The congressionally mandated report A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise (the “Augustine-Mies” report), released in November 2014, concluded that “the existing governance structures and many of the practices of the [nuclear security] enterprise are inefficient and ineffective, thereby putting the entire enterprise at risk over the long term.”1 The report offered 19 recommendations, many with subcomponents, to improve the effectiveness of the enterprise. The recommendations that are within the control of the Department of Energy (DOE) and/or its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) relate to challenges in the following areas:
- Management structure and processes;
- Decision-making practices;
- Risk management;
- Culture of performance, accountability, and credibility;
- Best practices for shaping and building the enterprise workforce;
- Cost analysis and resource management capabilities;
- Budget and accounting structure;
- Strategy and plan for meeting future needs, including deferred maintenance, infrastructure, and workforce;
- Construction project management capabilities;
- Interactions between management and operating (M&O) contractors and NNSA/DOE;
- Wasteful and ineffective transactional oversight;
- Government–federally funded research and development center relationship; and
- Collaborations and trust with NNSA customers.
Similar issues were raised in another congressionally mandated report released in 2015, Securing America’s Future: Realizing the Potential of the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories (the “CRENEL” report),2 which examined all 17 of the DOE laboratories, including the 3 NNSA laboratories.
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. ix.
2 Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories, 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://www.energy.gov/labcommission/downloads/final-report-commission-review-effectiveness-national-energylaboratories.
Its 36 recommendations cover topics such as rebuilding trust, maintaining alignment and quality, managing effectiveness and efficiency, and ensuring lasting change.
Following the release of the Augustine-Mies report, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY2016 NDAA)3 called for DOE to develop an implementation plan for responding to the recommendations in that report and similar recommendations. The NDAA also called for a 4½-year study, joint between the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the National Academy of Public Administration, to track the actions proposed in that plan and to assess progress. This report is the first in a series of semi-annual reports to be issued over 2017-2020 as part of that study. The overall charge for the National Academies–NAPA study is described in Box S.1. The study panel, in consultation with cognizant staff from NNSA and Congress, decided to focus this first report on steps taken by NNSA to (1) clarify roles, responsibilities, authorities, and accountability; (2) mitigate burdensome practices; and (3) enable change to be achieved and sustained. These themes will be examined in greater detail in additional reports from the panel, along with additional themes.
Many previous reports have emphasized the importance of defining and implementing clear roles, responsibilities, authorities, and accountability within the nuclear security enterprise. Those studies found that overlapping and poorly defined functions and authorities have fostered inefficient and overly risk-averse procedures and cultures within DOE and NNSA. Furthermore, they noted that the lack of clear allocation of responsibilities between the M&O contractors and their federal sponsors has contributed to a significant deterioration in their relationship.
The existence of burdensome practices that limit the efficiency of work in the nuclear security enterprise has also been noted by many previous reports. Elements in the field are subject to oversight by a multiplicity of parties and policies—not only those of DOE and NNSA, but also those of the DOE Inspector General, DOE’s Office of Enterprise Assessment, the relevant NNSA field office, program offices at NNSA, and other federal and non-federal agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Defense, state and local regulators, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, and so on. The resulting excessive and uncoordinated oversight—through management processes and through inspections, audits, reviews, site
3 Section 3137 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, P.L. 112-92 (Nov. 25, 2016).
visits, and data calls—fuels inefficiencies, per past reports. Balancing the burden and value of necessary oversight has not been approached systematically, and it could be.
At a higher level, addressing the issues noted in reports such as that from the Augustine-Mies study required the nuclear security enterprise to embark on a program of large-scale change. Experience with 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 DOE and NNSA over the years by many experts and committees, and yet sustained effective change has not been achieved. The FY2016 NDAA 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.”4 Thus, an approach that explicitly prioritizes sustainable change is necessary to the accomplishment of NNSA’s mission, especially in partnership with its M&O contractors.
In this beginning stage of its study, the panel was impressed to see that longstanding governance and management issues in the nuclear security enterprise have received focused attention over the past 1 to 2 years. The direct involvement of the DOE Secretary and NNSA Administrator has been very valuable and absolutely necessary for this endeavor. In particular, the establishment of an NNSA Office of Policy to serve as a nexus for change management is an important element. It is critical that this momentum be sustained—a challenging requirement given the transition in top leadership and future uncertainty regarding funding and priorities. In fact, for the purpose of clarifying roles, responsibilities, authorities, and accountability—a task that is foundational to addressing other governance and management challenges—the panel believes greater urgency should be demonstrated. For example, although the need for clarification was identified in 2014 or earlier, a new governance construct was not released until 2016, after which a working group was established to resolve implementation details, which is ongoing. Further, an important open question is whether these initial changes are having the desired effect. This first report can assess only the very beginning of what may be a long trajectory.
The panel arrived at the following findings and recommendations, which are numbered here as they are numbered in the full report:
Finding 2.1. Many of the reform efforts called for in the Augustine-Mies report and elsewhere (e.g., reductions in the burden associated with necessary oversight) are contingent on having clarity as to roles, responsibilities, authorities, and accountability. The communications and relationships between NNSA’s M&O contractors and the agency appear to have improved in recent years, thanks in part to the creation of several crosscutting boards and advisory groups. However, there remains considerable ambiguity in roles, responsibilities, authorities, and accountability.
Finding 2.2. DOE and NNSA have issued several new documents and have undertaken other activities to address the recommendations for clarifying roles, responsibilities, authorities, and accountability, both among the officials and offices within DOE and NNSA and between the M&O contractors and their government sponsors. But the panel’s information gathering to date is not yet sufficient to fairly assess the current articulation and implementation of roles, responsibilities, authorities, and accountability (although laboratory staff expressed concerns to the panel) or to ascertain whether the current articulation and implementation are yielding the intended results.
4 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, H.R. 1735, 114th Cong. (2015-2016).
Recommendation 2.1. The NNSA Administrator should demonstrate urgency in efforts to clarify roles, responsibilities, authorities, and accountability, with particular emphasis on clarifying interactions and relationships between NNSA’s management and operating contractors and their government sponsors. Future documents need to resolve ambiguity in several of the earlier policy documents.
Finding 3.1. The mix of burdensome practices affecting the nuclear security enterprise is not characterized precisely enough to lead to targeted interventions for all of them. It would be helpful to know, for example, what fraction of oversight activities are within NNSA’s control, which burdensome practices are contributing the most to “burden” and why, which are associated with overlapping responsibilities, and so on. Such understanding is necessary before rational rebalancing is possible. The panel is not suggesting that a complete inventory of regular or ad hoc audits, investigations, and requests for data needs to be compiled.
Recommendation 3.1. The NNSA Administrator should develop and promulgate criteria to help the nuclear security enterprise understand when a process is adding burden that is not commensurate with its value and establish feedback loops so that burdensome practices are recognized. The nuclear security enterprise can then more rationally determine which practices to re-engineer through working groups that bring together the affected parties. In the long term, NNSA should strive to move away from a subjective debate over “burdensome practices” and seek to adopt a more systematic approach for defining oversight requirements.
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 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.