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February 2, 2007: 

The Honorable Ellen Tauscher: 
Chairman: 
The Honorable Terry Everett: 
Ranking Minority Member: 
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces: 
Committee on Armed Services: 
House of Representatives: 

Subject: Nuclear Weapons: Annual Assessment of the Safety, Performance, 
and Reliability of the Nation's Stockpile: 

In 1992, the United States began a unilateral moratorium on the 
underground testing of nuclear weapons. Prior to the moratorium, 
underground nuclear testing was a critical component for evaluating and 
certifying nuclear warheads.[Footnote 1] In 1993, the Department of 
Energy (DOE), at the direction of the President and the Congress, 
established the Stockpile Stewardship Program to increase understanding 
of the basic phenomena associated with nuclear weapons, provide better 
predictive understanding of the safety and reliability of weapons, and 
ensure a strong scientific and technical basis for future United States 
nuclear weapons policy objectives.[Footnote 2] The National Nuclear 
Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within 
DOE, is now responsible for carrying out the Stockpile Stewardship 
Program through a nuclear weapons complex that comprises three nuclear 
weapons design laboratories (weapons laboratories), four production 
plants, and the Nevada Test Site. 

In 1995, the President established an annual stockpile assessment and 
reporting requirement to help ensure that the nation's nuclear weapons 
remained safe and reliable without underground nuclear testing. This 
decision was made in the context of negotiating a multilateral 
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to ban all nuclear weapons test 
explosions. As a condition or safeguard under which the United States 
would enter into such a test ban, the President established "Safeguard 
F"--an understanding that if the Secretaries of Energy and Defense 
informed the President that conducting an underground nuclear test was 
critical to maintaining confidence in a weapon's safety or reliability, 
the President, in consultation with the Congress, would be prepared to 
withdraw from the treaty. While the President submitted Safeguard F 
along with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for 
ratification in 1997, the Senate voted to reject the treaty in 1999. 
However, the United States continues to maintain a moratorium on 
underground nuclear testing as a matter of national policy. 

Subsequently, the Congress enacted into law the requirement for an 
annual stockpile assessment (annual assessment) process in section 3141 
of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 
2003.[Footnote 3] Specifically, section 3141 requires that the 
Secretaries of Energy and Defense submit a package of reports on the 
results of their annual assessment to the President by March 1 of each 
year. The President must forward the reports to the Congress by March 
15. These reports are prepared individually by the directors of the 
three DOE weapons laboratories--Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), 
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and Sandia National 
Laboratories (SNL)--and by the Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command 
(USSTRATCOM), who is responsible for targeting nuclear weapons within 
the Department of Defense (DOD). The reports provide each official's 
assessment of the safety, reliability, and performance of each weapon 
type in the nuclear stockpile. In addition, the Commander of USSTRATCOM 
assesses the military effectiveness of the stockpile. In particular, 
the reports include an assessment about whether it is necessary to 
conduct an underground nuclear test to resolve any identified issues. 
The Secretaries of Energy and Defense are required to submit these 
reports unaltered to the President, along with the conclusions the 
Secretaries have reached as to the safety, reliability, performance, 
and military effectiveness of the nuclear stockpile. The Nuclear 
Weapons Council (NWC), a joint DOD/DOE organization that coordinates 
nuclear weapons activities between the two departments, supports the 
two Secretaries in fulfilling their responsibility to inform the 
President if a return to underground nuclear testing is required to 
address any issues identified with the stockpile.[Footnote 4] In this 
context, you asked us to describe the processes that DOE and DOD have 
established for fulfilling the requirements of the annual assessment. 

To determine the process that DOE and DOD have established to fulfill 
the annual assessment requirements, we reviewed the major reports and 
briefings generated during the annual assessment cycles for 2005 and 
2006, including the reports generated by the weapons laboratories and 
USSTRATCOM. We also interviewed DOE and DOD officials, including 
representatives from NNSA, each weapons laboratory, USSTRATCOM, the 
NWC, the Air Force, the Navy, and the U.S. Nuclear Command and Control 
System Support Staff. In addition, we interviewed former National 
Security Council staff and staff associated with the House and Senate 
Committees on Armed Services to obtain the perspective of the end users 
of the annual assessment reports. We conducted our review from April 
2006 to December 2006 in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. 

Summary: 

To satisfy the requirements of section 3141 of the National Defense 
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, DOD and DOE have established an 
annual assessment process that reaches conclusions and makes judgments 
about the U.S. nuclear stockpile and, in particular, whether it is 
necessary to conduct an underground nuclear test to resolve any 
questions about a particular weapon type. The annual assessment process 
takes about 14 months to complete--during which time the nuclear 
weapons community collaborates on technical issues affecting the 
safety, reliability, performance, and military effectiveness of the 
stockpile--and produces seven different types of reports. The annual 
assessment process culminates in the "Report on Stockpile Assessments" 
prepared by the NWC, which includes an executive summary, a joint 
letter signed by the Secretaries of Energy and Defense, and unaltered 
copies of the weapons laboratory director reports and the Commander of 
USSTRATCOM report. 

The directors of the nuclear weapons laboratories base their reports on 
the technical work of their laboratories, which is derived from ongoing 
work associated with NNSA's Stockpile Stewardship Program, as well as 
feedback they receive from independent teams of experts from all three 
of the weapons laboratories. The Commander of USSTRATCOM bases his 
report on the advice of a technical advisory group, which holds an 
annual conference bringing together all of the organizations involved 
in the annual assessment, and additional operational information 
provided by USSTRATCOM and the military services. The NWC, supported by 
warhead-specific technical groups, pulls together the information from 
DOE and DOD. The NWC then produces an executive summary of all of the 
reports and prepares a joint letter from the Secretaries of Energy and 
Defense to the President of the United States, which is forwarded to 
the Congress. While the principal purpose of annual assessment is to 
provide analysis of and judgments about the safety, reliability, 
performance, and military effectiveness of the nuclear stockpile, the 
process would not be used as a vehicle for notifying decision makers 
about an immediate need to conduct a nuclear test. According to agency 
and congressional officials, if an issue with a weapon were to arise 
that required a nuclear test to resolve, the Secretaries of Energy and 
Defense, the President, and the Congress would be notified immediately 
and outside of the context of the annual assessment process. 

We provided a draft of this report to NNSA and DOD for their review and 
comment. Overall, NNSA stated that it generally agreed with the 
findings of the draft report. NNSA also provided technical comments, 
which we incorporated into the report as appropriate. DOD provided oral 
comments of a technical nature, which we incorporated into the report 
as appropriate. 

Background: 

The U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile consists of nine weapon types. (See 
table 1.) These weapons include gravity bombs deliverable by dual- 
capable fighter aircraft and long-range bombers; cruise missiles 
deliverable by aircraft and submarines; submarine-launched ballistic 
missiles; and intercontinental ballistic missiles. 

Table 1: Current U.S. Nuclear Weapon Types: 

Warhead or bomb type: B61-3/4/10; 
Description: Tactical bomb; 
Delivery system: F-15, F-16, Tornado; 
Laboratory: LANL / SNL; 
Military service: Air Force. 

Warhead or bomb type: B61-7/11; 
Description: Strategic bomb; 
Delivery system: B-52, B-2; 
Laboratory: LANL / SNL; 
Military service: Air Force. 

Warhead or bomb type: W62; 
Description: ICBM warhead[A]; 
Delivery system: Minuteman III ICBM; 
Laboratory: LLNL / SNL; 
Military service: Air Force. 

Warhead or bomb type: W76; 
Description: SLBM warhead[B]; 
Delivery system: Trident D5 missile, ballistic-missile submarine; 
Laboratory: LANL / SNL; 
Military service: Navy. 

Warhead or bomb type: W78; 
Description: ICBM warhead; 
Delivery system: Minuteman III ICBM; 
Laboratory: LANL / SNL; 
Military service: Air Force. 

Warhead or bomb type: W80-0; 
Description: TLAM/N[C]; 
Delivery system: Attack submarine; 
Laboratory: LLNL / SNL; 
Military service: Navy. 

Warhead or bomb type: W80-1; 
Description: ALCM, ACM[D]; 
Delivery system: B-52; 
Laboratory: LLNL / SNL; 
Military service: Air Force. 

Warhead or bomb type: B83-1; 
Description: Strategic bomb; 
Delivery system: B-52, B2; 
Laboratory: LLNL / SNL; 
Military service: Air Force. 

Warhead or bomb type: W87; 
Description: ICBM warhead; 
Delivery system: Minuteman III ICBM; 
Laboratory: LLNL / SNL; 
Military service: Air Force. 

Warhead or bomb type: W88; 
Description: SLBM warhead; 
Delivery system: Trident D5 missile, ballistic-missile submarine; 
Laboratory: LANL / SNL; 
Military service: Navy. 

Source: NWC. 

Note: As of 2005, responsibility for the W80-0/1 was transferred from 
LANL to LLNL. The W87 is in the process of transitioning from the 
Peacekeeper missile to the Minuteman III missile. 

[A] ICBM = Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. 

[B] SLBM = Submarine- Launched Ballistic Missile. 

[C] TLAM/N = Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile/ Nuclear. 

[D] ALCM = Air-Launched Cruise Missile; ACM = Advanced Cruise Missile. 

[End of table] 

In the context of the annual assessment process, the terms "warhead," 
"weapon," and "delivery system" have different technical meanings. 

 A nuclear warhead is composed of a nuclear explosive package, which 
includes the components that produce nuclear energy of a militarily 
significant yield and a set of supporting nonnuclear components. 
Depending on the specific weapon type, the supporting nonnuclear 
components control the use, arming, and firing of the nuclear explosive 
package. 

 A nuclear weapon includes the warhead and certain weapon-specific 
components, such as fuzes, batteries, and reentry vehicles and bodies 
(in the case of a ballistic missile) that configure the warhead for DOD 
use in a missile or as a bomb. 

 A delivery system is the military vehicle--ballistic or cruise 
missile, airplane, or submarine--by which a nuclear weapon could be 
delivered to its intended target. 

Both DOE and DOD have responsibilities for nuclear weapons. DOE is 
responsible for nuclear warheads and for nuclear bombs in their 
entirety (including components such as parachutes). For reentry 
vehicles and reentry bodies, DOD is responsible for components that arm 
the weapon and provide authorization for its use. Specific organization 
responsibilities are as follows: 

 Two DOE weapons laboratories (LANL and LLNL) design the nuclear 
explosive packages and conduct scientific research and development to 
better understand nuclear weapons phenomena. The DOE engineering 
laboratory (SNL) has principal responsibility for the research, design, 
and development of nonnuclear warhead components; integration of these 
components with LANL and LLNL; and overall warhead systems integration 
with DOD.[Footnote 5] 

 DOE's NNSA oversees the management and operation of the weapons 
laboratories, the Nevada Test Site, and four production plants--the 
Pantex Plant in Texas, the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, 
the Kansas City Plant in Missouri, and a portion of the Savannah River 
Site in South Carolina. These plants manufacture nuclear warhead 
components, assemble nuclear weapons, and disassemble and inspect 
nuclear weapons in preparation for surveillance testing and other 
activities. The Nevada Test Site maintains the capability to conduct 
underground nuclear testing and also conducts experiments involving 
nuclear material and high explosives. 

 The military services--the Air Force and the Navy, in the case of the 
current stockpile--develop the operational specifications for nuclear 
weapons. These specifications are defined in two documents: (1) the 
military characteristics document, which describes the required 
operational performance characteristics (e.g., yield) for a particular 
warhead type, and (2) the stockpile-to-target sequence document, which 
describes the normal and abnormal environments a warhead type is 
expected to encounter throughout its lifetime. In addition, the 
military services operate nuclear weapons storage sites within the 
continental United States and are responsible for the safety, security, 
survivability, movement, storage, and maintenance of all nuclear 
weapons in those storage areas. 

 USSTRATCOM, which was established as a unified combatant command in 
1992, has primary responsibility for the use of strategic nuclear 
forces, including targeting nuclear weapons and preparing the U.S. 
strategic nuclear war plan. Unified combatant commands are responsible 
for accomplishing the multiservice missions assigned to them by the 
Secretary of Defense. Starting in 2002, the mission of USSTRATCOM 
expanded and now includes responsibilities associated with global 
strike planning and execution; integrating global ballistic missile 
defense; overseeing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; 
global command and control; DOD information operations; and DOD's 
efforts to combat weapons of mass destruction. 

 The Strategic Advisory Group Stockpile Assessment Team (SAGSAT) is 
part of a USSTRATCOM advisory committee and provides technical 
expertise to the USSTRATCOM Commander on nuclear weapons issues. 
Specifically, SAGSAT supports the Commander by (1) conducting an annual 
conference on nuclear weapons stockpile assessment that considers all 
nuclear weapons in the stockpile; (2) reporting on trends regarding 
confidence in the reliability, safety, and surety of the nuclear 
weapons stockpile and whether nuclear testing is required; and (3) 
advising on performance and surety issues. The members of the SAGSAT 
are recognized experts in the nuclear weapons field and are generally 
retired employees of the national laboratories and military services or 
have held positions with major defense contractors. 

 The NWC is a joint DOD/DOE organization established by the Congress 
in 1987 to facilitate high-level cooperation and coordination between 
the two departments as they fulfill their dual responsibilities for 
securing, maintaining, and sustaining the U.S. nuclear weapons 
stockpile. The NWC is chaired by the Under Secretary of Defense for 
Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Other members include the Vice 
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Under Secretary of Energy 
for Nuclear Security (NNSA Administrator), the Under Secretary of 
Defense for Policy, and the Commander of USSTRATCOM. 

 A Project Officers Group (POG) is a joint DOD/DOE group that is 
chartered by the NWC at the beginning of a weapon development 
program.[Footnote 6] For each weapon type, a POG provides the technical 
forum for coordinating activities related to the development, 
sustainment, operational effectiveness, and overall management of the 
weapon, including the weapon's compatibility with its delivery system. 
Each POG is led by a lead project officer (LPO) who reports to the NWC 
through the lead cognizant military service (Air Force or Navy). POG 
membership is specific to the weapon for which it is responsible but 
generally includes organizations within DOE and DOD--such as NNSA, the 
weapons laboratories, combatant commands, and the military services-- 
that expend resources on the weapon. 

President Clinton established the requirement for an annual assessment 
and reporting process in a 1995 statement that accompanied his 
announcement of support for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: "I am 
today directing the establishment of a new annual reporting and 
certification requirement that will ensure that our nuclear weapons 
remain safe and reliable under a comprehensive test ban." While the 
President's original statement uses the term "certification," the 
nuclear weapons community currently refers to this process as 
"assessment." The reason for this distinction, according to NNSA and 
laboratory officials, is that the term "certification" has a specific, 
technical meaning that is separate from that intended by the annual 
assessment process. Specifically, certification is the process through 
which the weapons laboratory directors establish that a particular 
nuclear warhead or bomb meets its designated military characteristics, 
stockpile-to-target sequence, and "interface requirements" 
(compatibility with its delivery system). According to NNSA and 
laboratory officials, once a warhead is certified, it remains certified 
until it is either decertified or retired. As a result, annual 
assessment is not an annual "recertification" of the stockpile; rather, 
according to officials from NNSA and the weapons laboratories, it is an 
assessment of whether each warhead type still meets the same standards 
as it did when it was originally certified. 

Following the President's 1995 statement, the NWC issued guidance in 
1996 to formalize the processes used by DOE and DOD to meet the annual 
assessment and reporting requirement. Subsequently, in 2001, President 
Bush reaffirmed that the annual assessment and reporting process would 
continue. Finally, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 
Year 2003 enacted the requirements for annual assessments into law. 
Specifically, section 3141 of the act requires the director of each 
weapons laboratory and the Commander of USSTRATCOM to make an annual 
assessment of the safety, reliability, and performance of each weapon 
type in the nuclear stockpile. The Commander of USSTRATCOM is also 
required to make an annual assessment of the military effectiveness of 
the stockpile. In addition, these officials are required to issue 
individual reports on their assessments to the Secretaries of Energy 
and Defense, and to the NWC, by December 1 of each year. These reports 
must include an assessment as to whether it is necessary to conduct an 
underground nuclear test to resolve any issues identified in the 
reports. By March 1 of each year, the Secretaries of Energy and Defense 
are required to submit these reports unaltered to the President, along 
with the conclusions that the Secretaries have reached as to the 
safety, reliability, performance, and military effectiveness of the 
nuclear stockpile. Finally, the President is required to forward these 
reports, along with any comments the President considers appropriate, 
to the Congress no later than March 15 of each year. 

Section 3141 of the act also expanded the requirements for annual 
assessment beyond the original process established in 1996. More 
specifically, it required: 

 the weapons laboratory directors and the Commander of USSTRATCOM to 
include in their reports (1) an identification of specific underground 
nuclear tests that, while not necessary, might have value in resolving 
any identified issues, and (2) a determination of the readiness of the 
United States to conduct an underground nuclear test (where one is 
deemed to be necessary or valuable), 

 the weapons laboratory directors to include in their reports (1) a 
summary of findings from "red teams," made up of experts from all three 
weapons laboratories, who have reviewed technical laboratory 
information and subjected it to challenge; (2) a concise statement 
regarding the adequacy of science-based tools and methods used in 
making the assessment; and (3) a concise statement regarding the 
adequacy of tools and methods employed by the manufacturing 
infrastructure to identify and fix any problems addressed by the 
assessment, and: 

 the Commander of USSTRATCOM to include in his report (1) a discussion 
of the relative merits of other nuclear weapon types or compensatory 
measures that could be taken should any deficiency be identified and 
(2) identification of any matter having an adverse effect on the 
Commander's ability to accurately address the issues covered by the 
assessment. 

Events over the past several years have served to intensify concern 
about how the United States maintains its nuclear deterrent. 
Specifically, 

* The 2001 Nuclear Posture Review stated, among other things, that Cold 
War practices related to nuclear weapons planning were obsolete, and 
few changes had been made to the size or composition of the nation's 
nuclear forces. Furthermore, the review found that there had been 
underinvestment in the nuclear weapons complex, particularly the 
production sites. The review called for, among other things, the 
development of a "responsive infrastructure" that would be sized to 
meet the needs of a smaller nuclear deterrent while having the 
capability of responding to future strategic challenges. 

* The 2002 Moscow Treaty between the United States and Russia set a 
goal of reducing the number of operationally deployed strategic U.S. 
nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012. However, a 
significant number of existing warheads will be kept in reserve as 
augmentation warheads to address potential technical contingencies with 
the existing stockpile or geopolitical changes. 

* In recent congressional testimony, the Secretary of Energy and the 
Administrator of NNSA emphasized that while they believe stockpile 
stewardship is working, the current Cold War legacy stockpile is wrong 
for the long term, and the current nuclear weapons infrastructure is 
not responsive to unanticipated events or emerging threats. 

* NNSA and DOD created the Reliable Replacement Warhead program to 
study a new approach for providing a credible nuclear warhead deterrent 
over the long term.[Footnote 7] The Reliable Replacement Warhead 
program would redesign weapon components to be easier to manufacture, 
maintain, dismantle, and certify without nuclear testing, potentially 
allowing NNSA to transition to a smaller and more efficient weapons 
complex. A design competition between LANL and LLNL was originally 
scheduled to be completed in November 2006. While NNSA and DOD have not 
yet selected a preferred design, the two departments have determined 
that the RRW is feasible. 

* Finally, in 2006, NNSA offered a proposal to address long-standing 
problems with the condition and responsiveness of the nuclear 
production facilities. Under its plan--Complex 2030: A Preferred 
Infrastructure Planning Scenario for the Nuclear Weapons Complex--NNSA 
proposed to build a new, consolidated plutonium center at a yet-to-be 
determined location that would replace the interim plutonium production 
capability at LANL. A key responsibility of the plutonium center would 
be to manufacture components for a Reliable Replacement Warhead-based 
stockpile. In addition, NNSA proposed modernizing the remaining 
production capabilities at their existing locations, including the Y-12 
National Security Complex, Savannah River Site, and Pantex Plant. NNSA 
also proposed eventually removing all weapons-grade material from the 
three weapons laboratories. 

The Annual Assessment Process Results in a Package of Reports That Make 
Conclusions and Judgments about the Nuclear Stockpile: 

The annual assessment process results in a series of high-level reports 
that make conclusions and judgments about the safety, performance, 
reliability, and military effectiveness of the weapons in the nuclear 
stockpile and whether there is a technical issue that requires 
resolution through underground nuclear testing. These high-level 
reports are underpinned by technical reports that capture ongoing work 
on the stockpile, specifically activities associated with DOE's 
Stockpile Stewardship Program and other DOD surveillance activities. In 
total, the following seven types of reports are produced during a 
single annual assessment cycle: 

* Weapons Laboratory Annual Assessment Reports (AARs): AARs are 
prepared for each weapon type by the technical staff of the weapons 
laboratory responsible for the nuclear explosive package (LANL or LLNL) 
and their engineering counterpart at SNL. Each AAR contains technical 
information concerning the potential need for underground nuclear 
testing and whether each warhead type meets its required military 
characteristics, such as warhead yield, throughout its stockpile-to-
target sequence. 

* Weapons Laboratory Red Team Reports: A red team at each weapons 
laboratory issues a report to the laboratory director that assesses the 
technical information contained in the laboratory's AARs and the 
potential need for underground nuclear testing. 

* Weapons Laboratory Director Reports: Each laboratory director submits 
an independent assessment report of the safety, performance, and 
reliability of the nuclear stockpile to the NWC and the Secretaries of 
Energy and Defense by December 1 of each year. 

* SAGSAT Report: The SAGSAT prepares a report for the USSTRATCOM 
Commander that provides the technical underpinning for the Commander's 
assessment of the stockpile. This report expresses the SAGSAT's 
confidence as to whether each warhead type will perform as designed and 
makes recommendations for USSTRATCOM action. 

* Commander of USSTRATCOM Report: The Commander of USSTRATCOM submits 
an independent assessment report of the safety, performance, 
reliability and military effectiveness of the nuclear stockpile to the 
NWC and the Secretaries of Energy and Defense by December 1 of each 
year. 

* POG Reports: Each POG issues a technical annual assessment report to 
the NWC on the warhead type for which it is responsible. These reports 
are based largely on the weapons laboratories' AARs but also include 
additional information on military-service specific issues, including 
the results of surveillance testing performed by DOD and its 
contractors, operational issues such as deployment numbers, and 
logistical issues such as the status of work on weapons being done at 
military installations. 

* Report on Stockpile Assessments: The NWC prepares a report package, 
known as the "Report on Stockpile Assessments," on behalf of the 
Secretaries of Energy and Defense. The package includes an executive 
summary, a joint letter signed by both Secretaries, and unaltered 
copies of the weapons laboratory director reports and the Commander of 
USSTRATCOM report. This package is conveyed to the President by March 1 
and forwarded to the Congress by March 15 of each year. 

Each annual assessment cycle takes approximately 14 months to complete. 
Figure 1 illustrates the time frames during which each type of annual 
assessment report was developed and completed during the 2005 cycle. 
Specifically, technical analysis conducted by the laboratories began in 
December 2004 and was completed in July 2005. Subsequently, the 
laboratory directors and Commander of USSTRATCOM completed their high- 
level reports by the middle of October, in advance of their December 1 
statutory deadline. The NWC prepared the executive summary between the 
end of September 2005 and the end of February 2006. 

Figure 1: 2005 Annual Assessment Reporting Time line: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: GAO. 

Note: The red team reports are not listed separately but are used by 
the laboratory directors in completing their reports. 

[End of figure] 

The Weapons Laboratories' and Laboratory Directors' Reports Are Based 
on Ongoing Stockpile Stewardship Program Activities: 

According to laboratory officials, the information provided in the 
AARs--the technical basis for the annual assessment process--is derived 
from ongoing activities associated with NNSA's Stockpile Stewardship 
Program. Specifically, the AARs focus on the following three areas: 

* Surveillance: A key component of the Stockpile Stewardship Program is 
annual surveillance testing, in which active stockpile weapons are 
randomly selected, disassembled, inspected, and tested--either in 
laboratory tests or in flight tests--to identify any problems that 
might affect a weapon's safety or reliability. Problems identified 
during surveillance testing that may warrant further testing and 
analysis result in the creation of a "significant finding 
investigation" to determine the problems' cause, extent, and effect on 
the performance, safety, and reliability of the stockpile. As part of 
the Stockpile Stewardship Program, NNSA tracks surveillance results 
through quarterly reports on significant finding investigations and 
other surveillance reports. Each AAR (1) summarizes the status of 
surveillance testing at the three laboratories; (2) details any backlog 
there might be in surveillance testing; and (3) describes the effect of 
surveillance results, significant finding investigations, or 
surveillance backlogs on weapon performance, safety, or reliability. In 
recent years, AARs have called attention to the importance of 
surveillance testing as weapons in the stockpile are aging beyond their 
original design lives. Further, AARs have highlighted limitations at 
the production complex, particularly at the Pantex Plant, that have 
contributed to surveillance backlogs.[Footnote 8] 

* Performance: The annual assessment seeks to determine whether each 
warhead type still meets the same standards it did when it was 
originally certified. A key standard is whether the performance of the 
nuclear explosive package would meet requirements for generating 
militarily significant yield should the weapon be used. To support this 
determination, LANL and LLNL use a "quantification of margins and 
uncertainties" (QMU) methodology, which focuses on creating a common 
"watch list" of factors that are the most critical to the operation and 
performance of a nuclear weapon.[Footnote 9] QMU seeks to quantify (1) 
how close each critical factor is to the point at which it would fail 
to perform as designed and (2) the uncertainty that exists in 
calculating the margin, in order to ensure that the margin is 
sufficiently larger than the uncertainty. The laboratories' use of QMU 
depends significantly on their ability to simulate the explosion of a 
nuclear weapon. Toward this end, the weapons laboratories rely on 
NNSA's Advanced Simulation and Computing program, which supports 
stockpile stewardship by providing computer simulation capabilities to 
predict weapons' performance, safety, and reliability. Computer models 
are validated against the historic data collected during previous 
underground nuclear tests and are constantly improved and updated as 
new data becomes available from surveillance testing, material 
properties testing, and other physics experiments. Based on the use of 
QMU, computer simulations, and experimental data, AARs report a 
warhead's expected yield, factors influencing the expected yield, and 
the extent to which there is uncertainty in the expected yield. 

* Reliability: All nuclear weapons are originally certified to meet a 
key military characteristic known as weapon reliability. DOE defines 
weapon reliability as "the probability of achieving the specified 
yield, at the target, across the Stockpile-to-Target Sequence of 
environments, throughout the weapon's lifetime, assuming proper 
inputs." According to laboratory officials, LANL and LLNL use QMU to 
support the reliability assessment of each weapon type's nuclear 
explosive package, while SNL uses statistical data and QMU-based 
methodologies to predict the reliability of nonnuclear components. SNL 
then combines these probabilities to come up with an overall 
reliability calculation for each warhead or bomb type. NNSA issues a 
separate, semiannual report on weapon reliability and provides it to 
USSTRATCOM for use in war planning. The laboratories' AARs republish 
the most recent reliability calculations in the context of annual 
assessment.[Footnote 10] 

To oversee the development of the AARs and to facilitate key annual 
assessment deliverables, each laboratory relies on an annual assessment 
coordinator and key technical staff. Laboratory coordinators develop 
schedules for the circulation of between three and five drafts of each 
AAR. Laboratory program managers for each weapon type are responsible 
for the technical content of each AAR, and dozens of other scientific 
and engineering staff at each laboratory participate in the development 
and review of AARs. Drafts of the AARs are reviewed by officials from 
the other weapons laboratories, the relevant POGs, and NNSA. In 
addition, one laboratory coordinator told us that he looks at cross- 
cutting issues in the AARs to ensure that they are being consistently 
and completely addressed. Beginning in the 2006 annual assessment 
cycle, laboratory coordinators from LANL and LLNL collaborated to 
organize an additional level of peer review by bringing both laboratory 
directors together to receive technical annual assessment briefings 
from their staffs upon completion of the AARs. 

NNSA oversees the weapons laboratories' annual assessment reporting 
activities through the use of an annual assessment coordinator. The 
NNSA annual assessment coordinator said that officials throughout NNSA 
review drafts of the laboratories' AARs and provide comments to the 
laboratories on the accuracy of these reports. In addition, NNSA has 
issued formal business and operating guidance[Footnote 11] for the 
conduct and oversight of the annual assessment process that contains 
milestones for key laboratory deliverables and requirements for the 
format and organization of laboratory AARs. At the beginning of each 
annual assessment cycle, the NNSA annual assessment coordinator meets 
with the laboratory coordinators to agree on the major milestones and 
key deliverables for the year and to highlight areas for improvement 
from the previous year. NNSA also issues formal tasking letters and an 
execution plan to each of the laboratories for the annual assessment 
cycle. The letters state that AARs should not become advocacy platforms 
for specific upgrades or enhancements, or for specific facilities or 
technology developments. In addition, the plan states that, aside from 
meeting statutory requirements, the format and organization of the 
laboratory directors' reports are left entirely up to each director. 

Red teams, comprised of experts from all three of the weapons 
laboratories, also develop reports and provide additional technical 
input for each laboratory director's consideration. The use of red 
teams is mandated by section 3141, which requires the red teams to 
challenge the technical information provided in the laboratories' AARs 
and to provide independent analysis to each laboratory director. 
According to laboratory officials, red team members' activities are not 
constrained. For example, they can interview laboratory employees 
without notifying laboratory management in advance. In addition, some 
red team members are retired laboratory employees, which is seen as 
enhancing their independence. However, laboratory officials said that 
red teams do not have separate budgets and do not have resources to 
perform their own experiments or gather their own data. Instead, they 
are expected to pose questions to those responsible for the technical 
information in the AARs and make recommendations to the laboratory 
director. A LANL official said that the findings of LANL's red team are 
shared with its laboratory director and senior laboratory weapons 
managers. However, at LLNL and SNL, the red teams' findings are shared 
more broadly with laboratory staff. 

Finally, the laboratory directors rely on the AARs, the red teams' 
findings, and additional technical assessments provided by laboratory 
experts and managers to write their own report, which reflects their 
individual assessment of the safety, performance, and reliability of 
the weapons in the nuclear stockpile. In particular, laboratory 
directors consult with laboratory technical staff to assess nuclear 
test readiness, the adequacy of the tools and methods employed by the 
production complex, and the adequacy of science-based tools and 
methods. Details of each of these areas of assessment are as follows: 

* Test readiness: According to laboratory officials, each laboratory 
has technical staff with specific responsibilities related to the Test 
Readiness program, which is managed by NNSA and focuses on the ability 
of the Nevada Test Site to conduct an underground nuclear test, should 
a decision be made to resume underground testing. Laboratory staff work 
on an ongoing basis with their counterparts at the Nevada Test Site 
and, for annual assessment, brief the laboratories on the status of 
issues related to test readiness. In addition, laboratory directors 
identify high-priority nuclear tests--tests that would provide 
significant data to resolve identified issues--in their annual 
assessment reports, and this information is provided to NNSA and Nevada 
Test Site officials for their use in the Test Readiness program. In a 
separate, biannual report to the Congress, NNSA also provides data on 
essential workforce skills, capabilities, and infrastructure 
requirements to support test readiness.[Footnote 12] 

* Adequacy of tools and methods employed by the production complex: 
Laboratory officials said that laboratory employees work on-site at the 
production plants and provide regular updates to the laboratory 
directors on the status of the production complex. These officials 
noted that laboratory directors are not obligated to assess the overall 
adequacy or capability of the manufacturing complex; rather, the 
laboratory directors focus on the extent to which manufacturing tools 
and methods are sufficient to allow them to assess the safety, 
performance, and reliability of the stockpile. NNSA officials said that 
limitations at the production complex, particularly at the Pantex 
Plant, have contributed to surveillance backlogs, which affect the 
laboratories' ability to make a complete assessment. However, because 
the existing weapon types have been in the stockpile for decades, 
laboratory officials expressed confidence in their understanding of 
production processes and the extent to which production capabilities or 
inadequacies affect their ability to assess the stockpile. 

* Adequacy of science-based tools and methods: Laboratory officials 
said that to assess the adequacy of science-based tools and methods, 
laboratory directors consider whether the laboratories have the 
capabilities to continue to effectively and efficiently assess the 
safety, performance, and reliability of the stockpile. For example, 
LANL officials said that impediments to addressing significant finding 
investigations may call attention to areas where the laboratories' 
science-based tools and methods need improvement. In addition, LLNL 
officials said that they rely heavily on the QMU methodology to assess 
the adequacy of their computer modeling efforts. However, laboratory 
officials said that meeting the standard for adequacy does not require 
laboratories to have capabilities to address every question about the 
stockpile that may arise. Other laboratory officials acknowledged that 
the laboratory directors' conclusions about the adequacy of science- 
based tools and methods do not always agree and that, while tools and 
methods may currently be adequate, this assessment could change in the 
future. 

The Commander of USSTRATCOM's Report Is Based Primarily on the Advice 
of a Technical Advisory Group: 

According to USSTRATCOM and SAGSAT officials, the SAGSAT fulfills its 
primary mission--to provide technical expertise to the USSTRATCOM 
Commander--by conducting an assessment of all nuclear weapons in the 
stockpile and reporting on this assessment to the Commander. The SAGSAT 
holds an annual conference to gather information from all of the 
parties involved in annual assessment, including the weapons 
laboratories, the POGs, NNSA, and DOD. The conference is typically held 
each year in June and lasts approximately 1 week. In advance of the 
conference, the SAGSAT issues guidance to each of the conference 
attendees describing specific topics of interest on which the SAGSAT 
and Commander would like to briefed. The guidance that SAGSAT issued 
for the 2006 annual assessment cycle directed the weapons laboratories 
and the POGs to provide warhead system-specific briefings that focused 
on safety and security, nuclear explosive package performance, 
operational testing plans and results, and the projected health of the 
warhead. In addition, this guidance directed: 

* NNSA to address the overall status of the production complex and 
plans for addressing shortfalls in current stockpile support 
activities, such as surveillance testing; 

* LANL and LLNL to provide information on their efforts to advance the 
QMU methodology and on the status of a study on the lifetime of 
plutonium; 

* SNL to present its approach to using the QMU methodology; and: 

* Air Force and Navy to present an overview of the operational 
readiness and reliability of delivery systems to the extent that 
delivery system performance may have a direct effect on the performance 
of a nuclear warhead; a SAGSAT official told us that the SAGSAT has 
requested this briefing from the military services each year since 
2004. 

After its conference, the SAGSAT prepares its own report for the 
Commander that covers all of the warhead types. The report (1) makes 
qualitative statements about the SAGSAT's confidence in each warhead or 
bomb's safety, reliability, and performance; (2) provides the SAGSAT's 
opinion as to whether a return to underground testing is warranted for 
each warhead/bomb type; (3) calls attention to areas of disagreement 
with the laboratories or NNSA; (4) focuses on areas that could affect 
operational decisions; and (5) makes recommendations for USSTRATCOM 
action. The SAGSAT report is forwarded to the DOD and DOE, and SAGSAT 
members also provide this information in an annual briefing to the 
NWC's Standing and Safety Committee--a working-level group that meets 
monthly to develop, coordinate, and approve most actions before they 
are reviewed and approved by the full NWC. 

According to USSTRATCOM officials, the Commander of USSTRATCOM bases 
his assessment report largely on the advice of the SAGSAT. However, the 
Commander also relies on other operational information he receives from 
USSTRATCOM staff and the military services. For example, one group 
within USSTRATCOM determines the number of nuclear weapons the command 
needs each year, which affects decisions made about each weapon type. 
In addition, USSTRATCOM staff serve as voting members of the POGs. In 
this capacity, USSTRATCOM staff participate in and inform the Commander 
about operations and logistics decisions. Finally, USSTRATCOM sets 
requirements for flight testing, an important part of surveillance 
testing in which mock weapons are flown in realistic environments. The 
results of flight tests are reflected in the Commander's report and 
affect his ability to express confidence in the military effectiveness 
of weapon types in the absence of underground nuclear testing. 

As the operator of nuclear weapons, USSTRATCOM uses information on 
overall weapon system reliability, which is calculated by the military 
services, in war planning. To this end, the USSTRATCOM Commander's 
annual assessment is distinct from the laboratory directors' 
assessments in that the Commander provides an operational perspective 
in his report. The Commander's report makes observations about the 
immediate and longer-term needs for underground nuclear testing and 
states whether his confidence in the reliability of each warhead type 
has increased, decreased, or remained unchanged. He also discusses the 
extent to which he believes the laboratories and military services are 
addressing known issues in the stockpile, calls attention to issues 
that could be addressed if additional programs were authorized or 
funded, and discusses operational alternatives to address any 
identified problems. 

The POGs Produce Assessments for the NWC Based on Their Review of 
Ongoing DOD and DOE Nuclear Weapon Activities: 

Each POG develops its own annual assessment report for the NWC, 
reflecting the combined technical input of the POG members, including 
officials from NNSA, the weapons laboratories, and the military 
services. The information contained in the POG reports is derived from 
ongoing DOD and DOE nuclear weapon activities that the POGs regularly 
monitor. POGs conduct their work through subgroups, whose members have 
technical expertise in the areas germane to the subgroup's 
responsibility. For example, members of POG subgroups on safety and 
reliability are responsible for ensuring that their warheads meet all 
joint DOD/DOE safety and reliability requirements, including military 
characteristics and stockpile-to-target sequences. In addition, the 
LPOs of each POG are required to provide an annual briefing to the 
NWC's Standing and Safety Committee on the status of each weapon type, 
including any issues identified within the context of the annual 
assessment. All reports and briefings issued by the POGs are reviewed 
and approved by the applicable military service before being submitted 
to the NWC.[Footnote 13] 

The NWC Synthesizes and Summarizes the Other Reports to Produce the 
"Report on Stockpile Assessments" 

The NWC uses the POG reports, the weapons laboratories' AARs, the 
laboratory directors' reports, and the USSTRATCOM Commander's report to 
produce the "Report on Stockpile Assessments" for the President and the 
Congress on behalf of the Secretaries of Energy and Defense. The 
"Report on Stockpile Assessments" is a package of reports, including 
the unaltered reports from the laboratory directors and the Commander 
of USSTRATCOM, NWC's executive summary, and a joint letter from the 
Secretaries of Energy and Defense, which provides the overall 
assessment of the stockpile and states whether any official has 
concluded that there is a technical requirement to perform an 
underground nuclear test. The executive summary and joint letter are 
reviewed and agreed upon at three levels of the NWC over the course of 
several months: (1) the Action Officer level, which includes military 
officers at the Air Force Colonel or Navy Captain level and their 
civilian equivalents, (2) the Standing and Safety Committee, and (3) 
the full NWC. In these successive reviews, information is brought up to 
a higher level, and policy concerns are addressed. NNSA and laboratory 
officials told us the Secretary of Energy receives an extensive 
briefing from senior NNSA officials and the three weapons laboratory 
directors before signing the joint letter. USSTRATCOM officials told us 
the Secretary of Defense does not receive a formal briefing but rather 
relies upon staff in the Office of the Secretary of Defense to inform 
him of any issues before he signs the joint letter. 

NNSA and laboratory officials have questioned whether the NWC's 
executive summary provides additional value to the annual assessment 
process, particularly because it takes over 5 months to complete. For 
example, NNSA officials said that they brief the Secretary of Energy on 
annual assessment several months before the NWC's executive summary is 
complete. Further, a laboratory official said the executive summary 
focuses too much on restating technical information rather than 
providing the context in which the technical information should be 
received. However, congressional staff and a former National Security 
Council official with whom we spoke--end users of the annual assessment 
reports--told us they found the executive summary useful for 
identifying issues and comparing high-level conclusions from year to 
year. For example, the 2005 NWC executive summary (submitted in March 
2006) highlighted differences in opinion between (1) the LANL and LLNL 
directors as to the adequacy of science-based tools and methods and (2) 
the laboratory directors and the Commander of USSTRATCOM on long-term 
needs for nuclear testing. Furthermore, NWC and congressional staff 
said that a lot of time is spent coordinating between the Offices of 
the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Defense to get their 
signatures on the "Report on Stockpile Assessments" package. As a 
result, according to these officials, the NWC would still take a 
considerable amount of time to complete its activities even if it did 
not write an executive summary. 

The Annual Assessment Provides a Forum through Which the Nuclear 
Weapons Community Collaborates on Technical Issues: 

While individual members of the nuclear weapons community are 
responsible for developing their own reports as part of the annual 
assessment, the annual assessment process has broad participation from 
organizations that are responsible for the stockpile and provides a 
forum through which the nuclear weapons community collaborates on 
technical issues affecting the safety, reliability, and performance of 
the stockpile. For example, officials from DOD and DOE stated that the 
SAGSAT provides a unique function within the annual assessment process. 
Its annual conference is the only occasion that brings together all of 
the organizations involved in annual assessment--including the weapons 
laboratories, the POGs, NNSA, DOD, and the military services--at one 
time to discuss each weapon at a technical level. One DOD official said 
the collaborative aspect of the annual assessment process is unique and 
is a benefit completely separate from the reports or other written 
products. Collaboration during the annual assessment process can also 
lead to the resolution of disagreements. For example, after concerns 
over DOD support for weapons flight tests were raised, the NWC tasked 
NNSA and USSTRATCOM to determine whether the agencies could support 
changes to flight test requirements. Figure 2 illustrates the 
collaborative aspect of annual assessment process. 

Figure 2: Interagency Collaboration During Annual Assessment: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: GAO. 

[End of figure] 

The Annual Assessment Process Is Not a Vehicle for Reporting Immediate 
Issues Regarding Nuclear Testing: 

While the principal purpose of annual assessment is to provide an 
analysis of the safety, reliability, performance, and military 
effectiveness of the nuclear stockpile, the process would not be used 
as a vehicle for notifying decision makers about an immediate need to 
conduct a nuclear test. As stated earlier, the annual assessment 
process takes 14 months to complete. According to DOE and DOD 
officials, if an issue with a weapon were to arise that required an 
underground nuclear test to resolve, the Secretaries of Energy and 
Defense and the President would be notified immediately and outside of 
the context of the annual assessment process. DOD and NNSA officials 
told us that the annual assessment reports are intended to provide 
information on the safety and performance of the stockpile within a 
particular time frame and are not a good tool for reporting on problems 
that need to be addressed immediately. A senior congressional official 
agreed with this characterization and said that if an immediate issue 
arose for which nuclear testing was considered necessary to resolve, it 
would be appropriate to notify executive and congressional decision 
makers directly. 

Finally, according to laboratory officials, there are several options 
the nuclear weapons community could explore before conducting an 
underground nuclear test. These options include component replacements, 
refurbishments, selective retirements, and approving exceptions to 
military characteristic or stockpile-to-target sequence requirements. 
Laboratory and congressional officials said all of these options would 
be rigorously considered before recommending an underground nuclear 
test. However, a DOD official also said that if an issue were to 
surface suddenly that required an underground nuclear test, the length 
of time it would take to prepare for an underground test--which could 
be 18 months or more--would probably exceed the length of each annual 
assessment cycle. As a result, the annual assessment reports would 
ultimately reflect a decision to resume underground nuclear testing. 

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation: 

We provided a draft of this report to NNSA and DOD for their review and 
comment. Overall, NNSA stated that it generally agreed with the 
findings of the draft report. The complete text of NNSA's comments on 
our draft report is presented in enclosure I. NNSA also provided 
technical comments, which we incorporated into the report as 
appropriate. DOD provided oral comments of a technical nature, which we 
incorporated into the report as appropriate. 

As agreed with your offices, unless you publicly announce the contents 
of this report earlier, we plan no further distribution until 30 days 
from the report date. At that time, we will send copies of this report 
to the Administrator and appropriate congressional committees. We also 
will make copies available to others upon request. In addition, this 
report will be available at no charge on the GAO Web site at 
http://www.gao.gov. 

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please 
contact me at (202) 512-3841 or aloisee@gao.gov. Contact points for our 
Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on 
the last page of this report. Key contributions to this report were 
made by James Noel, Assistant Director; Allison Bawden; Jason Holliday; 
John Delicath; and Doreen Feldman. 

Signed by: 

Gene Aloise: 
Director, Natural Resources and Environment: 

Enclosure: 

[End of section] 

Enclosure I: Comments from the National Nuclear Security 
Administration: 

NNSA: National Nuclear Security Administration: 
Department of Energy: 
National Nuclear Security Administration: 
Washington, DC 20585: 

January 24, 2007: 

Mr. Gene Aloise Director: 
Natural Resources and Environment: 
Government Accountability Office: 
Washington, DC: 

Dear Mr. Aloise: 

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) appreciates the 
opportunity to review the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) 
draft report, GAO-07-243R, "Nuclear Weapons: Annual Assessment of the 
Safety, Performance, and Reliability of the Nation's Stockpile." We 
understand that this audit was performed at the request of the House's 
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Committee on Armed Services to 
determine how our laboratories fulfill the requirements of the annual 
assessment, how we coordinate their efforts and how the laboratories 
apply science-based tools to the effort. 

NNSA generally agrees with the report and appreciates the efforts of 
the GAO in this endeavor. For the sake of clarity and correctness, I 
have attached an annotated copy of the draft report which incorporates 
NNSA's comments. 

Should you have any questions, please contact Richard Speidel, 
Director, Policy and Internal Controls Management. 

Sincerely, 

Signed by: 

Michael C. Kane: 
Associate Administrator for Management and Administration: 

Attachment: 

cc: Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs: 
Senior Procurement Executive: 
Director, Service Center: 

[End of section] 

(360695): 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] Certification is the process through which the weapons laboratories 
establish that a particular nuclear warhead or bomb meets its 
designated military operational specifications. 

[2] The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994, Pub. 
L. No. 103-160,  3135 (1993), directed DOE to establish the Stockpile 
Stewardship Program. 

[3] Pub. L. No. 107-314,  3141 (2002). 

[4] The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1987, Pub. 
L. No. 99-661,  3137 (1986), established the Nuclear Weapons Council. 
See 10 U.S.C.  179. 

[5] In addition to these activities, LANL maintains an interim 
production capability for limited quantities of plutonium components 
and manufactures nuclear weapon detonators. SNL also manufactures 
neutron generators. 

[6] Almost all of the current POGs were originally chartered by the 
Military Liaison Committee, the predecessor of the NWC. 

[7] The conference report accompanying DOE's fiscal year 2005 
appropriations act provided that funds appropriated were available for 
the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program. H.R. Rep. No. 108-792, Div. 
C, at 951 (2004), accompanying the fiscal year 2005 Consolidated 
Appropriations Act, Pub. L. No. 108-447. 

[8] For information on the status of surveillance backlogs, see DOE 
Office of Inspector General, Follow-up Audit on Stockpile Surveillance 
Testing, October 2006, DOE/IG-0744. 

[9] For more information on QMU, see GAO, Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Needs 
to Refine and More Effectively Manage Its New Approach for Assessing 
and Certifying Nuclear Weapons, GAO-06-261 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 3, 
2006). 

[10] In commenting on our draft report, NNSA officials stated that the 
laboratory AARs also focus on safety. Specifically, NNSA stated that 
the annual assessment seeks to determine whether each warhead type 
still meets the same safety requirements as it did when originally 
certified. 

[11] NNSA Policy Letter: BOP-10.001 dated July 14, 2005 and annual 
tasking letters. 

[12] H.R. Rep. No. 106-945 3192, accompanying the fiscal year 2001 
National Defense Authorization Act, Pub. L. No. 106-398. 

[13] In the Navy, the chief officer of the Strategic Systems Programs 
Office reviews Navy-led POG reports and briefings. In the Air Force, 
the chief officers of the Nuclear Weapons Counterproliferation Agency 
and its parent organization, the Strategic Security Directorate, review 
Air Force-led POG reports and briefings. 

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