Subcommittee Examines Challenges Confronting DOE Management of Nuclear Weapons Security in the Wake of Y-12 Breach

March 13, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), today continued its bipartisan oversight of the Department of Energy’s management of our nation’s nuclear security enterprise with a hearing to examine the management and administrative challenges confronting DOE in the wake of the recent security breakdown at the Y-12 National Security Complex. Today’s hearing followed the subcommittee’s September 12, 2012, hearing which reviewed the security and management failures at the Y-12 facility, and examined the agency’s plans to address the challenges identified by the recent security breakdown.

The subcommittee members are concerned that the Y-12 incident reveals a broader failure of DOE oversight and management stemming from previous DOE reforms to adopt an “eyes on hands off” approach to contractor oversight.

“Members on this committee warned the Secretary in 2010 that such initiatives – however well-intentioned – were misinterpreting the lessons of the past and could backfire. DOE’s track record speaks for itself,” said full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). “As the committee with oversight responsibility for DOE, we must ensure that current and future DOE leadership learn the right lessons.”

“The experience and perspective of these witnesses should help us to put the security deficiencies in the broader context of the oversight and management challenges confronting DOE,” said Chairman Murphy. “In the end we should identify a path forward for the Department to ensure strong oversight and zero tolerance for failures. The risks to millions of people, and indeed geopolitics are too important for anything less.”

Subsequent to last September’s hearing a number of reviews and reports have been made available that shed additional light on the security conditions and culture at NNSA and at the Y-12 facility prior to the security breach. A task force led by USAF Brigadier General Sandra E. Finan conducted a review of NNSA’s federal security organization and assessment model, which identified “significant deficiencies in security organization and culture sustainment throughout the NNSA security organization.”

General Finan testified today over the findings of the report, stating, “The evidence from Y-12 and from prior security incidents points to a culture of compromises.” She also suggested that the agency must adopt serious structural and cultural reforms to prevent another security breach. “The daunting prospect—and the one that will require the consistent emphasis of current and future Secretaries of Energy and future Administrators of the NNSA—will be to instill a culture that embraces security as a fundamental and essential element of the NNSA mission,” said Finan. “If NNSA fails in this, then senior leaders will again find themselves answering to the American people for the failures of security. Sooner or later, the perpetrator will not be peacefully-minded.”

Deputy DOE Secretary Daniel Poneman assured the panel that DOE was making progress to correct the security deficiencies identified by Y-12. “The incident at Y-12 was unacceptable, and it served as an important wake-up call for our entire complex,” said Poneman. “As a result, the Department is carefully reviewing the security at all of our NNSA sites – as well as all of the recommendations of the HSS security review teams, Brigadier General Finan, DOE IG, and independent reviews provided by distinguished military and private sector experts – with a view to taking all those steps that are needed to protect this nation’s most sensitive materials and technologies.”

The Government Accountability Office found that DOE’s and NNSA’s oversight of security performance continues to face challenges and further improvements are necessary. David Trimble, Director of the Natural Resources and Environment Team at GAO, testified that, “The actions that DOE and NNSA have taken to address weaknesses in oversight of security, safety, and contract and project management are very important, but problems persist. … The Y-12 security incident was an unprecedented event for the nuclear security enterprise and perhaps indicates that NNSA’s organizational culture, over a decade after the agency was created to address security issues, still has not embraced security as an essential element of its missions.”

In addition to the government witnesses, independent reviewers provided a broader perspective on the safety and security efforts at DOE and NNSA. General Donald Alston and former NRC Chairman Richard Meserve explained that the problems identified at the sites were rooted in a failed security culture.