The Governance Charter for an Interagency Council on the Strategic Capability of the Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories as National Security Assets1 had its origins in two main components: (1) internal NNSA and DOE transformation and (2) intelligence community (IC) pull for greater alignment and coordination. Within the NNSA, the decadal view of science, technology, and engineering (ST&E) started officially in early 2007 with NNSA’s Special Focus Area 4. This effort was the first internal step toward understanding post-Cold War ST&E needs at NNSA laboratories and shed light on the interdependencies that had developed over the years with other agencies. By late 2007, NNSA’s laboratory directors agreed to these concepts of transformation and signed the NNSA-developed white paper together with DOE Under Secretaries for Nuclear Security and for Science.2 By June 2008, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman signed the Focus Area 4 statement for transformation from a nuclear weapons complex to a “national security enterprise.”3 At the same time, there was a growing dissatisfaction of key IC members with the way DOE sought to manage the IC engagement with the NNSA laboratories.
1 Established in a 2010 memorandum of understanding signed by the Secretaries of the Departments of Energy, Defense, Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence; reprinted in Appendix F.
2 NNSA, “A Future Vision for NNSA’s National Security Laboratories,” NNSA Focus Area 4 Whitepaper, December 2007.
3 DOE, “Transforming the Nuclear Weapons Complex into a National Security Enterprise,” Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, June 2008.
The IC also had concerns related to the NNSA laboratories’ performance: (1) the ever-increasing cost of doing work at the laboratories and (2) concern that long-term laboratory capabilities to meet IC mission needs were not being maintained. This latter point reflected, inter alia, an Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)-led study (which included input from the laboratories) in early 2009 that highlighted several areas where the DOE national laboratories had lost critical expertise and the ability to provide the support the IC required.4
As the ODNI pursued the concerns on behalf of the IC, the following key governance issues emerged:
- DOE generally took a proprietary view of the laboratories when dealing with the IC. As a result, DOE/Office of Intelligence and NNSA were viewed as impediments, not facilitators, in the IC attempts to work with the laboratories. In particular, the business processes that the DOE/NNSA had instituted for handling Work for Others (WFO) were onerous and counterproductive, resulting in delay, rather than value added. The NNSA laboratories had the same perspective.
- DOE’s efforts to mediate the relationship between the IC and the laboratories contributed to the laboratories being increasingly seen as contractors for the IC, rather than mission partners. It was clear to some in the IC that the laboratories were straining to meet some IC mission needs, including some that were traditional and others that were new or anticipated. This raised questions of how to support capabilities in organizations where DOE had a singular proprietary and controlling role.
- The ODNI found DOD shared many of the IC’s concerns about the NNSA laboratory future capabilities as well as willingness to engage with DOE and the NNSA laboratories in a more sustained and coordinated way, given the tight fiscal environment.
This early work by ODNI staff led to an April 2009 meeting with DOE Secretary Steven Chu, Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino, and DNI Dennis Blair and other ONDI staff to discuss the NNSA laboratories’ role in supporting the national security agencies. The DNI stressed the importance of the laboratories maintaining capabilities in core areas to support existing IC missions, as well as having the flexibility to invest in new inter-disciplinary capabilities to meet
4 This was the top recommendation from the IC-DOE laboratories working group led by the National Intelligence Officer for S&T for then Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald Kerr.
over-the-horizon national security challenges. DOE and NNSA officials recognized that without the external pull from other agencies, the envisioned transformation would be unlikely. Further, it reflected the start of a conversation between partner agencies in which mission problems of the partners could be better aligned with the country’s existing capabilities regardless of which agency they fell under. DOE and NNSA expressed a willingness to develop a mechanism that would strengthen understanding of the capabilities the IC needed and result in a process to support the sustainment of current capabilities or development of new ones. Following this meeting, representatives of the four agencies (DOE, DOD, DHS, and ODNI) began to meet to work on how to implement this multiagency vision. A “Principles for Principals” memorandum was agreed to in the fall of 2009, and the Governance Charter for the four-party (DOE-DNI-DHS-DOD) strategic partnership was agreed at the staff level in late 2009, signed by Secretary Chu and the DNI in December 2009, Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute for DHS in June 2010, and Secretary Robert Gates for DOD in July 2010.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MISSION EXECUTIVE COUNCIL
The first meeting of the Mission Executive Council (MEC) was held in October 2010 and included Deputy Secretary participation by DOE, DHS, and ODNI, and DOD’s Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. Five topics were agreed upon as test cases for exploring mission requirements and related capability requirements at DOE laboratories.5,6 A working group was established to explore each of the five topics. The MEC requested the groups to identify any potential “extinction events” (i.e., prospects for mission critical facilities to be closed or mission critical skills to be lost) for consideration in fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget planning. The MEC met for the second time in March 2011 to hear from all five working groups. The third MEC meeting was held in October 2011, and meetings have since continued at a pace of about two per year.
5 Information on the early MEC meetings is drawn, inter alia, from an unclassified internal IC document prepared by an ODNI participant in the process and presentations to the NRC study committee.
6 MEC membership currently is as follows: IC—National Intelligence Officer for S&T and Director/National Counter Proliferation Center; DOE—Administrator/NNSA and Under Secretary for Science; DOD—Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering; DHS—Under Secretary for S&T and Director/Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. The NNSA laboratories are not formally members of the MEC, but a representative does attend the meetings. Similarly, the Office of Science and Technology Policy is an ex-officio participant in the MEC meetings.
Participants and observers agree that the MEC is getting traction. One former participant reported to the committee that the MEC is a unique space where senior agency officials can have strategic discussions on important national interagency security science and technology issues.7 The IC has found that the MEC process has helped drive internal consideration of priorities and established lines of internal communication that had not existed before.
Nonetheless, most comments on the MEC suggest it still has further to go before meeting its potential to provide strategic partnership for the national security laboratories. In particular, to function well, the MEC needs agencies to be prepared to discuss their long-term challenges, which means the agencies must have a long-term substantive strategic plan for the laboratories. A secondary but important aspect relates to providing the laboratories with clear strategic guidance on future priority issues and needs and coordinating that guidance with DOE. Lastly, and most important, is the challenge in developing a mechanism to coordinate with DOE and Congress on funding for the investments needed to sustain current laboratory capabilities and develop new laboratory capabilities to meet national security agency expectations and requirements that may be of lesser importance to DOE.
7 Former DHS Under Secretary for S&T, Tara O’Toole, May 5, 2014.