Defense Infrastructure:

NORAD and USNORTHCOM Need to Reevaluate Vulnerabilities Associated with Moving the NORAD Command Center from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson Air Force Base, and to Acknowledge Acceptance of the Risks

GAO-08-1054R: Published: Sep 18, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 18, 2008.

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In July 2006, the former Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) announced plans to relocate certain functions from Cheyenne Mountain to create an integrated command center in Building 2 at Peterson Air Force Base (AFB), Colorado. In May 2007, we reported that NORAD and USNORTHCOM had not analyzed the anticipated operational effects--both positive and negative--of the relocation, and that the Department of Defense (DOD) could not discern the full costs or security implications of the move until ongoing security assessments had been completed and a protection level designated for the integrated command center. We suggested that Congress should consider restricting DOD's authority to fund the relocation until all security analyses were complete, the full costs for the move were determined, and DOD provided Congress with an analysis of the operational effects of the proposed realignments. As a result, in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (hereinafter referred to as the Act), Congress directed the Secretary of Defense to submit a report by March 1, 2008, assessing the relocation of the NORAD Command Center and related functions from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson AFB. The Act required the report to contain (1) an analysis comparing the total costs associated with the relocation, including costs determined as part of ongoing security-related studies of the relocation, to anticipated operational benefits from the relocation; (2) a detailed explanation of the backup functions that will remain located at Cheyenne Mountain, and how those functions will maintain operational connectivity with their related commands; (3) the final plans for the relocation of the NORAD Command Center and related functions; and (4) the findings and recommendations resulting from the independent security and vulnerability assessment of Peterson AFB, including the Secretary of Defense's plans for mitigating any security and vulnerability risks identif ied and estimates for associated costs and scheduling. The Act mandated that we review DOD's report and the final plans for the relocation, and that we report to Congress within 120 days. On March 3, 2008, DOD submitted its report to Congress. DOD's report included a cost-benefit analysis comparing the following three alternatives: Status quo--retain separate command centers at Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson AFB. Establish a combined and integrated command center at Peterson AFB with reach-back capability to the computer systems at Cheyenne Mountain. Establish a combined command center at Peterson AFB that duplicates the systems at Cheyenne Mountain.

DOD's report to Congress neither recognized the uncertainty of benefit scoring of the three options it analyzed for the planned relocation of certain functions from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson AFB, Colorado, nor included a sensitivity analysis for the benefits used in calculating the cost-benefit ratio for the options. The scoring of the benefit factors was based on functional managers' subjective estimates of the factors' relative importance and fulfillment of requirements. However, DOD's cost-benefit analysis did not recognize the uncertainty of the benefits. Moreover, although Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance calls for the performance of a sensitivity analysis of key sources of uncertainty, such as, in this case, the subjective scoring of benefits, there is no indication that DOD performed such an analysis regarding either costs or benefits, and we found that a slight change in the benefit scores could significantly change the outcome as measured by the cost-benefit ratio. For example, raising the benefit score for the status quo by just 5 percent--a change that, in our opinion, falls within the margin of imprecision for a subjective judgment--would cause the status quo to become the preferred option. In addition, based on the limited cost information in DOD's report to Congress, it is unclear how sensitive DOD's cost estimates are to different assumptions. DOD is proceeding with its plans to relocate the NORAD Command Center and other functions from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson AFB and, according to DOD officials, operations at the combined command center had begun by May 29, 2008. However, our review of DOD's report to Congress showed that it did not recognize the uncertainty of benefit scoring or include a sensitivity analysis, thus rendering its comparison of alternatives subject to very different outcomes with only slight changes to subjectively estimated benefit scores. Furthermore, DOD's report did not include certain key threats, which we identified in the classified version of this report, and it understated the security issues surrounding the relocation, as detailed in the SEA.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD reported that, as of July 23, 2009, all major security and vulnerability assessments of the NORAD and USNORTHCOM Headquarters, Command Center, and supporting infrastructure for critical missions were complete. The commands have conducted a thorough assessment of the identified vulnerabilities and recommendations, and implemented mitigation and action plans to address the risk. On May 19, 2009, NORAD and USNORTHCOM briefed Congressional staffers on the results on these assessments, mitigation measures planned and implemented, and project costs. The results and recommendations fell into seven major categories. Overall, the commands assessed the risks to Peterson AFB and Cheyenne Mountain to be low due to redundant capabilities, mission devolution, and ongoing mitigation efforts.

    Recommendation: To help mitigate the security and vulnerability risks identified in, and incorporate certain key threats excluded from, the Air Force Space Command's security assessment, the Secretary of Defense should, through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, direct the Commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM to reevaluate the full spectrum of security vulnerabilities associated with moving the NORAD Command Center and related functions from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson AFB.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD reported that, as of December 18, 2008, the Commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM understands and fully acknowledges the risks associated with the NORAD and USNORTHCOM Command Center (N2C2) and implemented additional security measures since the May 2007 Sandia National Laboratories security analysis to address these risks. The Commander understands risk is an inherent element of command and continues to aggressively work on all outstanding Protection Level-1 requirements for the N2C2.

    Recommendation: To help mitigate the security and vulnerability risks identified in, and incorporate certain key threats excluded from, the Air Force Space Command's security assessment, the Secretary of Defense should, through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, direct the Commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM to certify that he is fully aware of all the risks associated with moving the NORAD Command Center and related functions from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson AFB, and accepts those risks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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