Bill would weaken oversight

-A A +A

Politics: NDAA gives more of an opportunity to self-report

The House version of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act is not just about restoring funding for the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement facility.

That’s only $160 million out of a $643 billion defense appropriations bill.

But it’s certainly the biggest news that affects the Northern New Mexico region especially after the House and Senate Appropriation Committees as well as the Obama Administration zeroed out funding and deferred the CMRR project for five years,

According to the Project on Government Oversight website, however, there are several amendments to the bill that would weaken important checks on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The House NDAA bill gives the NNSA labs, including Los Alamos, the ability to self-report and self-regulate their performance. It also eliminates cabinet-level oversight of the labs by the Department of Energy (DOE) and shifts the power to the NNSA and its contractors.

It also weakens the authority of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

The White House, meanwhile, issued a Statement of Administration policy on the authorization act.

According to the White House report, the Administration strongly objects to elements of sections 1061 and 1062 and certain provisions of Title 31 that change the responsibilities, authorities, and reporting requirements between and among DOE, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), contractors managing and operating the national laboratories, the President, and the Congress.

“Some of these changes fundamentally alter the relationship between DOE and NNSA by restricting the authority of the Secretary of Energy and transferring responsibilities from DOE to NNSA,” the White House report stated.

The bill also: (1) legislates the establishment of a council of the national laboratory contractors with the authority to make unrestricted recommendations to NNSA, which then mandate a response by NNSA; (2) takes authority for final approval of the NNSA budget submission away from the President; (3) requires NNSA to submit a cost-benefit analysis to the Congress before completing a management and operating contract, which would undermine a long-standing and bipartisan effort to increase competition in government contracting; and (4) authorizes unrestricted access for the contractors to report to the Congress on Administration activities.

The White House report then turned its attention to health and safety at DOE and NNSA.

“The Administration strongly opposes sections 3202, 3115, 3113, and 3151,” the report stated. “These provisions severely hamper external, independent oversight by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board; move regulatory authority from independent offices and agencies to the NNSA Administrator; require a weaker standard of contractor governance, management, and oversight; and eliminate DOE’s flexibility to determine the appropriate means of assessing the unique risks that it confronts in its facilities. By lowering safety standards for the nuclear weapons complex and reducing requested funding for health, safety, and security, these provisions would weaken protections for workers and the general public.”

It will be an interesting week in Washington.

Today and Thursday, the Senate Armed Forces Committee will tackle its version of the bill.

Stay tuned to the Los Alamos Monitor for more on this story.