Committee to Examine Eroding Oversight at Nation’s Most Critical Nuclear Sites - “Hands Off, Eyes On” Approach Raises Bipartisan Concerns

June 26, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders today requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluate the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) procedures for evaluating independent contractors charged with operations and management. Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL), and Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO) requested GAO evaluate NNSA’s governance model, in particular because NNSA relies on contractors evaluating their own safety performance, with those evaluations often self-determining significant performance incentives. The Committee will continue closely monitoring the activities at DOE and NNSA and will conduct a hearing next month to examine the state of oversight of our nation’s most sensitive nuclear facilities.

In the letter to the GAO on NNSA’s evaluation of contractors, the committee leaders write, “The Committee on Energy and Commerce has focused significant time and attention overseeing the correction of significant safety and security problems experienced in recent years at several of NNSA’s nuclear sites. In reports requested by this Committee on safety and security problems at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, for example, GAO has repeatedly documented weaknesses in those sites’ performance self-assessment programs. These GAO findings call into question the basis for CAS implementation: that contractors conduct self-assessments that provide the objective performance information on which the government should rely to make performance determinations worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

The committee leaders continued, “NNSA’s Office of the Administrator is currently conducting a review of NNSA’s Federal workforce—planned for completion in December 2013—that may recommend further reduction of its Federal workforce. It is the Committee’s perspective that any planned reduction in force must be supported by thorough analysis of oversight needs and capabilities to ensure that even with a smaller workforce NNSA can adequately assure the performance of its contractors.”

In a second letter sent today, the leaders also requested that GAO conduct a study of the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s efforts to upgrade radioactive waste management capabilities, critical to maintaining its nuclear weapons stockpile. The committee leaders write, “DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has for a number of years planned to upgrade or replace both radioactive waste capabilities at LANL [Los Alamos National Laboratory]. Unfortunately, the associated projects to accomplish this have experienced problems with cost and schedule estimates.  For example, a project to upgrade the 50-year-old RLWTF [Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility], which handles radioactive liquid waste including waste generated through the process of manufacturing nuclear weapons components, was started in 2007 to be completed in 2010 to meet mission requirements for the next 50 years. However, safety-related questions about design scope have stalled the project indefinitely. At the same time, plans to commence replacement for the 55-year-old TRU [Transuranic] facilities began in 2007 to meet a deadline of December 2015. That project is already delayed until 2017, with a cost range of $71 million to $124 million and with additional potential taxpayer liabilities for delays related to environmental cleanup on the site of the existing facility.”

Read the committee letter to the GAO on the Los Alamos National Laboratory HERE.

Read the committee letter to the GAO on the NNSA contractor assurance system HERE.

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