Nuclear Nonproliferation:

Action Needed to Address NNSA's Program Management and Coordination Challenges

GAO-12-71: Published: Dec 14, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 14, 2011.

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What GAO Found:

From fiscal years 2006 through 2010, only about half of the total annual funds available to the DNN programs were costed, or expended, each year. This resulted in uncosted carryover balances of more than $1.5 billion on average from one fiscal year to the next. During this time, the total uncosted DNN operating program balances exceeded thresholds established by the Department of Energy by hundreds of millions of dollars every year. However, much of the annual uncosted DNN-wide funding balances were committed for future expenditure, and total uncommitted uncosted DNN operating program balances were under the thresholds. Nevertheless, three DNN programs had uncommitted balances that frequently exceeded thresholds during this time. NNSA provides semiannual reports to Congress on DNN uncommitted balances. However, these reports do not specify the amounts by which program balances exceeded the thresholds or explain why the excess balances should not be rescinded, redirected, or used to offset future budget requests.

GAO identified four DNN programs authorized by Congress to receive and use contributions from foreign donors, and these authorities expire from 2011 through 2015. Three of these programs received approximately $47.1 million from fiscal years 2006 through 2010 from seven countries. This amount represents about 1 percent of the total funding from annual appropriations acts directed to the four programs over the same period. Extending these authorities would give NNSA more time to obtain foreign contributions. In addition, NNSA has pursued greater cost sharing with foreign countries where DNN programs are implemented, but the extent of cost sharing is unclear because NNSA does not systematically track or maintain such data.

Some DNN program performance measures do not satisfy key attributes that GAO has identified in previous work, namely measures that are clear, reliable, and balanced. For example, one program measure—securing nuclear material facilities in Russia and the former Soviet Union—is unclear, because NNSA counts buildings with security upgrades as completed although NNSA may undertake additional upgrades at some of these sites. In addition, the results of some DNN programs in fiscal year 2010 appear overstated because DNN measured performance against different targets in the end of fiscal year performance report than the ones presented in the budget request to Congress. Moreover, NNSA has dropped one long-standing measure used by the Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program to track reemployment of former Soviet weapons scientists rather than improve the measure as GAO previously recommended and NNSA agreed to revise.

Existing strategies and plans for coordinating federal efforts to combat nuclear smuggling overseas do not incorporate all of the key characteristics of effective national strategies that GAO has identified in previous studies. In addition, there are concerns of potential fragmentation and overlap among some programs working to counter nuclear smuggling overseas, especially those providing equipment and training. Furthermore, there is no single recognized federal agency responsible for leading and directing efforts to combat nuclear smuggling overseas. However, the NSC oversees interagency coordination of these efforts.

Why GAO Did This Study:

GAO has issued numerous reports on the effectiveness of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) programs. For this report GAO was asked to assess (1) the extent of annual DNN uncosted, or unexpended, balances; (2) the level of financial support from foreign donor and recipient governments to the DNN programs; (3) the effectiveness of DNN program performance measures; and (4) the coordination of DNN and other agency nonproliferation programs. GAO analyzed NNSA financial data and other pertinent documents, and interviewed officials from multiple agencies.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law in January 2013, Congress extended the authority of the DNN programs to receive and use foreign contributions to the programs until December 31, 2018.

    Matter: To allow DNN programs to receive and use additional foreign contributions in the future, thereby offsetting some future DNN appropriations requests, Congress may wish to consider extending the time frames under which current DNN programs are authorized in current law to receive and use such contributions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NNSA officials stated and provided documentation showing that the recommendation had been implemented through several reporting vehicles to Congress on DNN uncommitted uncosted balances, including monthly CFO reports on financial performance of NNSA programs , an annual DOE report on uncosted balances, and an annually updated strategic plan for DNN programs that includes an appendix on DNN uncommitted uncosted balances.

    Recommendation: To provide further information to Congress on DNN program budget execution, in the end of fiscal year semiannual reports on DNN uncommitted program funding balances, the Administrator of NNSA should (1) identify uncommitted balances over acceptable carryover thresholds on a program-by-program basis, and (2) justify why such balances should not be considered for rescission, redirection to other NNSA programs, or to offset future DNN budget requests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to NNSA officials, some DNN programs do informally estimate the contributions to nuclear security projects by host country governments, but such estimates are not very reliable. NNSA officials said that they did not believe it would be worth the effort to create a system to formally track that information and formally report such data to Congress, especially given the uncertainty associated with the internal estimates. In an appendix in NNSA's first annual strategic plan to define and describe the agency's missions to prevent, counter, and respond to the threats of nuclear proliferation and terrorism, released in March 2015, NNSA did describe its efforts to track such cost sharing and provided examples and anecdotes by program of such cost sharing. However, the March 2016 version of this strategic plan did not include this information.

    Recommendation: To clarify how other countries are sharing in the burden of implementing DNN programs, the Administrator of NNSA should develop ways to better track and maintain information on foreign cost sharing for DNN projects overseas. To allow Congress to understand the scope of foreign country cost sharing, NNSA should include in the annual DNN budget requests to Congress information explaining actual or estimated amounts of cost sharing during the prior fiscal year by foreign governments in countries where DNN program activities have been implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to NNSA officials and documentation, the agency's performance reporting now includes notations in the end of fiscal year performance reports explaining those cases where a change in program performance goals and targets is made during the fiscal year, and where the goal or target changes from what was presented in the budget request for that fiscal year.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with consistent information on DNN program results over time, the Administrator of NNSA should develop and maintain to the extent practicable a consistent set of DNN program performance measures and ensure that, for each fiscal year, the targets for measuring annual program performance as proposed in the budget requests to Congress are the same as those used to assess progress in the end of fiscal year performance reports. In those cases where circumstances warrant a change in performance measures or targets--especially during the course of a fiscal year--the end of fiscal year performance reports should explain why the measures or targets were changed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: According to NNSA officials, neither the Nonproliferation and Verification R&D performance measure nor the MPC&A program performance measure were changed in response to our recommendation to provide further clarity it NNSA's performance reporting. Regarding the Nonproliferation and Verification R&D program performance measures, NNSA officials stated the measures as written provide sufficient information to program management to assess progress; regarding the MPC&A program performance measure, NNSA officials said that the measure, while unchanged, was being phased out as a performance measure due to the discontinuation of program work in Russia.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with better information on the status and progress of DNN program performance and to address clarity, reliability, and balance issues in the performance measures for specific programs, the Administrator of NNSA should develop clearer measures, especially for the Nonproliferation and Verification Research and Development (R&D) program and Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) programs, so the requirements and scope of program efforts can be more easily understood. For the MPC&A program in particular, reconsider the practice under its performance measure of counting buildings and facilities as having "completed" MPC&A upgrades, where there is additional or ongoing security work under way or planned.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NNSA officials stated that the recommendation had been implemented and a revised performance measure was developed for the program, beginning with the fiscal year 2014 NNSA budget request to Congress, clarifying that the amount of HEU to be downblended and the disposition rate is contingent on decisions regarding the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and the rate of weapon dismantlement.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with better information on the status and progress of DNN program performance and to address clarity, reliability, and balance issues in the performance measures for specific programs, the Administrator of NNSA should clarify the long-term goal under the performance measure for the U.S. highly enriched uranium (HEU) disposition program to reflect that the overall amount of material for dispositioning and the rate at which it will be downblended is conditional upon decisions regarding the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and the pace of warhead dismantlement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NNSA has developed a new, different performance measure -- the cumulative number of sites with radiation detection systems being indigenously sustained -- that provides a broader assessment of MPC&A upgrade sustainability than the older measure, which used numbers of MPC&A regulations as a proxy for sustainability progress. However, NNSA has not developed a broader, more balanced, or more encompassing measure to track progress under the multi-dimensional, multi-year Next Generation Safeguards Initiative, but continues to use a single performance measure for its safeguards-related work that is geared around the number of safeguards technology systems deployed or transferred to international partners.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with better information on the status and progress of DNN program performance and to address clarity, reliability, and balance issues in the performance measures for specific programs, the Administrator of NNSA should develop broader, more encompassing, or a more balanced set of public measures to gauge progress by the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative and in the sustainability of MPC&A upgrades provided to foreign countries.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The GIPP program was terminated subsequent to this report before any change to the performance measure was made, and a successor NNSA program on scientific engagement was not funded by Congress and subsequently terminated. Consequently, the recommendation was not implemented.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with better information on the status and progress of DNN program performance and to address clarity, reliability, and balance issues in the performance measures for specific programs, the Administrator of NNSA should provide an updated and more reliable measure to assess the nonproliferation impact of the Nonproliferation and International Security program's Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (GIPP) program, as NNSA previously stated it would.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: Since the report was issued, GAO has made several inquires to the National Security Council Staff regarding the status of this recommendation. This recommendation will be updated as we receive further clarity as to how it has been implemented.

    Recommendation: To streamline and eliminate potential for fragmentation and overlap among U.S. government programs involved in preventing and detecting smuggling of nuclear materials, equipment, and technologies overseas, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs should undertake--or direct and delegate an appropriate agency or agencies to undertake--a comprehensive review of the structure, scope, and composition of agencies and programs across the federal government involved in such efforts. Such a review should assess several issues, including: (1) the level of overlap and duplication among agencies and programs, especially in the provision of nuclear detection equipment and in training provided to foreign border security, customs, and law enforcement officials; (2) potential for consolidation of these functions to fewer programs and agencies; (3) the feasibility, costs, and benefits of establishing a special coordinator to preside over the allocation of U.S. counter-nuclear-smuggling assistance to foreign nations and be responsible for directing the interagency process of development, funding, and implementation of all U.S. government programs related to combating nuclear smuggling overseas; and (4) any U.S. laws that would need to be amended by Congress in order to facilitate consolidation, elimination, or other changes to existing programs.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: Since the report was issued, GAO has made several inquires to the National Security Council Staff regarding the status of this recommendation. This recommendation will be updated as we receive further clarity as to how it has been implemented.

    Recommendation: Following this review, to ensure remaining programs are being coordinated and implemented effectively, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs should issue new guidance that incorporates the elements of effective strategic plans, including clearly delineating the roles and missions of relevant programs, specific priorities and objectives, performance measures and targets, overall program cost estimates, and projected time frames for program completion.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

 

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