Nonproliferation R&D:

NNSA's Program Develops Successful Technologies, but Project Management Can Be Strengthened

GAO-02-904: Published: Aug 23, 2002. Publicly Released: Aug 23, 2002.

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The mission of the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) Nonproliferation and Verification Research and Development (R&D) Program is to conduct needs-driven research, development, testing, and evaluation of new technologies that are intended to strengthen the United States' ability to prevent and respond to nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks. In fiscal years 1998 through 2002, the Nonproliferation and Verification R&D program received an average of $218 million per year--a total of $1.2 billion. Nearly 75 percent of that total was distributed for R&D at three NNSA national laboratories. Two of the three research areas of the Nonproliferation and Verification R&D Program lack a formal process to identify users' needs, and the tools used to monitor project progress are inadequate. In terms of users, NNSA's role is to develop technologies for, and transfer them to, users in the federal government, the intelligence community, law enforcement, and others. The program requires that projects' life-cycle plans and quarterly reports contain detailed information on project time frames, milestones, users of technologies, and deliverables. Officials from federal, state, and local agencies that use the technology developed by NNSA's R&D program have found the technology useful, but some question whether the program is achieving the right mix of long-term and short-term research, especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since GAO's August 2002 report, NNSA has improved the controls it uses to provide the operational and financial data that its managers use to monitor project costs, milestones, and deliverables. The program has implemented a Web-based project management information system that is designed to contain the information needed for proposal evaluation, budget planning, funding decisions, preparation of work authorizations, responses to congressional inquiries, and other reports on the status and costs of R&D projects managed by the program. In addition, the program has emphasized the importance of performance metrics and the use of OMB's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). PART is a series of diagnostic questions designed to provide a consistent approach to rating federal programs.

    Recommendation: To improve the Nonproliferation and Verification R&D Program's management of its R&D efforts, the Administrator of the NNSA should ensure that all of the Nonproliferation and Verification R&D Program's projects' life-cycle plans and quarterly reports contain complete data on project objectives, progress in meeting milestones, user feedback, funding, and deliverables and upgrade the program's project management information system to track all of this information to enhance program management by providing timely data to program managers and assist communications with users and other agencies conducting R&D.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NNSA's Nonproliferation and Verification R&D program is participating in the Counterproliferation Technology Coordination Committee. This committee consists of representatives across the federal counterproliferation R&D community, including the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, National Science Foundation, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Department of Homeland Security. It is tasked with coordinating counterproliferation R&D across the federal government and in determining the appropriate role of the Department of Homeland Security in counterproliferation R&D efforts. In terms of improving the program's ability to successfully transfer new technologies to users, NNSA's R&D program is also making increased use of project reviews. Program managers and potential users of technologies developed by the program conduct regular reviews of each project before key decisions are made, such as whether to proceed from exploratory research into product development. The reviews examine how well the project is linked to user needs, the strength of the researchers' scientific or technical approach, and the researchers' ability to carry out the project effectively and efficiently. Involving users, as well as experts from academia and the private sector in these reviews, improves the chances of successful technology transition.

    Recommendation: To improve the Nonproliferation and Verification R&D Program's management of its R&D efforts, the Administrator of the NNSA should work with the Office of Homeland Security (or the Department of Homeland Security, if established) to clarify the Nonproliferation and Verification R&D Program's role in relation to other agencies conducting counterterrorism R&D and to achieve an appropriate balance between short-term and long-term research. In addition, to improve the program's ability to successfully transfer new technologies to users, the program should, in cooperation with the Office of Homeland Security, allow users opportunities to provide input through all phases of R&D projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

 

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