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

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Publication date: 
11 December 2012

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:


  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)


    (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.”