The principal Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)1 laboratories—Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL)—have served the nation well in assuring the reliability, safety, and security of our arsenal of nuclear weapons. In support of this core nuclear weapons mission, DOE has funded a vast infrastructure, including advanced computing facilities, state-of-the-art scientific equipment, and multidisciplinary science and engineering facilities. The diverse and exacting skills required to maintain this nuclear expertise have nurtured unique capabilities at the laboratories. These capabilities are routinely applied to other areas, including energy, environment, industrial technologies, and—important for this study—non-nuclear national security needs.
The original mission of LANL, LLNL, and SNL focused solely on nuclear weapons, but the mission has evolved over time to include a broader array of national security challenges. In response to requests starting in the late 1960s to serve various national security agency needs, and more recently motivated by the need to maintain the personnel and facilities required to sustain core capabilities, the NNSA laboratories have undertaken activities at the request of other agencies—especially
1 The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy (DOE) established under the NNSA Act (Title XXXII of the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2000, P.L. 106-65) and charged with the management and security of the nation’s nuclear weapons, nuclear nonproliferation, and naval reactor programs.
the Department of Defense (DOD), the Intelligence Community (IC), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—to serve the national security missions of those other agencies and at the same time sustain the core mission. These activities, which have historically been termed Work for Others (WFO),2 have grown over time to be a significant portion of the laboratories’ budgets, ranging from 9 percent at LANL to 36 percent at SNL. Across the entire NNSA complex, WFO totaled $1.656 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2013, or about 20 percent of the budget. The challenge now is how to meet multiple agency needs in an era of extended federal budget austerity while maintaining the performance, safety, and reliability of an aging nuclear stockpile. Several recent studies have argued that meeting this challenge will require a change in the governance of the NNSA laboratories away from sole control by DOE and toward a shared governance model in which the other national security agencies have a seat at the table.3
The problem of sustaining the NNSA laboratories by nurturing the engagement of the national security agencies that make use of them has received at least an initial response. In 2010, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by the Secretaries of the Departments of Energy, Defense, and Homeland Security and by the Director of National Intelligence establishing a “Governance Charter for an Interagency Council on the Strategic Capabilities of DOE National Laboratories as National Security Assets” (reprinted in Appendix F). The charter creates a mechanism for agencies other than NNSA to participate in the planning, evaluation, and maintenance of science, technology, and engineering capabilities at the NNSA laboratories. It establishes a body of high-level executives from each participating agency, called the Mission Executive Council (MEC), to define the shared national security agenda and coordinate multiagency engagement with the laboratories.
This is a period of unusual ferment and debate with regard to governance issues relating to DOE, NNSA, and all of DOE’s national laboratories, including the three NNSA laboratories. As this report was being written,
2 Work performed by the NNSA laboratories for other parts of DOE is not considered to be Work for Others (WFO). Prior to the NNSA Act (1999), the laboratories that became part of the NNSA complex were fully a part of DOE, and only work that came from outside DOE was considered WFO. This accounting system continued after the formation of NNSA.
3 Indeed, the nuclear weapons mission could not be carried out without the active engagement and support of other agencies. This support comes in the form of both direct budget transfers and overhead paid by WFO customers. According to the Interim Report of the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, “DOD has agreed to transfers of a total of nearly $12 billion over multiple years in budget authority to DOE” to support the nuclear weapons program (April 2014, available from the Institute for Defense Analysis, Alexandria, Va., p. 37).
no fewer than three other studies mandated by Congress were under way that are charged with considering various aspects of DOE laboratory governance issues. The focus of this study is to assess how the governance of the NNSA laboratories might be changed to align better with the evolving national security landscape and the laboratories’ increasing engagement with the other national security agencies, while simultaneously encouraging the best technical solutions to national problems from the entire range of national security establishments, including but not limited to the NNSA national security laboratories. Specifically, a key question addressed here is whether the other national security agencies (DOD, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence [ODNI], and DHS) should, in effect, become co-owners with DOE of the NNSA laboratories (in the parlance of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, “co-sponsors”4) or whether some more evolutionary model of shared governance is appropriate.
PRINCIPLES OF ANY NEW GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE
The committee has identified six key principles that any new governance model for the NNSA laboratories should observe.
- The mission should be clearly defined. The mission of the NNSA laboratories has evolved over the past five decades from an exclusive focus on designing, engineering, testing, and maintaining nuclear weapons to a more diverse and largely undefined mission of advancing “national security.”
- Clear lines of authority and accountability are essential. This principle constitutes a high hurdle to overcome for any new governance model in which multiple agencies (and congressional committees) are involved in setting priorities and making funding decisions at the laboratories.
- Recruitment and retention of a talented workforce are critical. A primary focus must be on maintaining a world-class science and engineering base in fields related to nuclear weapons, such as materials science, modeling and simulation, plasma physics, microelectronics, and radiation chemistry. In addition, vibrant interagency engagement in the WFO programs and education programs, elimination of unnecessary bureaucratic burdens, and promotion of a sense of service to the nation are all important
4 DOE is the sponsor of 16 national laboratories that are federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), including the NNSA laboratories. The responsibilities of an FFRDC sponsor are considerable and are described in the Federal Acquisition Regulations section 35.017.
for attracting the needed talent and maintaining high employee morale and productivity.
- Competition should exist with other science and technology (S&T) providers. In areas not closely related to nuclear weapons, there should be the continued expectation that the NNSA laboratories compete (as legally permissible) on a level playing field with other S&T providers for national security resources.
- Sustained strategic engagement should exist between the national security agencies and the NNSA laboratories. DOD, DHS, and the IC need to be aware of the laboratories’ special capabilities, and the laboratories, in turn, need to be aware of the agencies’ strategic challenges so the laboratories can develop the necessary capabilities to support the agencies.
- The governance structure and operations should be continuously evaluated for cost-effective conduct of mission. While the national security agencies perceive that the NNSA laboratories provide unique and valuable capabilities that further their missions, they also find the laboratories to be significantly more expensive than other potential providers.
These principles are the basis of the committee’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations, discussed below.
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Finding 1.1. The committee found no evidence that DOD, DHS, or the IC want to take on direct sponsorship of the DOE/NNSA laboratories as federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs).
The agencies are generally pleased with the quality of the services they receive from the NNSA laboratories, but as a general matter, they are not interested in committing their own budgets to pay for recapitalization of major NNSA laboratory facilities and equipment.
Finding 1.2. Agency representatives who presented to the committee did not report major problems in obtaining access to the DOE/NNSA laboratories.
Conclusion 1. A new governance model involving formal, multiple-agency FFRDC sponsorship of the DOE/NNSA laboratories would create more problems than it would solve and would be resisted by the other agencies.
There are no examples of successful multisponsor FFRDCs on the scale of the NNSA laboratories. One reason, no doubt, is the funding uncertainty that is inherent in such an arrangement.
Recommendation 1.1. The Department of Energy should remain the sole sponsor of the NNSA laboratories as federally funded research and development centers.
The clearest line of authority (Principle 2) for an FFRDC is via single-agency sponsorship.
Recommendation 1.2. To complement the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) sponsorship of the NNSA laboratories, the other national security agencies should have a strategic partnership with DOE that should be formally recognized and should give those agencies a seat at the governance table for the laboratories.
As strategic partners,5 the national security agencies would have the responsibility to help the laboratories and their sponsor understand the larger national security agenda and enable the laboratories to meet future national security needs beyond nuclear weapons. This strategic partnership relationship stems from the national security agencies’ vested interest in the laboratories’ performance and development of capabilities to support the agencies’ future mission needs.
Finding 2. Although the NNSA laboratories are now by law referred to as “national security laboratories” rather than “nuclear weapons laboratories,” no one has clearly articulated what this evolution means in terms of the mission of the laboratories or the proper relationships with other national security agencies and laboratories.
Consistent with Principle 1, an efficient organization requires a clear mission statement.
Recommendation 2. The Department of Energy, in collaboration with the other national security agencies, should develop a clear mission statement for the national security laboratories.
5 The partnership envisioned here is among DOE and the other national security agencies in the execution of their national security missions through their use of the laboratories in appropriate ways.
DOE can and should use the MEC in its coordinating capability (in consultation with the laboratories) in developing a mission statement for the NNSA laboratories that reflects their evolving role. Although the laboratories should expect to be significantly involved in this process, it is essential that the new mission statement reflects the stakeholders’ (i.e., the DOE sponsor’s and national security agency strategic partners’) buy-in and endorsement.
Finding 3.1. Essentially no strategic planning has taken place in a multiagency context to determine the future national security capabilities needed by the United States, including those that should be funded and resident within the NNSA laboratories.
The committee’s review of current strategic plans at DOE, NNSA, and the laboratories found that while these organizations do strategic planning individually, there is no joint, integrated process for strategic planning that involves DOE/NNSA, the other national security agencies, and the laboratories.
Finding 3.2. The four-party Governance Charter and the MEC it established are significant beginnings to implement the national security agencies’ strategic partnership role in the governance of the national security laboratories. However, the MEC’s performance to date has not met the need for shared, long-term research and development (R&D) planning among the four national security agencies or addressed how the agencies would prioritize and fund the sustainment of national security laboratory capabilities. Moreover, the MEC has had limited engagement with the NNSA laboratories.
MEC-commissioned topical working groups have made progress on near-term, tactical-level issues, which demonstrates the potential for the MEC to drive a long-term strategic dialog and planning process among DOE/NNSA, the national security agencies, and the national security laboratories. The committee’s vision of a revitalized “MEC 2.0” is outlined in Box 3.1.
Recommendation 3.1. The Mission Executive Council should become the primary vehicle to define and implement the national security agencies’ governance role. It should develop and pursue an agenda focused on identifying strategic priorities and critical capabilities to deal with ongoing and upcoming national security challenges, coordinate approaches for supporting needed invest-
ments in the laboratories, and provide coordinated guidance and processes. It should provide the following:
- Authoritative, periodic, and structured strategic guidance to the Department of Energy (DOE) and the laboratories about member agencies’ medium- and long-term mission challenges and thrusts.
- Periodic, structured assessments of the laboratories’ performance and capabilities in meeting current national security mission needs and the impact of DOE’s oversight on this performance (as an integral part of the laboratory overall assessment process).
- A strategic dialog among the agencies and the laboratories about investments that may be needed to better meet anticipated future mission needs and how those investments can be structured and funded.
- A strategic dialog with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, and the relevant authorizing and appropriating committees of Congress to discuss future laboratory needs and funding priorities as they relate to the laboratories’ broader national security mission.
- Periodic consideration of other (non-NNSA-laboratory) sources of science and technology to meet national security needs.
Finding 4. The current NNSA WFO approval process has been improved but still involves costly, repetitive steps at the laboratories and is associated with unnecessary transactional oversight and lack of cooperation and advanced planning between the laboratories and NNSA field offices.
Several previous studies have cited frustrations on the part of customers with the complexity of the WFO approval process and the length of time required to initiate new projects (or add scope and funding to existing ones). NNSA has attempted to address these frustrations and to streamline the approval process; however, further improvements are necessary.
Recommendation 4.1. NNSA should generate one or more Work Scope Agreements (WSAs) with each of the other national security agencies (the Department of Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Department of Homeland Security) that is considered a strategic partner. The WSA would be the bounding document for bringing in new work from the strategic
partner. Used in conjunction with a Work Boundary Agreement6(WBA) between NNSA and each laboratory, work that falls within the WSA/WBA envelope would require only the processing of the funding documents. Further approvals would not be needed.
The committee provides conceptual examples of a WSA and a WBA between one NNSA laboratory and one sponsoring agency in Appendix H. According to an estimate by an analyst at one laboratory (LLNL), this would reduce LLNL’s approval efforts by 25 to 30 percent, as well as reducing the level of effort at the NNSA field office.
Recommendation 4.2. NNSA should conduct a comparative assessment of the Office of Science approach to Work for Others, including planning, processes, working relationships between site offices and laboratories, and all associated oversight and approval actions.
Committee interviews with the leadership of the PNNL site office and the management of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory—the two DOE Office of Science laboratories that perform a considerable amount of WFO—found less controversy and inefficiency around approval of WFO at these DOE Office of Science laboratories than at the NNSA laboratories.
Finding 5. Based on the limited experience to date with investment by other federal agencies in major equipment and facilities at the national laboratories, there is no proven, systematic approach to assure such investments are made in a timely, cost-effective way.
The committee is aware of three such capital investments at the NNSA laboratories that have been made by non-DOE agencies in the past. In each of these cases, there was no standard process for non-DOE agency investment, and in each case, the process proved to be ad hoc, tortuous, and time consuming.
Recommendation 5. The Mission Executive Council (MEC) should be directed to develop a systematic approach for multiagency investment in the laboratories that allows for Department of Energy investment, together with investment from other federal agencies when and where appropriate. This approach should enable timely enhancement of both facilities and major equip-
6 The WBA is based on the operational constraints that would provide the envelope for WFO work at the laboratories—safety, security, facility requirements, total cost, etc.
ment to meet a range of national security needs consistent with the new mission statement of the laboratories, or to meet a specific newly identified need. The MEC should define the principles for such an approach, oversee the development of a rolling 10-year plan, approve the annual plan, coordinate agency presentations to the Office of Management and Budget and Congress, and monitor agency accountability for meeting the plan.
Recommendation 6. The governance model described in this report should encompass other laboratories and facilities that receive a significant fraction of their funding from interagency national security work, including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Nevada Nuclear Security Site. Moreover, as a long-term goal, Work for Others processes should be applied uniformly across these institutions, as described in Recommendations 4.1 and 4.2.
Over time, other DOE laboratories or facilities may emerge that conduct a significant amount of interagency national security work, and if this occurs, the committee sees no reason why they should be excluded from the governance considerations proposed in this report.
The DOE/NNSA laboratories will remain a critically important resource to meet U.S. national security needs for many decades to come. However, adjustments are needed now to improve the governance of the laboratories and strengthen their strategic relationship with the non-DOE national security agencies.
The implementation of a governance model involving direct sponsorship of the DOE/NNSA laboratories by multiple agencies would likely involve extensive modification of existing arrangements with these agencies and their associated congressional committees and would likely be strongly resisted by them. The more modest approach that the committee proposes would build on a governance structure with which the various agencies are already comfortable. It would more fully exploit policy mechanisms that are already in place, such as the four-party Governance Charter and its MEC. Because the recommendations in this report largely build on the current governance structure, the committee believes that they would not require new legislation, and that they are within the authority of the Secretary of Energy to implement in consultation with the other national security agencies. These recommendations are designed to create a sustainably successful collaborative relationship
among DOE, the other national security agencies, and the national security laboratories. Implementing these recommendations would increase the probability that critical NNSA laboratory capabilities to support the national security of the United States will be available when needed in the future.