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FY 2013 Defense Authorization Bill: Mission and Oversight of the National Nuclear Security Administration

Richard M. Jones
Number 145 - December 11, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The Senate has completed its consideration of S. 3254, its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013.  One title of this bill authorizes the atomic energy defense activities of the Department of Energy.  In addition to language regarding specific programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration, accompanying Senate Report 112-173 contained the following language:

“Independence of the National Nuclear Security Administration

“The committee has found that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is often burdened with extra responsibilities assigned by the Secretary of Energy. The committee requests that no later than January 30, 2013, the Nuclear Weapons Council evaluate the semi-independent nature of the NNSA as originally created in 1999 and report back to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives and Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives on measures that can be taken so that the NNSA operates according to its original legislative intent.”

Two amendments were offered and accepted on the oversight of the NNSA during the Senate’s floor consideration of the bill.  The first was offered by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), the text of which is quite lengthy (see page S. 7383 of the December 4 Congressional Record.)  Sections of the amendment follow:

“SEC. 3141. CONGRESSIONAL ADVISORY PANEL ON THE GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE OF THE NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY ADMINISTRATION AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER FEDERAL AGENCIES.

Establishment.--There is established a congressional advisory panel (in this section referred to as the ‘advisory panel’) to assess the feasibility and advisability of, and make recommendations with respect to, revising the governance structure of the National Nuclear Security Administration (in this section referred to as the  ‘Administration’) to permit the Administration to operate more effectively.”

The advisory panel would have twelve congressionally-appointed members that would serve for one year.  Its primary function is as follows:

“Report Required.--Not later than 120 days after the date that each of the members of the advisory panel has been appointed, the advisory panel shall submit to the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Energy, the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate, and the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives an interim report on the feasibility and advisability of revising the governance structure of the Administration to permit the Administration to operate more effectively, to be followed by a final report prior to the termination of the advisory panel in accordance with subsection (f). The report shall include the following:

    (1) Recommendations with respect to the following:

    (A) The organization and structure of the Administration, including the roles, responsibilities, and authorities of the Administration and mechanisms for holding the Administration accountable.
    (B) The allocation of roles and responsibilities with respect to the safety and security of the nuclear weapons complex.
    (C) The relationship of the Administration to the National Security Council, the Nuclear Weapons Council, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, as well as the national security laboratories, and other Federal agencies, as appropriate.
    (D) The role of the Administration in the interagency process for planning, programming, and budgeting with respect to the nuclear weapons complex.
    (E) Legislative changes necessary for revising the governance structure of the Administration.
    (F) The appropriate structure for oversight of the Administration by congressional committees.
    (G) The length of the term of the Administrator for Nuclear Security.
    (H) The authority of the Administrator to appoint senior members of the Administrator's staff.
    (I) Whether the nonproliferation activities of the Administration on the day before the date of the enactment of this Act should remain with the Administration or be transferred to another agency.
    (J) Infrastructure, rules, and standards that will better protect the safety and health of nuclear workers, while also permitting those workers the appropriate freedom to efficiently and safely carry out their mission.
    (K) Legislative or regulatory changes required to improve contracting best practices in order to reduce the cost of programs without eroding mission requirements.
    (L) Whether the administration should operate more independently of the Department of Energy while reporting to the President, through the Secretary of Energy.

   (2) An assessment of how revisions to the governance structure of the Administration will lead to a more mission-focused management structure capable of keeping programs on schedule and within cost estimates.

    (3) An assessment of the disadvantages and benefits of each organizational structure for the Administration considered by the advisory panel.

    (4) An assessment of how the national security laboratories can expand basic science in support of ancillary national security missions in a manner that mutually reinforces the stockpile stewardship mission of the Administration and encourages the retention of top performers.
 
   (5) An assessment of how to better retain and recruit personnel, including recommendations for creating an improved professional culture that emphasizes the scientific, engineering, and national security objectives of the United States.

    (6) Any other information or recommendations relating to revising the governance structure of the Administration that the advisory panel considers appropriate.”

Responding to the July incursion at the Y-12 National Security Complex, (http://www.aip.org/fyi/2012/135.html) and other incidents at NNSA facilities, Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) offered the following “Sense of Congress” amendment to the defense bill.   

“(Purpose: To express the sense of Congress that external and independent oversight of the National Nuclear Security Administration by the Department of Energy is critical to the mission of protecting the United States nuclear security enterprise)

“SEC. 3141. SENSE OF CONGRESS ON OVERSIGHT OF THE NUCLEAR SECURITY ENTERPRISE.

    (a) Findings.--Congress makes the following findings:

    (1) In 2000, the National Nuclear Security Administration was established as an independent entity within the Department of Energy to manage and secure the nuclear weapons stockpile of the United States and to manage nuclear nonproliferation and naval reactor programs.

    (2) Serious security and health incidents continue to occur at sites of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

    (3) In September 2012, an official of the Government Accountability Office testified to Congress that lax laboratory attitudes toward safety procedures, laboratory inadequacies in identifying and addressing safety problems with appropriate corrective actions, and inadequate oversight by site offices of the National Nuclear Security Administration were responsible for nearly 100 safety incidents since 2000.

    (4) On July 28, 2012, three unarmed individuals compromised security at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and according to the Government Accountability Office, ‘gained access to the protected security area directly adjacent to one of the nation's most critically important nuclear weapons-related facilities’.

    (5) In June 2006, hackers attacked an unclassified computer system at the National Nuclear Security Administration's Service Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and gained access to a file containing the names and social security numbers of more than 1,500 employees of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

    (6) As early as February 2005, the Inspector General of the Department of Energy identified problems with the retrieval of badges from terminated employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory and other sites of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

    (7) In 2004, a pattern of safety and security incidents that occurred over the course of a year prompted the stand-down of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    (8) The National Nuclear Security Administration, independent of the safety and security reform efforts of the Department of Energy, has launched an overhaul of its contracting oversight, placing an emphasis on contractor self-policing through an untested ‘contractor assurance’ approach.

    (9) The Government Accountability Office has given the contractor administration and project management capabilities of the National Nuclear Security Administration a ‘high risk’ designation and found there to be insufficient qualified Federal acquisition professionals to ‘plan, direct, and oversee project execution’.

    (b) Sense of Congress.--It is the sense of Congress that--

    (1) there is a need for strong, independent oversight of the United States nuclear security enterprise;

    (2) any attempt to reform oversight of the nuclear security enterprise that transfers oversight from the Department of Energy to the National Nuclear Security Administration, reduces protections for worker health and safety at facilities of the National Nuclear Security Administration to levels below the standards of the Department of Energy, or transfers construction appropriations for the nuclear security enterprise from the Department of Energy appropriation account to the military construction appropriation account, should be carefully evaluated;

    (3) the Office of Health, Safety, and Security of the Department of Energy, which reports to the Secretary of Energy but is also accountable for routinely reporting to Congress on the performance with respect to safety and security of the Department, including the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the role of that Office in overseeing safety and security at the National Nuclear Security Administration, should not be diminished but should be routinely evaluated;

    (4) any future modifications to the management or structure of the nuclear security enterprise should be done in a way that maintains or increases oversight of critical construction, security, and acquisition capabilities;

    (5) to the extent possible, oversight of programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration by the Department of Defense should increase to ensure current and future warfighting requirements are met; and

    (6) the Nuclear Weapons Council should provide proper oversight in the execution of its responsibilities under section 179 of title 10, United States Code.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095