Nuclear Detection:

Preliminary Observations on the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office's Efforts to Develop a Global Nuclear Detection Architecture

GAO-08-999T: Published: Jul 16, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 2008.

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In April 2005, a Presidential Directive established the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) within the Department of Homeland Security to enhance and coordinate federal, state, and local efforts to combat nuclear smuggling domestically and abroad. DNDO was directed to develop, in coordination with the departments of Defense (DOD), Energy (DOE), and State (State), an enhanced global nuclear detection architecture--an integrated system of radiation detection equipment and interdiction activities. DNDO implements the domestic portion of the architecture, while DOD, DOE, and State are responsible for related programs outside the U.S. This testimony provides preliminary observations based on ongoing work addressing (1) the status of DNDO's efforts to develop a global nuclear detection architecture, (2) the challenges DNDO and other federal agencies face in implementing the architecture, and (3) the costs of the programs that constitute the architecture. This statement draws on prior GAO reviews of programs constituting the architecture, and GAO's work on strategic planning

According to GAO's preliminary work to date, DNDO has taken steps to develop a global nuclear detection architecture but lacks an overarching strategic plan to help guide how it will achieve a more comprehensive architecture. Specifically, DNDO has developed an initial architecture after coordinating with DOD, DOE, and State to identify 74 federal programs that combat smuggling of nuclear or radiological material. DNDO has also identified gaps in the architecture, such as land border crossings into the United States between formal points of entry, small maritime vessels, and international general aviation. Although DNDO has started to develop programs to address these gaps, it has not yet developed an overarching strategic plan to guide its transition from the initial architecture to a more comprehensive architecture. For example, such a plan would define across the entire architecture how DNDO would achieve and monitor its goal of detecting the movement of radiological and nuclear materials through potential smuggling routes, such as small maritime craft or land borders in between points of entry. The plan would also define the steps and resources needed to achieve a more comprehensive architecture and provide metrics for measuring progress toward goals. DNDO and other federal agencies face a number of coordination, technological, and management challenges. First, prior GAO reports have demonstrated that U.S.-funded radiological detection programs overseas have proven problematic to implement and sustain and have not been effectively coordinated, although there have been some improvements in this area. Second, detection technology has limitations and cannot detect and identify all radiological and nuclear materials. For example, smugglers may be able to effectively mask or shield radiological materials so that it evades detection. Third, DNDO faces challenges in managing implementation of the architecture. DNDO has been charged with developing an architecture that depends on programs implemented by other agencies. This responsibility poses a challenge for DNDO in ensuring that the individual programs within the global architecture are effectively integrated and coordinated to maximize the detection and interdiction of radiological or nuclear material. According to DNDO, approximately $2.8 billion was budgeted in fiscal year 2007 for the 74 programs included in the global nuclear detection architecture. Of this $2.8 billion, $1.1 billion was budgeted for programs to combat nuclear smuggling internationally; $220 million was devoted to programs to support the detection of radiological and nuclear material at the U.S. border; $900 million funded security and detection activities within the United States; and approximately $575 million was used to fund a number of cross-cutting activities. The future costs for DNDO and other federal agencies to address the gaps identified in the initial architecture are not yet known or included in these amounts.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Energy, and the Secretary of State, should develop a strategic plan to guide the development of a more comprehensive global nuclear detection architecture. Such a plan should (1) clearly define objectives to be accomplished, (2) identify the roles and responsibilities for meeting each objective, (3) identify the funding necessary to achieve those objectives, and (4) employ monitoring mechanisms to determine programmatic progress and identify needed improvements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our July 2008 testimony (GAO-08-999T) on preliminary observations on the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office's (DNDO) efforts to develop a global nuclear detection architecture (GNDA), we found that DNDO had taken steps to develop a GNDA but lacked an overarching strategic plan to help guide how it would achieve a more comprehensive architecture. While DNDO had identified gaps in the architecture, such as land border crossings into the United States between formal points of entry, small maritime vessels, and international general aviation, and had started to develop programs to address these gaps, it had not yet developed an overarching strategic plan to guide its transition from the initial architecture to a more comprehensive GNDA. GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretaries of Defense, Energy, and State develop a strategic plan to guide the development of a more comprehensive GNDA, and that such a plan clearly define objectives, roles, and responsibilities of agencies for meeting each objective, and identify funding and monitoring mechanisms to determine progress and identify needed improvements. DHS implemented this recommendation by issuing a strategic plan, and GNDA Joint Interagency Review (JAIR), and an implementation plan. First, in December 2010, in coordination with the Secretaries Defense, Energy, and State, but also the Secretary of Justice, the intelligence community and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), DNDO issued a strategic plan for the GNDA. The strategic plan establishes a broad vision for the GNDA, identifies cross-cutting issues, defines several objectives, and assigns mission roles and responsibilities to the various federal entities that contribute to the GNDA. For example, the Department of Energy has the lead for several aspects of enhancing international capabilities for detecting nuclear materials abroad, DHS has the lead for detecting nuclear materials as they cross the border into the United States, and the NRC has the lead on reporting and sharing information on lost or stolen domestic radiological material. In addition, DNDO released the GNDA JAIR in 2011. This review described the current status of GNDA and included initial metrics and performance goals for the various components of the GNDA, some discussion of the development, assessment, and acquisition of nuclear detection technologies, and a general outline of funding levels for these efforts in FY 2009 and 2010. Finally, in April 2012 DNDO provided more detailed planning for the GNDA when it released the DHS GNDA implementation plan. This plan identifies specific DHS-led programs and activities that are mapped to the performance goals of the 2010 GNDA strategic plan, establishes priorities and outlines the DHS GNDA capabilities necessary to achieve them. The implementation plan also included individual performance goals and supporting capabilities of the GNDA, as well as specific activities to achieve these capabilities. The implementation plan also establishes a monitoring mechanism to gauge progress toward achieving GNDA goals as more DHS capabilities are established and enhanced over time. In addition, for each DHS-led or co-led performance goal detailed in the strategic plan, the implementation plan establishes specific performance measures and their associated metrics for DHS-implemented programs. Finally, the DHS GNDA implementation plan provides a summary of planned budget resources allocated to the GNDA-related programs, projects, and activities through FY 2017. For FY 2012 and 2013, budget figures are provided down to the individual program level while for the out-years (FY 2014-2017), budget figures are reported at an estimated aggregated level.

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