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FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act: Management and Oversight of the NNSA

Richard M. Jones
Number 10 - January 16, 2013  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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As previously explained, President Barack Obama signed H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 into law.  This legislation provides policy and budget guidance for the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  It does not provide the actual funding, which is contained in the yet to be enacted FY 2013 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill. 

There has been considerable discussion on Capitol Hill about the relationship between the Department of Energy and the NNSA, and the management of the agency.  This discussion was in response to reports criticizing the Department of Energy for micromanaging the NNSA, the agency’s management practices, costs and a security breach at the Y-12 facility. The House and Senate Conference Committee made clear their intent in lengthy criticism in their report, concluding “The conferees believe changes on the margins are not a solution.”

The conference report explains how four major differences between the House and Senate versions of the FY 2013 authorization bill were resolved.  The report language briefly summarizes the respective positions of the House and Senate authorizing committees regarding a particular section of their bill and explains the final position each chamber’s conferees took in resolving the matter.  The “sec.” number refers to the actual bill text, which can be found starting on page 543 of the report.

Improvement and streamlining of the missions and operations of the Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration (sec. 3120) 

“The House bill contained a provision (sec. 3117) that would require the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator for Nuclear Security to revise various regulations, rules, directives, orders, and policies to improve and streamline the administration, execution, and oversight of the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s missions and operations.

“The Senate amendment [bill] contained no similar provision.

“The Senate recedes [withdraws from its position] with an amendment that would require such revision occur to the extent practicable.”

 

Study on a multiagency governance model for national security laboratories (sec. 3148)

“The House bill contained a provision (sec. 3146) that would require the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration to commission an independent assessment of transitioning the national security laboratories of the Administration to multiagency federally funded research and development centers. The assessment shall be conducted by an independent nongovernment entity classified by the Internal Revenue Service under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (Public Law 99–514).

“The Senate amendment contained no similar provision.

“The Senate recedes with an amendment that would remove tax classification of the entity.

“The conferees direct the Administrator to use the most cost-effective means possible to conduct this assessment.”

 

Congressional advisory panel on the governance of the nuclear security enterprise (sec. 3166)

“The Senate amendment contained a provision (sec. 3161) that would establish a congressional advisory panel to make recommendations with respect to revising the governance structure of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to permit the Administration to operate more effectively.

“The House bill contained no similar provision.

“The House recedes with an amendment that would create a Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise to address the immediate and long-term issues associated with the NNSA. In addition, the amendment appoints four panel members each, by the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives, by the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate, and by the Leadership of the House and Senate. . . . ”

 

Under a section entitled “Legislative Provisions Not Adopted” the conference provided extensive and important language on the NNSA management and oversight:

Contractor governance, oversight, and accountability

“The House bill contained a provision (sec. 3113) that would require the Administrator for Nuclear Security to establish a reformed system of governance, management, and oversight of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The House bill also contained a provision (sec. 3115) that would require the Administrator to establish policies and procedures for the regulation and oversight of health, safety, and security of the nuclear security enterprise. Lastly, the House bill also contained a provision (sec. 3133) that would clarify the role of the Administrator and reinforce the semi-autonomous nature of the NNSA.

“The Senate amendment contained a provision (sec. 3131) that would require the Secretary of Energy to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on the actions required to transition, to the maximum extent practicable, the regulation of non-nuclear operations of the NNSA to federal agencies other than the Department of Energy (DOE). The Senate amendment also contained a provision (sec. 3161) that would express a sense of Congress regarding any efforts to reform oversight of the nuclear security enterprise.

“The conference agreement does not include these provisions.

“The conferees emphasize that there is widespread recognition that the current system for governance, management, and oversight of the nuclear security enterprise is broken. For instance, in 2009 the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States found that ‘the governance structure of the NNSA is not delivering the needed results. This governance structure should be changed.’   The Commission elaborated, saying, ‘The NNSA was formed to improve management of the weapons program and to shelter that program from what was perceived as a welter of confusing and contradictory DOE directives, policies, and procedures. Despite some success, the NNSA has failed to meet the hopes of its founders. Indeed, it may have become part of the problem, adopting the same micromanagement and unnecessary and obtrusive oversight that it was created to eliminate.’ The Commission concluded ‘it is time to consider fundamental changes.’  Recent studies by the Henry L. Stimson Center (‘Leveraging Science for Security’), the National Academies of Science (‘Managing for High-Quality Science and Engineering at the NNSA National Security Laboratories’ and ‘The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty -- Technical Issues for the United States’) and other objective, bipartisan groups have reached similar conclusions.

“The conferees share the concerns expressed by these myriad groups, and believe the status quo is not working and must not be continued. The weaknesses of the current system, including an overly bureaucratic system, weak accountability, ineffective oversight, insufficient program and budget expertise, and poor contract management have been repeatedly demonstrated -- including by recent high-profile failures such as the July 2012 security breach at the Y–12 National Security Complex. These incidents prove that a deeply bureaucratic system is no guarantee of health, safety, and security -- and may in fact jeopardize health, safety, and security.

“Furthermore, the conferees believe that the current system is not delivering the results required by the military and by the taxpayer.  The cost of major stockpile and infrastructure modernization projects has risen to unprecedented levels due, in part, to the overwhelming bureaucracy within the system. Further slippage in project schedules is unacceptable, and could undermine the credibility of the nation’s nuclear deterrent. Administrative costs within the NNSA and the nuclear security enterprise must be reduced and the enterprise must be refocused on accomplishing its mission effectively and efficiently, as well as safely and securely.

“The conferees expect the [congressional] advisory panel that would be created elsewhere in this Act [see above] to provide a bipartisan solution to fix this system. The conferees expect the advisory panel would provide actionable recommendations that directly address the host of systemic problems identified by previous studies and by the conferees.  The conferees believe changes on the margins are not a solution.”

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