Department of Energy:

Mission Support Challenges Remain at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories

GAO-04-370: Published: Feb 27, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 2004.

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The University of California (University) operates the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The two research laboratories, with a combined fiscal year 2003 budget of $2.3 billion, have had problems in such mission support areas as managing projects, conducting business operations, and ensuring safe nuclear operations. GAO was asked to describe the actions taken to address mission support problems identified in 2001, as well as problems that have since emerged, and to assess the main challenges to sustaining mission support improvements.

For the three mission support areas with problems as of 2001--managing construction and other major projects, maintaining and managing existing facilities, and ensuring safe operations of nuclear facilities--actions are basically complete in the first two areas but not in the third. For all three areas, NNSA incorporated new requirements into the contracts, developed new performance measures, and increased its oversight. The University of California has strengthened oversight of the laboratories by, among other things, establishing a new position of vice president for laboratory management. The laboratories will not fully comply with new requirements for providing a safety analysis of each nuclear facility until mid-2005. The actions taken by NNSA and the University to correct problems in project, facilities, and nuclear safety management were not systemic enough to keep problems from developing in other mission support areas after 2001. At the Los Alamos laboratory, emerging problems centered on business operations, including inadequate controls over procurement, purchase cards, and property management. The laboratory now has extensive corrective actions underway and expects to have most of the new measures in place by the end of 2005. At the Lawrence Livermore laboratory, the problems centered on emergency planning and preparedness, in that the laboratory had made little progress in developing an emergency management program that complied with NNSA requirements. The laboratory has taken steps over the past 2 years to improve in this area, and NNSA now estimates that the laboratory will have an approved emergency management program by the end of fiscal year 2004. NNSA and the University face three main challenges to sustaining improvements in mission support performance over the long term. The first challenge is for the laboratories to ensure that actions taken to address mission support problems translate into effective performance of mission support activities. A past lack of emphasis on mission support activities was a major factor when problems surfaced, particularly at the Los Alamos laboratory. Ensuring that mission support activities are effective will require sustained leadership, resources, and effective internal controls. The second challenge is ensuring appropriate and effective oversight of mission support activities, which has been inadequate in the past. In particular, a draft NNSA policy that calls for relying primarily on contractors' management controls raises concerns about the future adequacy of NNSA oversight. The third challenge is ensuring that the laboratories follow best practices in developing any future improvement initiatives. In its efforts to improve business systems, the Los Alamos laboratory did not follow best business practices for managing such improvements. Not doing so lessens the laboratory's ability to ensure that the efforts will achieve the desired results.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NNSA's draft line oversight and contractor assurance system policy increases the emphasis on contractor accountability for internal controls and mission support activities. The policy also stresses NNSA's continued responsibilities for effective oversight to ensure protection of workers, the environment, and public safety. In addition, NNSA issued a new policy letter in April 2005 that outlines the responsibilities of NNSA headquarters and field employees for oversight and evaluation of contractor performance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the Administrator of NNSA to ensure that as NNSA implements its proposed oversight and contractor assurance policy at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, NNSA retains sufficient independent federal oversight of mission support activities to fulfill its responsibilities associated with protecting public resources and safety.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NNSA has increased its emphasis on the effectiveness of contractor mission support activities through its draft line oversight and contractor assurance system policy. NNSA also included in the fiscal year 2005 performance measures for both the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories additional requirements for mission support activities and increased accountability for effective mission support and internal controls.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the Administrator of NNSA to ensure that NNSA performance assessments at the laboratories include evaluations of the adequacy of leadership, resources, and internal controls associated with mission support activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NNSA has increased its emphasis on the effectiveness of contractor mission support activities through its draft line oversight and contractor assurance system policy. NNSA also included in the fiscal year 2005 performance measures for both the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories additional requirements for mission support activities. In addition, the request for proposals for the new contract to manage the Los Alamos National Laboratory includes requirements for oversight and continuous improvement in operations or mission support.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the Administrator of NNSA to ensure through contract and other management mechanisms that the University of California and any future contractor managing Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories provide leadership, resources, and oversight to ensure effective mission support activities, including evaluating the impact of improvement actions on performance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NNSA included in the fiscal year 2005 performance measures for both the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories requirements to achieve continuous improvement in mission support activities. As part of these performance measures, NNSA specified that, for the contractor to achieve an outstanding performance rating in the area of operations evaluation and improvement, the contractor should have a fact-based systematic evaluation and improvement process in place to identify problems and take corrective action. This is consistent with DOE Notice 125.1.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the Administrator of NNSA to include in its contract with the University of California and any future contractor at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories a requirement that major improvement initiatives be managed consistent with the best practices of high-performing organizations, as defined in DOE Notice 125.1.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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