Now in its third year, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) initiative to improve strategic planning at its three laboratories is a promising step toward developing the integrated, enterprise-wide shared vision that is needed to rebuild the federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) relationship. However, because the process is still relatively new and measures of effectiveness have not been established, it is impossible to say how or whether the process has affected the FFRDC relationship or achieved other objectives.
The initiative was set up in partial response to Recommendation 17 in A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise (the “Augustine-Mies” report), which calls for the Secretary, Administrator, and National Laboratory Directors to “adopt management practices that serve to rebuild the strategic Government-FFRDC relationship.”1 Sub-recommendations add that the Secretary and Administrator should “continue to reinvigorate the strategic dialog with the Laboratory Directors,” and leaders in both government and management and operations should “prescribe and enforce behaviors that rebuild credibility and trust.”2 Reacting to that recommendation, Section III.C.2 of the December 2016 Department of Energy (DOE)-NNSA report to Congress, Governance and Management of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, states that
NNSA has established a laboratory strategic planning function in the NNSA Office of Policy . . . . NNSA will work with each of the laboratory directors, headquarters program managers, and NNSA FOMs [field office managers] to establish this new process . . . [which is meant to] strengthen the partnership and trust between NNSA and the national security laboratories, facilitate high-level discussions on the health of the laboratories to enable joint understanding and advocacy for long-term lab stewardship, and close the gaps in the current program and functional planning processes . . . . Over time this practice should improve communication and problem identification and result in more focused, timely solutions to problems, including aging infrastructure. NNSA may expand this process to the other NNSA sites in the future.3
NNSA’s laboratory strategic planning initiative was adapted from the strategic planning process used by the DOE Office of Science. In NNSA’s process, each laboratory director engages annually in high-level discussions with headquarters program managers, with the dual purpose of developing joint
1 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, http://cdn.knoxblogs.com/atomiccity/wpcontent/uploads/sites/11/2014/12/Governance.pdf?_ga=1.83182294.1320535883.1415285934, p. xxiii.
2 Ibid., p. xxiii.
strategy for long-term laboratory stewardship while also strengthening partnership and trust between NNSA and the laboratories.4 It is worth noting, though, that increasing mission focus is not explicitly included as an objective.5 It is also worth noting that the attendance by headquarters leaders at the in-person presentations of the laboratory strategic plans appears to have been inconsistent, thus reducing the effectiveness of what is meant to be a strategic dialogue. Moreover, this annual process actually has a fairly short-term and operational focus—as evidenced by the process guidelines, discussions with the laboratories, and the plans that have resulted so far—in contrast to what the panel would expect from true “strategic planning,” which is described at the beginning of the next section of this chapter.
The laboratory strategic planning initiative has value in terms of improving information-sharing and communication. Laboratory directors and FOMs interviewed by the panel noted that they particularly valued the opportunity to make a coherent, complete presentation about their laboratories and their futures to headquarters functional leaders and personnel, many of whom did not have a big picture perspective on the laboratories’ potential, needs, and future. NNSA told the panel that the laboratory strategic planning process has improved communication.
However, the strategic planning initiative described above, while reported to be productive, is only for the three NNSA laboratories and does not yet extend to other elements of the nuclear security enterprise. Furthermore, this laboratory strategic planning is not guided by an NNSA-wide strategic plan, nor does NNSA use the laboratory strategic plans as a foundation for integrative planning. (The closest approximation to an NNSA strategic plan—DOE’s and NNSA’s Enterprise Strategic Vision document from 2015—is primarily an operational plan focusing on specific projects, which does not truly provide the necessary strategic vision.6) The panel conceives of a strategic plan in the way that that term is used widely, especially in business—as a high-level description of an organization’s priorities for achieving objectives to ensure successful execution of its mission. Typically, a strategic plan is developed after an organization or its leadership develops and promulgates a vision for what the organization aspires to and how it might attain that state. Effective strategic plans refer to or build on that vision and/or objectives developed by leadership, possibly in collaboration with others.7 At present, a strategic plan that covers the entire nuclear security enterprise does not exist.
The Augustine-Mies report concluded that “a major cultural overhaul will be needed [at DOE/NNSA] to align the structure, resources, and decision processes with mission priorities.”8 That report noted that DOE/NNSA compares poorly with successfully managed organizations where a “[s]ingle strategic planning reference document guides all decisions.”9 Moreover, many of the concerns and recommendations in the Augustine-Mies report call for DOE/NNSA to better align organizational resources with mission. Effective strategic planning can be a mechanism to help do that. For example, the Augustine-Mies panel found that the failure to provide clear direction nationally and within the enterprise
4 NNSA memorandum, from Administrator Frank G. Klotz, for Office of Policy Director Steven C. Erhart, “2016 Governance and Management Priorities” (March 22), p. 2; DOE and NNSA, 2016, Governance and Management, pp. 23-24.
5 DOE and NNSA, 2016, Governance and Management, p. 24.
6 DOE and NNSA, 2015, Enterprise Strategic Vision, https://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/Strategic_Vision_2015_8-21_screen%20quality.pdf.
7 Note that this concept of a “strategic plan” differs somewhat from how the term is used in the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, which requires federal agencies to develop strategic plans regularly.
8 Congressional Advisory Panel, 2014, A New Foundation, p. 37.
9 Congressional Advisory Panel, 2014, A New Foundation, pp. 38, 89, and 152. The CRENEL report (vol. 1, page 49), also called for strategic planning jointly between NNSA and DoD and between DOE/NNSA and the agencies that procure laboratory services, but such interagency strategic planning is not addressed in this discussion.
has left individuals and groups competing for resources and attention, which has contributed to the lack of a “unifying focus on mission deliverables.”10
The panel feels that it is essential for NNSA to shift from a tactical to a strategic focus, because of recent major policy-determining events such as the release of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, possible significant funding increases, and the installation of a new NNSA Administrator. Developing a clear enterprise-wide strategy—a step the panel has been told is already under consideration within NNSA—will naturally identify governance and management challenges that impede progress. But that strategy needs to go further and articulate an effective concept of operations for addressing the mission—a clear picture of how roles and responsibilities, functions, and processes will work within the enterprise. This picture enables NNSA to delegate authorities, through rules and processes, for carrying out its mission while maintaining its accountability.
The development of an enterprise strategic plan is both a challenge and an opportunity. It is a challenge because it is clearly an ambitious task. In addition to addressing how the multiple components of the enterprise will pull together to accomplish a demanding (perhaps expanding) mission, the enterprise strategic plan also needs to reflect the constraints and uncertainties surrounding the enterprise. The nuclear security enterprise has multiple stakeholders who jointly set its goals and budgets while introducing unpredictable elements. The enterprise strategic plan, which the panel suggests could have a time horizon on the order of a decade, has to be developed with their buy-in. Developing such a plan is a great opportunity, not only to introduce a fresh, stronger vision for the enterprise, but also to address persistent problems that have resisted past efforts at solution.
The process for developing and implementing an integrated, enterprise-wide strategy consists of three discrete steps:
- Formulate strategy. This is best done by leaders from across the nuclear security enterprise, both government and contractor. They must first (as noted above) establish a vision for what the enterprise aspires to and how it might attain that state. Strategy-making should be collaborative, to include participation by other organizations, including service-delivery partners and stakeholders. Such an approach not only produces a better strategy, but also fosters communication and buy-in throughout the enterprise. Formulation of a strategy by leaders and managers is essential if a large enterprise is to be accountable to its mission and meet difficult challenges successfully. The goal of this first step is conceptual, not to produce a document.
- Articulate and transcribe the strategy—in plain English—and communicate it widely. This step helps to sharpen the thinking, is important for accountability and transparency, and serves as a record of the foundations of the strategy. At this point, each part of the strategy should describe how it contributes to the overall vision and what success will look like.
- Make the strategic goals operational. Elaborate the strategies into implementation plans—detailed programs and action plans with assigned responsibilities, schedules, budgets, control systems, measures or indicators of success with real-time organizational feedback, communication plans, and other elements as needed. The implementation plans should facilitate active tracking of progress on a regular basis, using the agreed-upon indicators of success, and sharing of progress data with those affected.
Creation of this enterprise strategic plan needs to be carried out with urgency. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review cannot be effectively implemented until the enterprise strategic planning is developed, and so the nuclear security enterprise needs the guidance this strategy will provide. Development of such
10 Congressional Advisory Panel, 2014, A New Foundation, pp. xiv, 37, and 40.
a strategy should be accomplished in months, not years. Once the new Administrator has settled in, building an enterprise strategic plan will create a common understanding across leadership of the top-level goals and a vision for how the components of the enterprise will work together. With the appropriate degree of urgency, the enterprise strategic plan should be in place within 6 months.
Recommendation 2.1. In response to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review and other policy statements, the new NNSA Administrator should urgently and personally lead the development of a mission-focused enterprise strategic plan that defines where the nuclear security enterprise needs to be in 10 years and what will be needed to get there.
One of the goals of the strategy is to advance top-down, bottom-up, and lateral integration and alignment across the enterprise. The strategy should focus on mission-related issues, but it also needs to address management issues such as those raised in the Augustine-Mies report. The Administrator should “own” the resulting strategy and take responsibility for promoting it throughout the enterprise by articulating what it means for each organization and encouraging discussions that lead to a shared vision and culture.
Ongoing governance and management improvements are tools to accomplish the vision in the enterprise strategic plan, and they should continue while that plan is being developed. For example, NNSA’s leadership of and engagement with the governance and management reform work has begun to improve communication substantially among the key components of the weapons complex, which represents a critical step toward rectifying the breakdown in communications and trust highlighted in the Augustine-Mies report. However, these steps alone are insufficient; they need to be tied to a mission-focused, enterprise-wide concept of operations and strategic plan. In addition, NNSA should continue its current laboratory strategic planning initiative to develop a process with the laboratories that is truly strategic, rather than operational. Those high-level strategy discussions could occur annually, with major revisions of the laboratory plans on a less frequent basis (every 4 or 5 years). The plans resulting from these discussions should be shared throughout the nuclear security enterprise to improve communication, transparency, and accountability.