National Nuclear Security Administration:

Key Management Structure and Workforce Planning Issues Remain As NNSA Conducts Downsizing

GAO-04-545: Published: Jun 25, 2004. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2004.

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The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy (DOE), is responsible for the management and security of the nation's nuclear weapons, nonproliferation, and naval reactor programs. NNSA oversees contractors that operate its facilities to ensure that activities are effective and in line with departmental policy. In December 2002, NNSA began implementing a major reorganization aimed at solving important long-standing organizational issues. GAO reviewed NNSA's overall reorganization efforts to assess (1) the extent to which it is addressing in practice the past problems concerning the unclear delineation of authority and responsibility, (2) workforce planning, and (3) its impact on federal oversight of contractor activities.

NNSA's reorganization has addressed some past problems by better delineating lines of authority and improving communication; however, NNSA has not formalized a program management structure that identifies program managers or details their responsibilities and qualifications as they relate to the direction and oversight of contractor activity under the new organization. Without first resolving such key management issues, NNSA cannot, among other things, ensure the improved discipline and accountability it seeks in managing its programs. NNSA's reorganization is not likely to ensure that the agency has sufficient staff with the right skills in the right places because NNSA downsized its federal workforce without first determining the critical skills and capabilities needed to meet its mission and program goals. Consequently, NNSA will not know the composition of its workforce until it completes the 17 percent workforce reduction on September 30, 2004--the deadline specified in the reorganization plan--and then determines the knowledge, skills, and capabilities of its remaining employees. Without a functional long-term workforce plan, NNSA runs the risk of facing further, more serious staff shortages or skill imbalances, thereby diminishing its ability to adequately oversee its contractors. NNSA's implementation of a proposed risk-based approach to rely more on contractors' assurances and self-assessments and less on NNSA's direct oversight may be premature because it has not yet established a program management structure or long-term workforce plan for ensuring sufficient staff with the right skills in the right places. Under this proposal, contractors will develop comprehensive assurance systems, or systems of management controls, and NNSA will primarily rely upon these contractor systems and controls to ensure that contractors properly execute their work. Although the overall concept of a risk-based approach to federal oversight has merit, NNSA's proposed transition to conduct less direct federal oversight could be compromised by outstanding reorganization issues.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In order to increase the likelihood that NNSA's reorganization will achieve NNSA's goal of increased management discipline and accountability in program management and contractor oversight, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should postpone any decrease in the level of NNSA's direct federal oversight of contractors until NNSA has a program management structure in place and has completed its long-term workforce plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its May 2004 comments on GAO's report, NNSA stated that it has no intention of further decreasing direct oversight of contractors. It further stated that the new contractor assurance system would be only implemented after the site office manager was convinced that the system would provide assurance at least as effective as the current system. Subsequently, in December 2005, NNSA awarded a new Management and Operating Contract for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Part of the contract was the requirement that LANL develop a Contractor Assurance System, although NNSA reserved the right under the contract to determine the level of direct oversight it would conduct. In our June 2008 report, LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY: Long-Term Strategies Needed to Improve Security and Management Oversight (GAO-08-694), we noted that NNSA's Site Office was still maintaining direct oversight of security at LANL.

    Recommendation: In order to increase the likelihood that NNSA's reorganization will achieve NNSA's goal of increased management discipline and accountability in program management and contractor oversight, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should complete and implement data-driven workforce planning for the longer term that (1) determines the critical skills and competencies that will be needed to achieve current and future programmatic results, including contractor oversight; (2) develops strategies tailored to address gaps in number, skills and competencies, and deployment of the workforce; and (3) monitors and evaluates the agency's progress toward its human capital goals and the contribution that human capital results have made toward achieving programmatic results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2007, NNSA issued to the Department of Energy its latest Human Capital Management Strategic Plan. The Plan analyzes NNSA's workforce and identifies where there are gaps; discusses strategies for filling those gaps, such as NNSA's Future Leaders Program; and identifies where progress was made in the Human Capital area over the last year.

    Recommendation: In order to increase the likelihood that NNSA's reorganization will achieve NNSA's goal of increased management discipline and accountability in program management and contractor oversight, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should complete and implement data-driven workforce planning for the longer term that (1) determines the critical skills and competencies that will be needed to achieve current and future programmatic results, including contractor oversight; (2) develops strategies tailored to address gaps in number, skills and competencies, and deployment of the workforce; and (3) monitors and evaluates the agency's progress toward its human capital goals and the contribution that human capital results have made toward achieving programmatic results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2007, NNSA issued to the Department of Energy its latest Human Capital Management Strategic Plan. The Plan analyzes NNSA's workforce and identifies where there are gaps; discusses strategies for filling those gaps, such as NNSA's Future Leaders Program; and identifies where progress was made in the Human Capital area over the last year.

    Recommendation: In order to increase the likelihood that NNSA's reorganization will achieve NNSA's goal of increased management discipline and accountability in program management and contractor oversight, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should establish a formal program management structure, policy, and implementation guidance for directing the work of its contractors, especially concerning how program managers will interact with contracting officers at site offices to help direct and oversee contractor activity.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 12, 2004, NNSA issued NNSA Policy Letter: BOP-006.001 entitled "NNSA Program Management Policy" which establishes a formal program management structure, policy, and implementation guidance for directing the work of its contractors, including interaction with contracting officers at site offices to help direct and oversee contractor activity.

    Recommendation: In order to increase the likelihood that NNSA's reorganization will achieve NNSA's goal of increased management discipline and accountability in program management and contractor oversight, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should establish a formal program management structure, policy, and implementation guidance for directing the work of its contractors, especially concerning how program managers will interact with contracting officers at site offices to help direct and oversee contractor activity.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 12, 2004, NNSA issued NNSA Policy Letter: BOP-006.001 entitled "NNSA Program Management Policy" which establishes a formal program management structure, policy, and implementation guidance for directing the work of its contractors, including interaction with contracting officers at site offices to help direct and oversee contractor activity.

    Recommendation: In order to increase the likelihood that NNSA's reorganization will achieve NNSA's goal of increased management discipline and accountability in program management and contractor oversight, the NNSA Administrator and the Secretary of Energy should postpone any decrease in the level of NNSA's direct federal oversight of contractors until NNSA has a program management structure in place and has completed its long-term workforce plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its May 2004 comments on GAO's report, NNSA stated that it has no intention of further decreasing direct oversight of contractors. It further stated that the new contractor assurance system would be only implemented after the site office manager was convinced that the system would provide assurance at least as effective as the current system. Subsequently, in December 2005, NNSA awarded a new Management and Operating Contract for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Part of the contract was the requirement that LANL develop a Contractor Assurance System, although NNSA reserved the right under the contract to determine the level of direct oversight it would conduct. In our June 2008 report, LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY: Long-Term Strategies Needed to Improve Security and Management Oversight (GAO-08-694), we noted that NNSA's Site Office was still maintaining direct oversight of security at LANL.

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