Experience with large-scale change in many organizations has shown that successfully achieving and sustaining improvements to effectiveness, efficiency, and culture across the nuclear security enterprise will require sustained effort and an iterative process. Many management and governance changes have been recommended for the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) over the years by many experts and committees, and yet sustained effective change has not been achieved. The Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories (CRENEL) report1 noted, “Lasting change takes time and work. In the past four decades, over 50 commissions, panels, reviews, and studies of the National Laboratories have been conducted . . . . Where past assessments have sometimes failed to produce meaningful change, this Commission strives to go beyond identifying findings and recommendations by charging the implementation of recommendations to those with the ability to realize them” (p. 61). Thus CRENEL concluded that attention to achieving and sustaining change is as important as identifying what those changes should be.
The reports of the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise (Augustine-Mies),2 CRENEL,3 and the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s Task Force on Department of Energy National Laboratories (SEAB Task Force)4 identify institutional and cultural changes needed in DOE/NNSA. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY2016 NDAA), Congress agreed and noted that correcting the longstanding governance and management problems afflicting NNSA and the nuclear security enterprise would require “personal engagement by senior leaders, a clear plan, and mechanisms for ensuring follow-through and accountability.”5 Thus, an approach that explicitly prioritizes sustainable change is necessary, especially in partnership with its management and operating (M&O) contractors. It is important that changes that are accomplished in the next few years be done well, so that they will lead to the identification of additional helpful actions, leading to a culture of continuous improvement.
1 Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories (CRENEL), 2015, Securing America’s Future: Realizing the Potential of the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories: Final Report of the Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories, https://energy.gov/labcommission/downloads/final-report-commission-review-effectiveness-national-energy-laboratories.
2 Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, 2014, A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise: Report of the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, p. 71, http://cdn.knoxblogs.com/atomiccity/wpcontent/uploads/sites/11/2014/12/Governance.pdf?_ga=1.83182294.1320535883.1415285934.
3 CRENEL, 2015, Securing America’s Future.
4 Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) National Laboratory Task Force, 2015, Report of the Secretary of Energy Task Force on DOE National Laboratories, p. 23, https://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2015/06/f23/SEAB%20Lab%20Task%20Force%20Interim%20Report%20Final_0.pdf.
5 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, H.R. 1735, 114th Cong. (2015-2016), Section 3137 (a) (3).
Each of the three reports cited above identified the need for important cultural change in the nuclear security enterprise, noting that in order to preserve its ability to accomplish its mission, NNSA needs a culture that embraces and sustains change and adaptation. The reports especially focused on challenges in the relationships and trust between NNSA and M&O contractors. Each report noted the need for change—away from a culture of distrust and siloed operations and toward greater cooperation and collaboration. The Augustine-Mies panel noted the dysfunctional relationships between those responsible for mission execution and those affiliated with support functions. It recommended that Department leadership “streamline management, transform the culture of the Department, strengthen the M&Os’ contribution to the mission, and restore trust and credibility with customers.”6 Steps toward these results include establishing “transparent information sharing mechanisms and increasing direct staff collaboration.”7 To track whether such efforts result in improved trust, the panel called for periodic efforts to “survey personnel to gauge morale, assess cultural changes, and identify the results of efforts to change management practices.”8
The CRENEL review likewise emphasized culture and noted the need for the reestablishment of working partnerships and trust between DOE and its national laboratories. The SEAB Task Force report stressed the importance of adopting a disciplined process for implementing productive change relevant to the performance and efficiency of the DOE national laboratories.9
General Principles for Managing Large-Scale Change
Research into organizational change has shown that organizational culture can both facilitate and obstruct organizational changes.10 Organization culture is based on shared assumptions and mission and is reflected in administrative policies and practices. Because a salient feature of organizational culture is its persistence, deliberate culture change requires a shared recognition and commitment by leadership of the need for the organization to adapt and a commitment by that leadership to see that adaptation process through. In addition, such change specifically requires employee engagement across organizational divisions in the identification and implementation of needed changes. Such engagement may be especially challenging in an organization as geographically distributed as the nuclear security enterprise. To achieve and sustain change, an organization must develop metrics to measure change, then collect the necessary data and provide feedback on results. Once initial efforts are successful (based on documented results), the process continues, focusing on the next change iteration needed. Of course, the ultimate goal is for the nuclear security enterprise to successfully address the challenges identified in the Augustine-Mies and CRENEL reports (and elsewhere). The panel’s role is to assess whether NNSA stays focused on addressing those challenges and to evaluate whether they succeed, which is broader than merely tracking specified metrics.
Some steps are common for effective change and change management. One version of best practices to create and sustain change can be found in a monograph Transformational Change: Making It Last.11 The steps summarized in Box 4.1 illustrate the importance of activities that may not be directly associated with any particular change but are nevertheless essential to adjusting the culture so that
6 Congressional Advisory Panel, 2014, A New Foundation, p. 96.
7 Congressional Advisory Panel, 2014, A New Foundation, p. xxiv.
8 Congressional Advisory Panel, 2014, A New Foundation, p. xxi, Recommendation 6.3.
9 SEAB, 2015, Report of the Secretary of Energy Task Force on DOE National Laboratories, p.1.
10 E. Schein, 2010, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, Calif.
11 American Productivity and Quality Center, 2014, Transformational Change: Making It Last, https://www.grantthornton.com/~/media/content-page-files/advisory/pdfs/2014/BAS-transformational-change-report.ashx.
changes can take root and spread. The panel is not suggesting that NNSA address all of the steps in Box 4.1, but NNSA should undertake some strategic approach toward achieving systematic change.
The first requirement of “transformational change” is that senior leaders must drive that change. The literature on leadership notes that a common leadership vision sets direction and clarifies organizational priorities; it focuses attention on what matters most. General Klotz, NNSA’s Administrator, provided a piece of that direction and overall vision for NNSA in his statement, “Mission first, people always,” which he presented at his confirmation hearing in September 2013 and has since promulgated throughout NNSA. During interviews for this report, many leaders cited “Mission first, people always” as providing an important reminder that NNSA elements and employees should give top priority to the agency’s mission. This is in contrast to what was perceived in the past as support functions prioritizing their own work without keeping it in balance with the larger mission context. This short phrase appears to serve in some instances as a clarifying precept for guiding the organization toward what is most important when problem solving and thus is key for defining NNSA’s intended culture.
Successful culture change results from efforts that are designed to address specific problems rather than to effect culture change per se. One specific problem noted in the referenced reports is the lack of trust and productive working relationships between NNSA and its M&O contractors. Steps are being undertaken by NNSA to build greater communication among the components of the enterprise so as to improve the level of trust among them. Strategies include creation of various governance councils to facilitate communication and increase trust by working jointly on solutions to problems, better coordination of processes and policies to reduce burdens and foster better working relationships, and fostering employee engagement and participation, as measured by the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
In large, complex organizations, of which the nuclear security enterprise in a good example, the formation of subcultures is inevitable. Subcultures add complexity for those leading and managing cultural change in any organization. Successful cultural change requires leadership strategies that recognize the need for overarching changes that can accommodate and embrace the diversity of subcultures, some of which may be guided by assumptions and attitudes other than those of leadership, and be resistant to change. Successful change will support and find ways to reconcile the interests of the agency as a whole and its important subgroups, especially M&O contractors.
FY2016 NDAA requires that DOE/NNSA “develop and carry out an implementation plan to reform the governance and management of the nuclear security enterprise to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the nuclear security enterprise.”12Governance and Management of the Nuclear Security Enterprise: Report to Congress,13 released in December 2016, identifies actions under way and/or to be taken in support of the various change recommendations in the three referenced reports. In the “Message from the Administrator,” responsibility is assigned: “These initiatives are assigned to career Senior Executive Service managers who are held accountable by the NNSA Management Council, which is chaired by NNSA’s Principal Deputy Administrator, and ultimately the NNSA Administrator.”14 That message goes on to stress that meeting the objectives of the NDAA requires the efforts of both federal and contractor (M&O) personnel: “NNSA’s federal employees and M&O partners will work together to implement these improvements and ensure the mission is efficiently and safely carried out well into the future.”15
The “Message from the Secretary” in that plan also reflects an understanding of other principles of change as described in Box 4.1, including the necessity of evaluating the effectiveness of the actions taken:
DOE recognizes that to be successful the improvements must be long lasting and clearly understood. As a result DOE/NNSA is on track to create new policy documents and update existing ones to reflect these and other changes in the governance structure. Many of the new initiatives will take longer to put in place … cultural change takes time, persistence, and follow-up. DOE/NNSA will continue to evaluate whether the actions taken to date and in the future are effective.”16
After discussing recent NNSA accomplishments, the executive summary of the implementation plan summarizes the change approach taken thus far:
Governance and management reforms facilitated these programmatic achievements and continue to improve NNSA performance across the enterprise. These reforms include reorganizing several offices to enhance performance; clarifying roles and responsibilities; developing and promulgating clear and coherent policy; and implementing repeatable processes to ensure that headquarters elements, field offices, laboratories, plants, and sites make integrated, risk-informed decisions. DOE/NNSA has incorporated these processes into a variety of new DOE orders and policies, and NNSA supplemental directives and policies.”17
12 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, H.R. 1735, 114th Cong. (2015-2016).
13 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), 2016, Governance and Management of the Nuclear Security Enterprise: Report to Congress.
14 DOE, 2016, Governance and Management, p. i.
15 DOE, 2016, Governance and Management, p. i.
16 DOE, 2016, Governance and Management, p. iii.
17 DOE, 2016, Governance and Management, pp. vi-vii.
The panel has not had the opportunity to examine all of these steps nor assess their degree of completion or their effectiveness.
Finally, the plan commits NNSA to continued effort. In the executive summary, it says,
NNSA is committed to further reforms that will continue to improve its performance. Drawing from the recommendations of internal and external sources and reviews, NNSA is pursuing several initiatives to strengthen performance by instilling a more mission-driven management culture. These measures include (1) strengthening the national leadership’s attention to the nuclear security mission; (2) building a culture of performance and accountability at every level within NNSA and its laboratories, plants, and sites; (3) strengthening the partnership between NNSA and its M&O contractors; and (4) improving relations with other U.S. government agencies and departments.”18
Senior NNSA officials who had been assigned responsibility for implementing the recommendations of the three reference reports (notably, the Director of the Office of Policy and the Chief of Staff and Associate Principal Deputy Administrator) adopted an approach that grouped the Augustine-Mies and relevant CRENEL and SEAB Task Force recommendations into 17 topic areas, or themes, and identified lead officials for each of these areas. The Office of Policy worked with these officials to develop and begin implementing the plans for each of the thematic areas. Deadlines were set and monitored, and progress has been tracked since this effort began in early 2016. The implementation plan19 summarizes many of the actions taken to date—such as establishing and working with councils and developing, vetting, and implementing new policies and directives—as well as plans for actions yet to be implemented. The NNSA officials interviewed by the panel acknowledged that they have not yet developed or implemented plans for measuring and monitoring the effectiveness of the actions being taken.
In their separate reviews of year-after progress, the CRENEL co-chairs T.J. Glauthier and Jared L. Cohon noted that DOE and NNSA senior leadership were significantly involved in efforts to resolve administrative issues and improve relationships with national laboratories and M&O contractors. One example is the establishment of crosscutting working groups that combine DOE and national laboratory personnel to tackle tough challenges together.20 Continued progress will depend in part on the sustained actions of the Secretary and Administrator in utilizing the insights of these crosscutting working groups.
The external reports mentioned above, along with the leadership within DOE and NNSA, have provided important insights, recommendations, and initial steps for building a strong foundation upon which to achieve and sustain change that can improve effectiveness and efficiency of operations across the nuclear security enterprise. NNSA leadership appears to have embraced the recommendations for change identified by those reports. It has employed multiple strategies to foster greater strategic thinking, broader communications, and more productive and trusting working relationships across the collective enterprise. An important step toward institutionalizing change has been the reinstatement of high-level boards, with participation from former Secretary Moniz and General Klotz, which have focused more attention on big-picture discussions and long-term strategic thinking. The result is more productive strategic discussions between contractors and NNSA. These discussions, in turn, build trust by facilitating cross-enterprise leadership to work on problems together.
18 DOE, 2016, Governance and Management, pp. vii-viii.
19 DOE, 2016, Governance and Management.
Promising Actions and Approaches Taken to Achieving and Sustaining Change
The creation and activities of the high-level boards and councils has facilitated two-way communication and collaboration and holds promise for sustaining change across the enterprise while also fostering joint problem solving. Examples of these boards include the NNSA Management Council, the DOE Laboratory Policy Council, the DOE Laboratory Operations Board, and joint task forces of chief operating officers, chief financial officers, and chief information officers. One member of the Laboratory Operations Board said its deliberations have surfaced fewer points of friction. The commitment and attention of leadership has contributed significantly to the effectiveness of these groups, including building relationships and trust, but panel members’ experience with change management has shown that effective cross-organizational conversations based on shared goals and trust require ongoing attention if they are to be sustained.
The emphasis on partnering and decision making focused on achieving mission has the potential to influence the NNSA culture. This reflects the expectation that partnership relations between NNSA officials and contractors are more fruitful if they emphasize collaboration, often via integrated project teams (i.e., teams that are composed of individuals from the various affected entities). While additional information is needed to understand the extent of this nascent change, emphasis on collaboration and bringing together representatives from M&Os and NNSA functional offices appears encouraging.
An important early step for achieving change is to assign clear overall responsibility for developing and monitoring the actions to implement improvements. NNSA’s Administrator did this when he assigned this responsibility to the Director of the Office of Policy and the NNSA Chief of Staff and Associate Principle Deputy Administrator. These individuals have coordinated and monitored activities and taken on responsibility for implementing some specific actions. Their efforts have been designed to improve communication and relationships throughout the enterprise. As one particular example, they have spearheaded the work to coordinate data calls and reduce or eliminate unauthorized ones. The panel notes the continuing importance of clear assignment of responsibility for monitoring activities in the implementation plan.
DOE’s Office of Enterprise Assessment has revised its operations to work more collaboratively with program units, and it serves as an example of how a heightened mission focus may be achieved. DOE officials told the panel that steps taken by the Office of Enterprise Assessment since 2014 have resulted in reducing the number of their assessments and making those that are undertaken more constructive, moving away from a “fault-finding” focus. Another positive step is the work NNSA has under way to update its reliance on contractor assurance systems and its site governance model to more closely mirror the model used by the DOE Office of Science in oversight of its M&O contractors, which is generally seen as less burdensome.
Successful change can occur when both NNSA staff and M&O contractors share positive working relationships based on trust, shared information, and collaboration. Leadership’s early focus has been on achieving and sustaining attention to the need for change. Going forward, it will be equally important that steps are taken to ensure that early changes are embedded in daily practice, so that early changes provide a foundation for subsequent changes. Recognizing change as an iterative process can minimize the potential for early changes to be lost (or to backslide) when attention turns to subsequent change iterations.
As discussed above, successful change is dependent on clear communications, especially reliance on plain language in communicating important policies. Agency communication still has room for improvement on this dimension. For example, in DOE Policy 112.1, regarding DOE Roles and Responsibilities—National Laboratories, discussions the panel has had with various affected individuals have revealed that the definition of line management is understood differently by different parties, and
this sort of confusion is very concerning. Such lack of clarity on roles, responsibilities, and authority may undermine the process of effective change (see Chapter 2). An additional challenge is ensuring that the new Secretary of Energy is fully informed of and fully engaged in the importance of the NNSA, these change efforts, and the long-term nature of this work.
The panel also notes that NNSA change leaders have not identified what success looks like for the many activities under way, do not have measures (quantitative or qualitative) for monitoring progress, and have not yet developed reliable methods for knowing whether the steps being taken are accomplishing what is intended, what else is needed, or whether those steps should be modified to be more successful.21 The use of appropriate metrics would enable NNSA to monitor its efforts to achieve and sustain change. Experience with large-scale change management has shown that developing and testing metrics is an iterative process that can extend over years, so it is important that this work begin soon. Sustained attention to managing a culture of engagement and collaboration is needed if NNSA is to be an adaptable, high performing, and accountable agency.
In summary, the panel notes recent efforts, attention, and funding have led to encouraging progress to date. The panel further recognizes that leadership’s continued engagement in and focus on change management concepts and processes was an important accomplishment for the NNSA. To monitor and assess its progress, NNSA should address the following high-level questions:
- How is NNSA defining success in the aggregate? For specific programmatic and process changes?
- What entities in DOE and NNSA are responsible for designing, implementing, testing, and assessing the successes and/or failures of the various change initiatives? For making the needed adjustments to improve the likelihood of changes being successful?
- What quantitative or qualitative factors are being used to measure success for each of the 17 themes or topic areas listed in the implementation plan?
- What communications strategies and methods are being/will be used to inform agency leaders, employees, and contractors about change efforts and results? How is their effectiveness to be measured?
The Augustine-Mies, CRENEL, and SEAB Task Force reports, as well as the leadership within DOE/NNSA, identified practices that limit the effectiveness and efficiency of the nuclear security enterprise. The types of change necessary—process as well as culture change—take a long time and will require sustained attention from top leadership and engagement throughout the enterprise, as described earlier. The lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities observed by the panel may confound the process of change. Despite the emphasis on change and efforts to clarify priorities with the Administrator’s “Mission first, people always” goal, a common vision of change goals is not yet thoroughly embraced across the enterprise. Important progress has been made, but more needs to be done.
Finding 4.1. NNSA has not defined what success looks like as it works toward implementing the recommendations from previous reports, and it lacks qualitative or quantitative metrics to identify and measure change.
Finding 4.2. The change management process in place within NNSA is promising—it has addressed many foundational elements, such as obtaining top-level direction and involving
21 While performance metrics are essential to gauge success, documentation of change efforts and success should not become yet another burdensome practice.
participants from across the subcultures of the nuclear security enterprise. But the first steps of change are not yet fully embedded.
Recommendation 4.1. The NNSA Administrator should define an effective mission-focused operating model as the vision for implementing the changes called for in reports of the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise and the Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories and elsewhere. NNSA should continue to embrace the concept that change is an iterative process, requiring the sustained attention of leadership and the institution of a mature change management process. NNSA and the management and operating contractors should identify meaningful metrics that can be used to facilitate the identification, measurement, and tracking of change. Results from early change successes should become the foundation for subsequent, iterative actions that support the enterprise in achieving its important mission.