • Final Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).

What impacts does CD-2 approval have on a project?

CD-2 serves as an approval of the project’s plan and provides some additional justification for receiving timely funds, thereby avoiding funding induced performance problems. The project begins reporting Earned Value cost and schedule performance metrics to DOE.

CD-3 – Approve Start of Construction

What is the function of CD-3?

CD-3 is an approval of the project’s final design and authorizes release of funds for construction.

What is a project expected to prepare for CD-3 approval?

  • A complete and independently reviewed final design.
  • The definition of final design completion is not absolute and does not necessarily mean that all drawings are 100% complete, but design should be mature enough so that procurements and construction can begin. This may include completion of design verification tests of appropriate components.
  • Update of the documents submitted at CD-2.

What impacts does CD-3 approval have on a project?

CD-3 allows for release of construction funds so projects can proceed with construction related activities and procurements.

CD-4 – Approve Start of Operations or Project Completion

What is the function of CD-4?

CD-4 provides recognition that the project’s objectives have been met.

What is a project expected to prepare for CD-4 approval?

  • Evidence that all KPPs, which serve as the criteria for technical success, have been met.
  • Lessons learned, both successes and opportunities for improvement.
  • A transition to operations plan.

What impacts does CD-4 approval have on a project?

CD-4 allows for transition into operations and formal closeout of the project including all project accounts.

Tailored CDs

One common method of tailoring the process is by combining or splitting CDs. For example, a CD-3A could allow long lead procurements or construction start for specific items that are critical to the schedule and whose designs are complete. CD-3B,C, etc. could follow later when designs for other project subsystems are complete.

CD-2/3 refers to a combined CD-2 and CD-3, where both are reviewed and approved simultaneously.