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Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
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1

Background and Overview

This chapter provides background on the principal National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) laboratories—Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL)—and their evolving mission, as well as the context and discussion of the committee’s statement of task (see Box 1.1).

As described in more detail in Appendix D, the NNSA laboratories have served the United States well in assuring the reliability, safety, and security of its arsenal of nuclear weapons, promoting nuclear nonproliferation, and producing innovations in many technical areas. The exacting skills required to design, engineer, and maintain the nuclear weapon stockpile have nurtured unique capabilities at the NNSA laboratories that can be applied more broadly. The most closely related applications involve nuclear weapons intelligence, such as nuclear forensics and assessment of foreign nuclear weapons programs, and nuclear nonproliferation. Broader—but still related—areas include defense against chemical and biological weapon threats, cyber warfare, and defense innovations in energy applications and sensors.

The NNSA laboratories developed special computational capabilities to serve purposes related to stockpile stewardship. They now also apply these computational and simulation capabilities to different programs, such as sophisticated simulation of reactor physics and computational studies of combustion processes. The laboratories have also maintained an important scientific presence in many contemporary areas of nuclear

Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
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BOX 1.1
Statement of Task

The committee will address the following statement of task (SOT):

  1. Assess the principles for development of any new governance structure for the NNSA National Security laboratories in order to:
    1. Give multiple national security agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, and the intelligence community, direct sponsorship of the national security laboratories as federally funded research and development centers so that such agencies have more direct and rapid access to the assets available at the laboratories and the responsibility to provide sustainable support for the science and technology needs of the agencies at the laboratories;
    2. Reduce costs to the Federal Government for the use of the resources of the laboratories, while enhancing the stewardship of these national resources and maximizing their service to the Nation;
    3. Enhance the overall quality of the scientific research and engineering capability of the laboratories, including their ability to recruit and retain top scientists and engineers; and
    4. Maintain as paramount the capabilities required to support the nuclear stockpile stewardship and related nuclear missions.
  2. Recommend any other laboratories associated with any national security agency that should be included in the new governance structure.
  3. Discuss options for implementing the new governance structure that minimize disruption of performance and costs to the government while rapidly achieving anticipated gains.
  4. Discuss legislative changes and executive actions that would need to be made in order to implement the new governance structure.
  5. Assess the contribution and long-term impact of strategic multiagency engagement on the ability to maintain an effective peer review capability for the breadth of skills needed for the nuclear weapons missions.

physics and advanced computation, and they contribute significantly to the open scientific literature in many science and engineering fields. Work on materials, radiation detection, and sophisticated electronics similarly serve both the core nuclear weapon mission and broader societal and national security needs.1 The conduct of this broader national security work serves not only to provide valuable and often unique new capabilities to the various national security agencies, but also to keep the labora-

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1 National Research Council (NRC), 2013, The Quality of Science and Engineering at the NNSA National Security Laboratories, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. (Phase II report).

Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×

tories at the cutting edge of science and engineering (thus benefiting the nuclear weapons program). In addition, this challenging work aids in the recruitment and retention of the exceptional scientists and engineers who populate the laboratories who are, in turn, essential for the nuclear weapons program.

In the past, the Department of Energy (DOE or its predecessor agencies) alone funded the vast laboratory infrastructure supporting the nuclear weapons program. The challenge now is how to meet multiagency needs in an era of extended federal budget austerity2 when the nuclear weapons budget is focused specifically on maintenance of an aging stockpile. This situation has made it challenging to attract and retain top talent, and at least one laboratory has expressed concern that early- to mid-career personnel are leaving at increasing rates.3

To sustain the manpower and facilities required to maintain the core capabilities, the laboratories have undertaken activities at the request of other agencies that support the core mission, but that also serve those other agencies. These activities, which have historically been termed Work for Others (WFO),4,5 have grown over time to be a significant portion of the laboratories’ budgets, ranging from 9 percent at LANL to 36 percent at SNL (Figure 1.1). Across the entire NNSA complex, WFO totaled $1.656 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2013, or an average of about 20 percent of the budget.6,7 SNL has been particularly successful in attracting WFO, which increased from its start in the 1960s to $907 million in FY2013, or about

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2 D. Kusnezov and W. Jones, 2013, “Beyond the Endless Frontier: A 20th Century Model Faces 21st Century Realities,” APS News, http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201203/backpage/cfm.

3 Dori Ellis, LLNL, “Enabling Interagency Work and the National Security Laboratories,” presentation to the committee on May 6, 2014.

4 Work performed by the NNSA laboratories for other parts of DOE is not considered to be 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.

5 To some, the phrase “Work for Others” has acquired a somewhat xenophobic connotation, and, in the spirit of a more integrated, inclusive national security context, the phrase “Strategic Partnership Projects” is replacing it, according to Kathleen Alexander, NNSA, personal communication on May 5, 2014. However, given the standard and persistent usage of “WFO,” it is used in this report. Nevertheless, the committee commends DOE leadership for making this change.

6 Kathleen Alexander, NNSA, “Comments to The National Academies Committee on Assessment of Governance Structure of the NNSA National Security Laboratories,” presentation to the committee on May 5, 2014.

7 LANL, LLNL, and SNL performed work for other offices within DOE (primarily the Office of Science), totaling about 8 percent of their budgets in FY2014, according to S. Binkley, DOE Office of Science, “A DOE View on NNSA Labs Governance,” presentation to the committee on March 12, 2014. This work is not considered as WFO.

Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×

images

FIGURE 1.1 Work for Others funding totals and budget percentages for science and technology projects sponsored by other (non-DOE) agencies and conducted at NNSA laboratories in fiscal year (FY) 2013. Although it is not a laboratory, the Nevada Nuclear Security Site (NNSS) has historically been a partner to the laboratories and is included for reasons discussed in the text. NOTE: LANL, Los Alamos National Laboratory; LLNL, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; SNL, Sandia National Laboratories. SOURCE: Adapted from data supplied by Kathleen Alexander, NNSA, “Comments to the National Academies Committee on Assessment of Governance Structure of the NNSA National Security Laboratories,” presentation to the committee on May 5, 2014.

36 percent of the total SNL budget. The major customers are the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Intelligence Community (IC); the DOD alone accounted for 69 percent of NNSA’s WFO in FY2013, while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) accounted for 8 percent.8

Several previous studies9 have found that WFO at the NNSA laboratories helps to promote the successful execution of the core nuclear weapons mission and provides interesting and challenging problems that are essential to attract and retain top scientific talent at the laboratories; indeed, this view was repeated in briefings of the three current laboratory directors to this committee.10 These same studies have also found,

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8 Alexander, 2014, “Comments to The National Academies Committee.”

9 See, for example, NRC, 2012, Managing for High-Quality Science and Engineering at the NNSA National Security Laboratories, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. (Phase I report); Stimson Center Task Force, 2009, Leveraging Science for Security, Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, D.C.

10 Briefings of directors Paul Hommert (SNL), Charles McMillan (LANL), and William Goldstein (LLNL) to the committee on April 9, 2014.

Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×

however, that the current WFO model is insufficient to sustain critical capabilities at the laboratories. One reason is that due to its ad hoc nature, WFO does not necessarily relate to any long-term strategic plan for sustainment of capabilities;11 another is that although WFO is conducted on a “full cost recovery” basis,12 it does not pay for the recapitalization of major equipment or facilities at the laboratories that support such work over time.13 As a recent National Research Council (NRC) study14 put it:

Conducting applied program work outside the nuclear weapons program for agencies other than DOE . . . does not encourage those other sponsoring government agencies to contribute to the long-term institutional support needed to maintain the laboratories. Work for agencies other than DOE . . . is conducted under task-order contracts. The contracts specify and fund specific work and deliverables, but rarely contribute to the construction of facilities and purchase of major equipment. These other agencies are exploiting the infrastructure that has resulted from NNSA’s investment, and are by and large not contributing directly to the building and maintenance of that infrastructure.

Some observers have described the approach of other agencies as “buying by the drink rather than investing in the vineyard.” To address this recapitalization problem, several major recent studies have recommended that other agencies be given some shared responsibility and accountability for helping DOE/NNSA to maintain the capabilities of the laboratories on which they depend. The 2009 report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States15 recommended that the President issue an “Executive Order formally assigning the Secretaries of Defense, Energy, State, and Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence joint responsibility for the health of these laboratories.” For a similar purpose, the 2009 Stimson Center Task Force recommended as follows: “Create multi-agency sponsorship of the weapons labs and NTS [the former Nevada Test Site, now called the Nevada

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11 Stimson Center Task Force, 2009, Leveraging Science for Security.

12 In the current model, all funding agencies pay the same overhead and general and administrative burden as DOE for operations and maintenance of facilities, utilities, support functions, Laboratory Directed Research and Development, as well as employee salaries and benefits including retirement.

13 Because federal and DOE rules do not allow for amortization of capital equipment, at least under the DOE interpretation of cost accounting standards, the laboratories feel significant constraint on use of indirect dollars for even the smallest capital equipment replacement.

14 NRC, 2012, Managing for High-Quality Science and Engineering.

15 Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, 2009, “America’s Strategic Posture.”

Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×

Nuclear Security Site, or NNSS] to ensure that the S&T capabilities will continue to be nurtured regardless of the level of the nuclear weapons budget. Alternatively, explore means to achieve strategic planning and long-term investment by other national security agencies.”16Appendix E summarizes the recommendations of several previous reports calling for other federal agencies to support the DOE/NNSA laboratories and have some role in their governance.

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 DOD, DHS, and 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. As described in a recent NRC report,17

[The Governance Charter] creates a mechanism for agencies other than NNSA to participate in the planning, evaluation, and maintenance of ST&E (science, technology, and engineering) at the laboratories. This does not supplant the role of DOE/NNSA as the owner of the laboratories, but it brings organizations that had heretofore been users of the capabilities at the laboratories into a more active role of sustaining the ST&E capabilities. The charter provides for the creation of a mission executive council (MEC) consisting of two senior executives from each of the signatory agencies (DOE, DOD, DHS, and DNI). Among other things, the executive council will: (1) review and assess the adequacy of ST&E in areas of cross-cutting interest; (2) identify areas of ST&E needing attention; (3) consider recommendations to close identified gaps; and (4) take actions as necessary and appropriate. This charter does not replace NNSA’s authority, and it does not void or replace any contractual obligations. However, it does provide another, broader, government forum within which to evaluate scientific quality at the laboratories and the relevance of that scientific quality to a broad range of national security missions. It also provides a basis for major government agencies beyond DOE/NNSA to develop a stake in—and therefore a basis for investing in—ST&E at the labs.

The origins of the 2010 four-party MOU, whose initial impetus came from the IC, are described in Appendix G.

As discussed in Chapter 3, however, the full promise of the Governance Charter and the MEC has not been achieved. Mission clarity is at the heart of any governance model. The important interrelationships

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16 Stimson Center Task Force, 2009, Leveraging Science for Security, p. 35.

17 NRC, 2012, Managing for High-Quality Science and Engineering.

Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×

between the capabilities necessary to sustain the weapons mission of these laboratories as well as the essential work assigned by security agencies need to be clearly defined and recognized. They involve both the recruitment and retention of extraordinary scientific and engineering talent as well as the sustainability of viable physical facilities and instrumentation. It is essential that the desired governance model for these laboratories is capable of recognizing and supporting these important interrelationships in the interest of improving research outcomes, cost effectiveness, and timely decision making and implementation.

APPROACH TO THE STATEMENT OF TASK

The legislation that mandated this study specifically references the Stimson Center Task Force report,18 which is the report that has been most explicit in calling for multiagency sponsorship of the NNSA laboratories as federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs).19 Indeed, this approach is a key theme underlying the committee’s statement of task, shown in Box 1.1.

The responsibilities of an FFRDC sponsor are considerable and are described in the Federal Acquisition Regulations, section 35.017. DOE is the sponsor of 16 national laboratories that are FFRDCs, including the NNSA laboratories.20

In approaching its work, the committee heard from current and former officials of DOE, NNSA, and the national security customer agencies mentioned in the statement of task (DOD, DHS, and the IC; see Appendix B). It also heard from the three current NNSA laboratory directors as well as senior managers at headquarters and field offices associated with the WFO operations of both the DOE/NNSA and DOE/Office of Science laboratories. Consistent with the statement of task, the committee’s focus was on the issue of multiagency engagement with the NNSA laboratories, rather than on DOE/NNSA internal organizational and operational processes. Those internal issues are important and bear on the implementation of this committee’s recommendations but are beyond the scope of this study. The committee was mindful in this conviction that such matters

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18 Stimson Center Task Force, 2009, Leveraging Science for Security.

19 As described in more detail in the Federal Acquisition Regulation section 35.017, an FFRDC is a unique nonprofit entity sponsored and funded by the U.S. government to meet some special long-term research or development need which cannot be met as effectively by existing in-house or contractor resources. It is common for agencies to establish long-term relationships with their FFRDCs in order to provide continuity.

20 The National Science Foundation maintains a master list of FFRDCs; see http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ffrdclist/#agency.

Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×

were being examined by the Congressional Advisory Panel as described in the Preface.

The committee chose to include the NNSS in its scope, along with the three NNSA laboratories. Although the NNSS is not a laboratory or an FFRDC, it is a partner in the laboratories’ work and has a shared history with the NNSA laboratories. Moreover, the committee understands that the business case for NNSS is transitioning toward a business model featuring multiagency use.21 In FY2013, approximately 20 percent of NNSS funding was from WFO that came from non-DOE federal agencies and other sources.22 The committee also notes that certain non-NNSA DOE laboratories do substantial work on national security matters (e.g., Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), and these are discussed further in Chapter 3.

The committee’s statement of task directs, among other elements, that the study focus on “the principles for development of any new governance structure for the NNSA National Security laboratories” to meet the needs of the national security agencies. These principles are central and are outlined in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 provides a discussion of the committee’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations, keyed to the elements of the statement of task.

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21 Dimitri Kusnezov, DOE, personal communication to the study director, February 4, 2014.

22 James Holt, NNSS, personal communication with the study director, June 2, 2014.

Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×
Page 13
Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×
Page 14
Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×
Page 15
Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×
Page 16
Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×
Page 17
Suggested Citation:"1 Background and Overview." National Research Council. 2015. Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19326.
×
Page 18
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Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges is an independent assessment regarding the transition of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) laboratories - Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories - to multiagency, federally funded research and development centers with direct sustainment and sponsorship by multiple national security agencies. This report makes recommendations for the governance of NNSA laboratories to better align 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. According to this report, the Department of Energy should remain the sole sponsor of the NNSA laboratories as federally funded research and development centers. The NNSA laboratories will remain a critically important resource to meet U.S. national security needs for many decades to come. The recommendations of Aligning the Governance Structure of the NNSA Laboratories to Meet 21st Century National Security Challenges will improve the governance of the laboratories and strengthen their strategic relationship with the non-DOE national security agencies.

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