Several major recent studies have found that changes in the governance of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) laboratories are necessary for their continued success (Appendixes C and E). For purposes of this study, “governance” of the NNSA laboratories is considered to be the policies and practices of the following entities: the Department of Energy (DOE) headquarters, NNSA headquarters, NNSA field offices, and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB).
The three nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), are federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) operated under management and operating (M&O) contracts agreed to between DOE/NNSA and Los Alamos National Security, LLC, Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, and the Sandia Corporation, respectively.
NNSA science and engineering programs conducted by these laboratories are formulated, funded, and overseen by the NNSA. Work for Others (WFO) programs are formulated, funded, and overseen by other national security agencies and overseen and approved by NNSA. Laboratory operations are managed by a laboratory director under policies specific to each laboratory, which are informed by laws, nationally accepted standards, NNSA rules and regulations, DOE rules and regulations, contractor policies and guidance, and input from the DNFSB. Each laboratory-specific set of policies is interpreted by the local NNSA field office, which also oversees their implementation. The local field office
also functions as the administrative manager for WFO conducted at the laboratory, including review of all projects for acceptance, conduct, and closure, as well as operational oversight.
The DNFSB has a congressionally mandated, independent advisory function to the Secretary of Energy on safety aspects of the laboratories’ nuclear facilities and operations. DOE’s interpretation of the observations and recommendations of the DNFSB are a significant element of the NNSA governance model and cost of operation.
The committee did not pursue changes to the internal DOE/NNSA organization, particularly given that such internal governance issues will be treated in depth by the Congressional Advisory Panel (see the Preface). Rather, 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 (DOE, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the Intelligence Community). The committee recognizes that the application of the principles will need to be tailored to the overall structure of the DOE organization.
Appendix D describes how the mission of the NNSA laboratories and the Nevada Nuclear Security Site has evolved over many 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.1 Up to now, this evolution has occurred in an ad hoc fashion, largely in response to the laboratories’ search for resources (often encouraged by NNSA as budgets have become more constrained), although the laboratories have remained true to their national service orientation as FFRDCs. There has not been any agreed upon definition of the mission boundaries or technical capabilities required, nor are the laboratories funded as national security laboratories; that is, DOE funds are not available for projects or facilities that primarily benefit other national security agencies. Several previous studies have commented on the need for a more clearly defined mission.2
1 This vision of a broader national security role for the NNSA laboratories was formally articulated by Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman in a letter entitled “Transforming the Nuclear Weapons Complex into a National Security Enterprise,” signed on June 19, 2008.
2 Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, 1995, Task Force on Alternative Futures for the Department of Energy National Laboratories (“Galvin report”); Stimson Center Task Force, 2009, Leveraging Science for Security, Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, D.C.; Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, 2009; National Research
National security challenges will continue to evolve, and for the laboratories to continue to be valuable national assets, their mission must evolve with these challenges. The nuclear weapons mission is certain to remain critical to U.S. security for the foreseeable future, but broader national security threats will continue to arise. Thus, appropriate mid- to long-term strategic planning to define the capabilities that the laboratories must sustain to meet evolving national security challenges will be an important aspect of defining the laboratories’ mission in the future. Such planning should be done by DOE in partnership with the other national security agencies and should include consultation with the laboratories.3
Clear lines of authority and accountability are essential for efficient, cost-effective operation. Lack of clear lines of authority has been cited as a cause of excessive oversight and unclear roles within DOE/NNSA.4 Given that these problems already exist within DOE/NNSA, 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. Responsibility should be clearly defined for implementation of an overall strategy in order to assure the establishment of appropriate priorities and to assure appropriate coordination. The inevitable consequence of any division of responsibility is that no one entity has true responsibility, with the result that decisive strategic management is unlikely.
The need to recruit and retain top-notch people applies to bench scientists, innovative engineers, and effective management and support
Council (NRC), 2012, Managing for High-Quality Science and Engineering at the NNSA National Security Laboratories, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
3 The DOE Office of Science’s planning process, described in http://science.energy.gov/lp/laboratory-planning-process, accessed November 26, 2014, provides a useful example.
4 Commission on Maintaining United States Nuclear Weapons Expertise (“Chiles Commission”), March 1, 1999; Center for Strategic and International Studies, Commission on Science and Security, 2002, Science and Security in the 21st Century; Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, 2014, Interim Report, Washington, D.C., April, available from the Institute for Defense Analysis, Alexandria, Va.
5 This principle was also a key finding of the study NRC, 2013, The Quality of Science and Engineering at the NNSA National Security Laboratories, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. (Phase II report).
personnel. The laboratories need to remain attractive places to work, especially in light of the increased competition for talent from industry and academia. 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 form of WFO programs, enhanced recruiting programs, education programs, summer internships, postdoctoral positions, competitive compensation, an enterprising culture, elimination of unnecessary bureaucratic burdens, and promotion of a sense of service to the nation are all important for attracting the needed talent and maintaining high employee morale and productivity. Indeed, the national security focus—including WFO—provides an integrated and professionally challenging foundation for recruiting and retaining a talented workforce.
The NNSA laboratories are clearly the “go-to” institutions for a variety of customers for nuclear-weapons-related science and technology (S&T), as well as closely related areas such as the technical issues associated with nonproliferation or the assessment of foreign nuclear weapons programs. However, they are not necessarily the best or cheapest providers of S&T in other national security areas. In areas not closely related to nuclear weapons, there should be the continued expectation that the NNSA laboratories compete (as legally permissible within their status as FFRDCs) on a level playing field with other S&T providers for national security resources. This not only ensures the most cost-effective use of U.S. tax dollars, but also benefits the laboratories in the long run by providing healthy incentives for cost reduction to both the laboratories and to DOE/NNSA, discouraging the development of a culture of entitlement and encouraging the best technical solutions.
The national security agencies and the NNSA laboratories need to have a sustained strategic engagement and dialog if the laboratories are to truly function as national security laboratories. This engagement should include participation of the national security agencies in the strategic planning of each laboratory. The agencies need to be aware of the laboratories’ special capabilities, their views on the strategic implications
of S&T developments, and the need to sustain capabilities or develop new ones. DOE/NNSA and the laboratories, in turn, need to be aware of the national security agencies’ views of their own strategic challenges so the laboratories can develop the necessary capabilities to support them.
Organizations that perform well continuously evaluate their cost structures. The national security agencies perceive that the NNSA laboratories provide unique and valuable capabilities that further their missions, but they also find the NNSA laboratories to be significantly more expensive than other potential providers. Some of this cost is no doubt due to the nature of the work that the NNSA laboratories perform and the expense associated with the establishment and maintenance of specialized nuclear facilities. But some of the expense and delay are related to security, safety, environmental, and fiscal requirements that are imposed broadly by DOE/NNSA’s approach to self-regulation, which promotes risk avoidance or elimination, not risk management.6 The committee was told during briefings that these self-imposed requirements (and the arbitrary DOE interpretation of their requirements) are excessive.7 These costs are borne by all customers.
The committee recognizes that the current governance structure of the NNSA laboratories could change as a result of the various ongoing studies but believes that the six key principles articulated here should be reflected in whatever new governance structure may emerge. The principles also provide the foundation for the committee’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations, which are discussed in the next chapter.
6 Congressional Advisory Panel, 2014, Interim Report.
7 Statement of Richard Mies to the committee on March 12, 2014; statement of the three current NNSA laboratory directors to the committee on April 9, 2014.