GAO reports on NNSA shortcomings

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Washington office says it is taking steps to address the different challenges, see full report below

By John Severance

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report on nuclear weapons and it titled its findings, “NNSA Needs More Comprehensive Infrastructure and Workforce Data to Improve Enterprise Decision Making.”

The report was given to various congressional committees.

The GAO did the study because the United States intends to invest about $80 billion to maintain and modernize its nuclear weapons capabilities and infrastructure over the next decade. The National Nuclear Security Administration maintains the nation’s nuclear weapons through its Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP). NNSA uses contractors to manage and operate eight separate sites. One of the eight sites is Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The report claims:
• NNSA does not have accurate, reliable, or complete data on the condition and replacement value of its almost 3,000 weapons activities facilities.

• NNSA has identified 15 ongoing capital improvement projects as necessary to ensure future viability of the program, but the agency does not have estimated total costs or completion dates for all projects. For example, NNSA has not estimated total costs for the largest projects it is conducting—the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

• NNSA has identified a need to effectively manage facilities used by more than one site––known as shared use assets––and issued a directive in 2009 requiring identification of these assets and a review of the governance plan developed for each designated. However, NNSA has not collected data on shared use assets and has not reviewed individual management plans.

• NNSA lacks comprehensive data on the critical skills and levels needed to maintain the SSP’s capabilities. NNSA primarily relies on its contractors to maintain the workforce and, while these efforts may be effective for a specific site, NNSA lacks assurance that the overall program is maintained.

Andrew Gibbons, the Public Affairs director for the NNSA in Washington, said his office is taking steps to address the challenges in managing large projects.

“We created a new office that reports to the Administrator and is responsible for policy and oversight of major construction projects, “ Gibbons said. “We are working to ensure that we hold off on offering baseline cost and time estimates until the facilities we are building are 90 percent through the design process, which will ensure that we have a more clear picture of the facility we are looking to build.

“We will subject those estimates to independent cost examinations. We are also working to ensure that we have qualified project managers leading these programs.”

Gibbons also said in the budget request there is $14 million in support for 56 limited term full time equivalents (FTEs) for oversight in some of its construction projects, including Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory ($2,250,000; 9 limited-term FTEs).  

Since October, Giibbons said that NNSA projects have won two Project Management Institute Awards. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative won PMI’s 2010 Distinguished Project Award, which was the first time a federal agency had ever won this award. In addition, PMI recognized the National Ignition Facility as its 2010 project of the year.

“We recognize that the President is proposing significant investments in our enterprise during a time of severe economic challenges for our country, which is why we are working to improve the way we do business,” Gibbons said.

nnsa gao report.pdf1016.06 KB