Nuclear Security:

DOE's Office of the Under Secretary for Energy, Science, and Environment Needs to Take Prompt, Coordinated Action to Meet the New Design Basis Threat

GAO-05-611: Published: Jul 15, 2005. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 2005.

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A successful terrorist attack on a Department of Energy (DOE) site containing nuclear weapons material could have devastating effects for the site and nearby communities. DOE's Office of the Under Secretary for Energy, Science and Environment (ESE), which is responsible for DOE operations in areas such as energy research, manages five sites that contain weapons-grade nuclear material. A heavily armed paramilitary force equipped with such items as automatic weapons protects ESE sites. GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent to which ESE protective forces are meeting DOE's existing readiness requirements and (2) the actions DOE and ESE will need to take to successfully defend against the terrorist threat identified in the October 2004 design basis threat (DBT) by DOE's implementation deadline of October 2008.

Protective forces at the five ESE sites containing weapons-grade nuclear material generally meet existing key DOE readiness requirements. Specifically, GAO determined that ESE protective forces generally comply with DOE standards for firearms proficiency, physical fitness levels, and equipment standardization and that the five ESE sites had the required training programs, facilities, and equipment. However, GAO did find some weaknesses at ESE sites that could adversely affect the ability of ESE protective forces to defend their sites. For example, despite the importance of training exercises in which protective forces undergo simulated attacks by a group of mock terrorists (force-on-force exercises), DOE neither sets standards for individual protective force officers to participate in these exercises, nor does it require sites to track individual participation. In another example, GAO found that protective force officers at all five of the ESE sites reported problems with their radio communications systems. Specifically, according to 66 of the 105 protective force officers GAO interviewed, they did not always have dependable radio communications as required by the DOE Manual 473.2-2, Protective Force Program Manual. Security officials stated that improvements were under way. To successfully defend against the larger terrorist threat contained in the 2004 DBT by October 2008, DOE and ESE officials recognize that they will need to take several prompt and coordinated actions. These include transforming its current protective force into an "elite force"--modeled on U.S. Special Forces, developing and deploying new security technologies to reduce the risk to protective forces in case of an attack, consolidating and eliminating nuclear weapons material between and among ESE sites to reduce security costs, and creating a sound ESE management structure that has sufficient authority to ensure coordination across all ESE offices that have weapons-grade nuclear material. However, because these initiatives, particularly an elite force, are in early stages of development and will require significant commitment of resources and coordination across DOE and ESE, their completion by the 2008 October DBT implementation deadline is uncertain.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • 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 ensure that DOE and ESE protective forces can meet the new terrorist threat contained in the 2004 DBT, the Secretary of Energy should develop and implement a departmentwide, multiyear, fully resourced implementation plan for meeting the new 2004 DBT requirements that includes detailed plans for the creation of an elite force through the revision of existing DOE protective force policies and practices, the development and deployment of enhanced security technologies, and the transportation and consolidation of special nuclear materials.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has substantially implemented this recommendation through a series of actions, including: (1) requiring each of its sites to develop Design Basis Threat (DBT) implementation plans that include funding requirements; (2) requiring sites and program offices to deliver quarterly progress reports on progress against these plans to the Deputy Secretary of Energy; (3) managing DBT implementation plans on project basis; (4) issuing new guidance on protective force policies in 2006 (DOE Policy Manual,470.3-4, Protective Force) that creates a framework for a new tactical response force that can be tailored to individual DOE sites; (5) creating, funding, and sustaining a security technology deployment program that is recognized by DOE program offices and NNSA as valuable; (6) In 2005, DOE chartered the Nuclear Materials Disposition and Consolidation Coordination Committee to study and plan for the consolidation of DOE's inventory of special nuclear material at fewer sites and the permanent disposition of material it no longer needs. The committee developed a draft strategic plan that will serve as a high level out-year planning document for DOE?s program offices to follow in their budgeting ad project planning. The committee is also developing implementation plans will analyze viable alternatives and cost estimates associated with consolidating and disposing of special nuclear material. The implementation plans are expected to be completed by December 31, 2008. Committee minutes identify the Office of Secure Transportation as the entity responsible for transporting special nuclear materials during DOE's consolidation and disposal efforts. Although these efforts have never been fully brought together into a single, integrated plan, they have brought much greater transparency to DBT implementation efforts, so that any mismatches between budgets, plans, and policies are often readily apparent. Taken together, they fulfill the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that DOE and ESE protective forces can meet the new terrorist threat contained in the 2004 DBT, the Secretary of Energy should take immediate action to correct weaknesses in protective force equipment at ESE sites by providing dependable radio communications, body armor, chemical protective gear, special response team capabilities, and vehicles that provide enhanced protection for protective forces where needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has substantially implemented this recommendation through a series of actions at the four Energy, Science and Environment (ESE) sites, including: (1) the purchase and installation of a new wireless communication system that will increase coverage, eliminate major dead zones and provide reliable encrypted radio communication at one site; (2) the purchase and deployment of body armor for all of another site?s protective forces; (3) the purchase and deployment of chemical and biological protective suits for the protective forces at one site that previously did not have protective suits; (4) the performance testing and inspection of the arrangement for one site to provide a special response team (SRT) to a nearby ESE site that does not have its own SRT; (5) upgrading the equipment and firepower of protective force at the site that currently does not have an SRT to include armored piercing ammunition and several different types of machine guns including the M249, M240B, and the MK48 lightweight machine gun; (6) the purchase and deployment of several Lenco Bearcat armored at one site to provide enhanced protection for its protective forces.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that DOE and ESE protective forces can meet the new terrorist threat contained in the 2004 DBT, the Secretary of Energy should require that sites track protective force member participation in force-on-force exercises.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE agreed with our recommendation to track protective force participation in force on force exercises. DOE included this requirement in DOE Manual 470.4-3, Chapter IV-12, in March 2006.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that DOE and ESE protective forces can meet the new terrorist threat contained in the 2004 DBT, the Secretary of Energy should develop a requirement for individual protective force officer participation in force-on-force exercises.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE agreed with this recommendation and stated that force-on-force testing requirements would be included in DOE's revised protective force policy. These requirements have been added to DOE Policy Manual,470.3-4, Protective Force, and are found in Chapter IV-12. This Manual was revised in March 2006 to reflect this change.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that DOE and ESE protective forces can meet the new terrorist threat contained in the 2004 DBT, the Secretary of Energy should require the Under Secretary, ESE, to establish a security organization to oversee the development, implementation, and coordination of ESE, and broader DOE efforts, to meet the 2004 DBT.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our report, DOE established the position Director of Security for Energy, Science and Environment. This is an Senior Executive Service Position located in the Office of the Under Secretary of Energy. The position has been filled continuously since 2005. The Directors responsibilities include coordination, assistance, and guidance on a very wide range of security responsibilities.

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