Nuclear Nonproliferation:

Progress Made in Improving Security at Russian Nuclear Sites, but the Long-term Sustainability of U.S.-Funded Security Upgrades Is Uncertain

GAO-07-404: Published: Feb 28, 2007. Publicly Released: Apr 2, 2007.

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Safeguarding nuclear warheads and materials that can be used to make nuclear weapons is a primary national security concern of the United States. Since 1993, the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Defense (DOD) have worked to improve security at sites housing weapons-usable nuclear material and warheads in Russia and other countries. In 1995, DOE established the Materials Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) program to implement these efforts. GAO examined the (1) progress DOE has made in improving security at nuclear material sites in Russia and other countries, (2) progress DOE and DOD have made in improving security at Russian nuclear warhead sites, and (3) efforts DOE and DOD have undertaken to ensure the continued effective use of U.S.-funded security upgrades. To address these objectives, among other things, GAO analyzed agency documents, conducted interviews with key program officials, and visited four Russian nuclear sites.

Through fiscal year 2006, DOE and DOD spent over $2.2 billion to provide security upgrades and other assistance at sites in Russia and other countries that house weapons-usable nuclear materials and warheads. With regard to securing nuclear material, DOE reports to have "secured" 175 buildings and plans to improve security at 35 additional buildings by the end of 2008. However, DOE's reported total of buildings "secured" does not recognize that additional upgrades remain to be completed at some buildings because DOE considers a building "secured" after it has received only limited MPC&A upgrades, even when additional comprehensive upgrades are planned. Further, DOE and Russia have developed a Joint Action Plan that includes 20 sites and details the remaining work to be accomplished by 2008. However, the plan does not include two sites containing many buildings with vast amounts of nuclear material where Russia has denied DOE access. DOE and DOD report to have improved security at 62 Russian warhead sites and plan to help secure 35 additional sites by the end of 2008. The departments have improved their coordination mechanisms since our 2003 report, in which GAO reported that the agencies had inconsistent policies for installing site security upgrades at Russian warhead sites. Additionally, DOE and DOD are using similar approaches to manage large security upgrade contracts at warhead sites. DOD has used earned value management (EVM), which at early stages can identify cost and schedule shortfalls. DOE has not used EVM on its fixed-price contracts, but, during the course of GAO's review, augmented its contract oversight to increase reporting frequency, which DOE officials consider a comparable alternative to EVM. DOE has developed broad guidelines to direct its efforts to help ensure that Russia will be able to sustain (operate and maintain) U.S.-funded security systems at its nuclear material and warhead sites after U.S. assistance ends and is working with Russia to develop a joint sustainability plan. However, DOE lacks a management information system to track the progress made toward its goal of providing Russia with a sustainable MPC&A system by 2013. DOE and DOD's abilities to ensure the sustainability of U.S.-funded security upgrades may be hampered by access difficulties, funding concerns, and other issues. Finally, DOE and DOD plan to provide Russia with assistance to sustain security upgrades at nuclear warhead sites but have not reached agreement with Russia on access procedures for sustainability visits to 44 sites. As a result, the agencies may be unable to determine if U.S.-funded security upgrades are being properly sustained.

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: To increase the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to secure nuclear material and warheads in Russia and other countries, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), should revise the metrics used to measure progress in the MPC&A program to better reflect the level of completion of security upgrades at buildings reported as "secure."

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2007, GAO reported on DOE and DOD's efforts to secure weapons-usable nuclear material and warheads in Russia and in other countries (GAO-07-404). In that report, we concluded that DOE's current metric for reporting progress on the number of buildings secured by its MPC&A program provides the Congress with a potentially misleading assessment of the security at these facilities. Specifically, DOE should not report to the Congress that buildings with weapons-usable nuclear material in Russia and other countries are "secure" until all DOE risk reduction goals have been achieved, and all planned upgrades at those buildings are completed. Currently, DOE considers buildings to be "secured" after only limited MPC&A upgrades (rapid upgrades) are installed, even when additional comprehensive upgrades are planned. Rapid upgrades do not include the majority of measures DOE uses to address the threat of insider theft at Russian nuclear sites, which DOE considers to be one of its most pressing concerns. DOE provides most upgrades designed to address the insider threat during the comprehensive upgrades phase. Further, DOE officials told us that comprehensive upgrades are necessary to achieve all risk reduction goals at buildings with nuclear material, calling into question DOE's decision to report buildings without such upgrades completed as "secure." As a result, we recommended that the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), revise the metrics used to measure progress in the Materials Protection, Control, and Accounting Program (MPC&A) program to better reflect the level of completion of security upgrades at buildings reported as "secure." On May 21, 2007, NNSA wrote that it has changed its metrics to more clearly reflect the level of security obtained after the completion of rapid and comprehensive upgrades. This was codified in the approved accomplishment report GAO-07-1267A.

    Recommendation: To increase the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to secure nuclear material and warheads in Russia and other countries, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of NNSA, should develop a sustainability management system or modify the Metrics Information Management System to more clearly track DOE's progress in developing a sustainable MPC&A system across all sites where it has installed MPC&A upgrades, including evaluations of progress for each of the seven key elements of sustainability outlined in DOE's Sustainability Guidelines.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2007, GAO reported on DOE and DOD's efforts to secure weapons-usable nuclear material and warheads in Russia and in other countries (GAO-07-404). In that report we noted that as DOE nears the completion of its security upgrade work in its Materials Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) program, the sustainability of U.S.-funded nuclear security upgrades in Russia and other countries has become increasingly important for ensuring that the substantial investment of U.S. funds over the past 15 years is not wasted. DOE and the Federal Agency for Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation have developed a joint sustainability plan for the majority of sites where DOE has installed MPC&A upgrades. We believed this to be a critical step in gaining agreement on what remains to be done before DOE transfers full responsibility for sustainability of MPC&A upgrades to Russia in 2013. While DOE uses its Metrics Information Management System (MIMS) to track some measures of progress in its sustainability efforts, DOE officials acknowledged that the current MIMS data do not provide an accurate picture of the department's progress toward its goal of preparing Russia to take full responsibility for funding the maintenance and sustainability of U.S.-funded upgrades by 2013. Creating a new management information system for sustainability or expanding MIMS to include tracking for all sustainability elements could give DOE managers an improved tool for monitoring the MPC&A program's progress on sustainability and would aid the department in providing the Congress with a more accurate assessment of the progress made toward DOE's goal of providing Russia with a sustainable MPC&A system by 2013. As a result, we recommended that DOE develop a sustainability management system or modify the Metrics Information Management System to more clearly track DOE's progress in developing a sustainable MPC&A system across all sites where it has installed MPC&A upgrades, including evaluations of progress for each of the seven key elements of sustainability outlined in DOE's Sustainability Guidelines. In May 2007, DOE notified GAO that it has developed and recently updated its programmatic guidelines for sustainability that provide standardized criteria for sustaining MPC&A upgrades, and a list of sustainability indicators that the department currently uses to track progress at 15 sites. DOE will extend the use of these metrics to all sites as they complete the MPC&A upgrades and incorporate the reporting into a sustainability management system as GAO recommended. This action was codified in accomplishment report GAO-07-1286A.

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