Nuclear Security:

NNSA Needs to Better Manage Its Safeguards and Security Program

GAO-03-471: Published: May 30, 2003. Publicly Released: Jun 24, 2003.

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The attacks of September 11, 2001, intensified long-standing concerns about the adequacy of safeguards and security at four nuclear weapons production sites and three national laboratories that design nuclear weapons--most of these facilities store plutonium and uranium in a variety of forms. These facilities can become targets for such actions as sabotage or theft. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)--a separately organized agency within DOE--are responsible for these facilities. NNSA plays a crucial role in managing the contractors operating many of these facilities to ensure that security activities are effective and in line with departmental policy. GAO reviewed how effectively NNSA manages its safeguards and security program, including how it oversees contractor security operations.

NNSA has not been fully effective in managing its safeguards and security program in four key areas. As a result, NNSA cannot be assured that its contractors are working to maximum advantage to protect critical facilities and material from individuals seeking to inflict damage. Defining clear roles and responsibilities: NNSA still has not fully defined clear roles and responsibilities for its headquarters and site operations. Assessing sites' security activities: Without a stable and effective management structure and with ongoing confusion about roles and responsibilities, inconsistencies have emerged among NNSA sites on how they assess contractors' security activities. Consequently, NNSA cannot be assured that all facilities are subject to the comprehensive annual assessments that DOE policy requires. Overseeing contractors' corrective actions: To compound the problems in conducting security assessments, NNSA contractors do not consistently conduct required analyses in preparing corrective action plans. As a result, potential opportunities to improve physical security at the sites are not maximized because corrective actions are developed without fully considering the problems' root causes, risks posed, or cost versus the benefit of taking corrective action. Allocating staff: NNSA has shortfalls at its site offices in the total number of staff and in expertise, which could make it more difficult for site offices to effectively oversee security activities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2003, Section 236 response, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) stated that it believed that its existing managed staffing plans would allow site managers to adjust their security workforce to support critical mission needs. However, a special report commissioned by NNSA in response to GAO's report which was entitled "Strengthening NNSA Security Expertise: An Independent Analysis," and was issued in March 2004, found, as GAO had, that the managed staffing plans were not adequate for professional development and training or transfer of expertise associated with personnel retirement or rotation. Consequently, in May 2004, the Secretary of Energy ordered NNSA to develop a Human Capital Management Plan for its security operations, and also directed the rest of the Department to develop similar plans for their security operations. On March 29, 2006, the Department of Energy completed a Strategic Human Capital Plan for FY 2006 - 20011. The plan includes succession planning that is designed to ensure that DOE has the workforce it needs. The transfer of expertise and the professional development of personnel throughout the Department's security operations is a key element of the plan.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the safeguards and security program of the nuclear weapons complex, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should develop and implement a plan to ensure that NNSA allocated safeguards and security staff so that it provides effective safeguards and security oversight over the long term.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) concurred with this recommendation and emphasized that corrective action plans must be prepared, implemented, and evaluated through resolution and that other required tools such as root-cause analysis and risk assessment can help establish causal effect. On April 23, 2003, NNSA issued a guidance letter that called for its contractors to fully comply with all existing DOE policies regarding corrective actions. The guidance also stated that if there are deviations from this policy contractors are required to document why these deviations occurred.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the safeguards and security program of the nuclear weapons complex, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should ensure that contractors' corrective action plans are prepared and documented consistently and are based on qualitative root-cause, risk assessment, and cost-benefit analyses, and that appropriate incentives are used to help motivate contractors toward effectively addressing findings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) concurred with this recommendation and emphasized that corrective action plans must be prepared, implemented, and evaluated through resolution, and that other required tools such as root-cause analysis and risk assessment can help establish causal effect. On April 23, 2003, NNSA issued a guidance letter that called for its contractors to fully comply with all existing DOE policies regarding corrective actions. The guidance also stated that if there are deviations from this policy contractors are required to document why these deviations occurred.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the safeguards and security program of the nuclear weapons complex, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should ensure that contractors' corrective action plans are prepared and documented consistently and are based on qualitative root-cause, risk assessment, and cost-benefit analyses, and that appropriate incentives are used to help motivate contractors toward effectively addressing findings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE revised its Safeguards and Security Program Planning and Management Manual (DOE M 470.4-1) in August 26, 2005. Section G of this manual requires all DOE and NNSA sites with Category I Special Nuclear Material to have comprehensive security surveys performed every 12 months. NNSA has directed that its sites perform security surveys according to DOE policies.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the safeguards and security program of the nuclear weapons complex, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should ensure that sites are performing oversight using a survey approach that provides an integrated comprehensive view of security conditions and is consistent with DOE orders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On April 23, 2003, a memo was sent to all the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) site managers from the Chief, Defense Nuclear Security, highlighting the requirements of DOE Order 470.1 and emphasizing the need for all surveys containing findings to identify corrective actions based on root cause analysis, risk assessments, and cost benefit analysis thereby providing a more comprehensive view of security conditions. In addition, in its September 2003, Section 236 response to GAO's report, NNSA agreed that all sites are required to conduct surveys under DOE Order 470.1. Finally, in April 2005, the Office of Defense Nuclear Security issued a Performance Assurance Program Guide that also emphasized the adherence to DOE orders, such as, DOE Order 470.1.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the safeguards and security program of the nuclear weapons complex, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should ensure that sites are performing oversight using a survey approach that provides an integrated comprehensive view of security conditions and is consistent with DOE orders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In their comments on GAO's report, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) security officials concurred with GAO's recommendation and agreed to formally establish safeguards and security responsibilities in 2003. On May 27, 2003, NNSA did so by issuing its "Safeguards and Security Functions, Responsibilities and Authorities Manual."

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the safeguards and security program of the nuclear weapons complex, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should formalize the roles and responsibilities of site offices and headquarters for conducting oversight.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In their comments on GAO's report, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) security officials concurred with GAO's recommendation and agreed to formally establish safeguards and security responsibilities in 2003. On May 27, 2003, NNSA did so by issuing its "Safeguards and Security Functions, Responsibilities and Authorities Manual."

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the safeguards and security program of the nuclear weapons complex, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should formalize the roles and responsibilities of site offices and headquarters for conducting oversight.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2003 Section 236 response, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) stated that it believed that its existing managed staffing plans would allow site managers to adjust their security workforce to support critical mission needs. However, a special report commissioned by NNSA in response to GAO's report which was entitled "Strengthening NNSA Security Expertise: An Independent Analysis," and was issued in March 2004, found, as GAO had, that the managed staffing plans were not adequate for professional development and training or transfer of expertise associated with personnel retirement or rotation. Consequently, in May 2004, the Secretary of Energy ordered NNSA to develop a Human Capital Management Plan for its security operations, and also directed the rest of the Department to develop similar plans for their security operations. On September 1, 2006 the National Nuclear Security Administration developed its Human Capital Management Strategic Plan. The plan highlights NNSA's strategies to address issues related to workforce succession planning and includes emphasis on professional development and training in security operations.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the safeguards and security program of the nuclear weapons complex, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should develop and implement a plan to ensure that NNSA allocated safeguards and security staff so that it provides effective safeguards and security oversight over the long term.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

 

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