Nuclear Detection:

Domestic Nuclear Detection Office Should Improve Planning to Better Address Gaps and Vulnerabilities

GAO-09-257: Published: Jan 29, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 2, 2009.

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In April 2005, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) was established within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to enhance and coordinate federal, state, and local efforts to combat nuclear smuggling domestically and overseas. DNDO was directed to develop, in coordination with the departments of Defense (DOD), Energy (DOE), and State (State), a global strategy for nuclear detection--a system of radiation detection equipment and interdiction activities domestically and abroad. GAO was asked to examine (1) DNDO's progress in developing programs to address critical gaps in preventing nuclear smuggling domestically, (2) DNDO's role in supporting other agencies' efforts to combat nuclear smuggling overseas, and (3) the amount budgeted by DHS, DOD, DOE, and State for programs that constitute the global nuclear detection strategy. To do so, GAO analyzed agency documents; interviewed agency, state, and local officials; and visited select pilot program locations.

DNDO has made some progress in strengthening radiation detection capabilities to address critical gaps and vulnerabilities in combating nuclear smuggling, which include the land border area between ports of entry into the United States, aviation, and small maritime vessels. However, DNDO is still in the early stages of program development, and has not clearly developed long term plans, with costs and time frames, for achieving its goal of closing these gaps by expanding radiological and nuclear detection capabilities. For example, DNDO and Customs and Border Protection have been collaborating on radiological and nuclear detection options to better secure the land borders between ports of entry. However, DNDO-sponsored field evaluations to test radiation detection equipment are still not complete and DNDO and CBP may not have all radiation detection equipment in place until 2012. In addition, DNDO is in the first year of a 3-year maritime pilot program, working with the Coast Guard and local law enforcement agencies in the Puget Sound, Washington, area to field test equipment and to develop radiological and nuclear screening procedures. However, DNDO has made little progress in (1) developing criteria for assessing the success of the pilot to help determine whether it should be expanded to other locations, and (2) resolving some of the challenges it faces in the pilot program, such as technological limitations of the detection equipment and sustaining current detection efforts. Although DNDO has no authority over other federal agencies' programs to combat radiological and nuclear smuggling overseas, it has worked with DOD, DOE, and State to provide subject matter expertise and exchange lessons learned on radiological and nuclear detection. However, most of DNDO's efforts are modest in scope, reflecting the fact that these agencies have well-established programs to combat nuclear smuggling. For example, DNDO has been working with State's Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism to develop model guidelines that other nations can use to establish their own nuclear detection programs. According to DNDO, approximately $2.8 billion was budgeted by DHS, DOD, DOE, and State in fiscal year 2007 for programs included in the global strategy for nuclear detection. Of this amount, approximately $1.1 billion was budgeted for programs to combat nuclear smuggling overseas, $1.1 billion was budgeted for nuclear detection programs at the U.S. border and within the United States, and approximately $577 million was budgeted to fund cross-cutting activities, such as providing technical support to users of the radiation detection equipment. DNDO collected budget data and published them in the Joint Annual Interagency Review, an annual report required by Congress. DOD, DOE, and State officials told GAO that this information is used primarily as a status report of individual programs to combat nuclear smuggling. It is not used as a tool to help plan for or inform the future direction of the strategy or to help establish current or future priorities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DNDO developed a series of ten Critical Operations Issues (COIs) for the San Diego and Puget Sound maritime pilot, and in May 2011 issued a final report summarizing the pilot and making suggestions for potential next steps based on the lessons learned. The COIs are key questions that are examined through drills, exercises, and questions to end-users to assess how well the West Coast Maritime Pilot (WCMP) accomplished its intended purpose. COIs included questions such as: "Can the selected Preventive rad/Nuc Detection (PRND) systems be integrated into existing operations without adversely impacting an agency's primary mission or "Can equipment provided by the pilot be sustained by the participating agencies" or "Can rad/nuc alarms be adjudicated within a reasonable amount of time, using existing partner agency patrol vessel assets and personnel" This analysis also summarized the equipment, support, and management costs of the pilot.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that U.S. governmentwide efforts to secure the homeland are well coordinated, well conceived, and properly implemented, the Secretary of Homeland Security should develop criteria to assess the effectiveness, cost, and feasibility of the maritime radiological and nuclear pilot program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In order to help ensure that governmentwide efforts to detect and prevent the smuggling of illicit radiological and nuclear materials into the United States are well coordinated and conceived and properly implemented, in our January 2009 report (GAO-09-257) on the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office's (DNDO's) efforts to address gaps and vulnerabilities at U.S. borders, we recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security develop a strategic plan for the domestic part of the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture (GNDA) to ensure that future efforts aimed at closing the gaps and vulnerabilities (land borders between ports of entry, aviation, and small maritime vessels) focus on, among other things, establishing timeframes and costs. DHS stated that the development of a strategic plan was important and that they were working to produce one. As a first step toward implementing this recommendation, in December 2010, DHS issued a strategic plan for the GNDA. This strategic plan, developed in cooperation with the departments of Energy, State, Defense, Justice, NRC, and the intelligence community, described the mission and goals of the GNDA, and the objectives, performance goals, and roles and responsibilities of each of the U.S. government agencies with GNDA responsibilities. DHS was designated as having lead responsibility for the domestic portions of the architecture, which include closing gaps and vulnerabilities on U.S. borders in spaces between land ports of entry, air space, and coastlines. The second significant step in implementing this recommendation was the April 2012 issuance of the GNDA implementation plan. The implementation plan is intended to describe DHS's approach to executing its mission, objectives, performance goals, and capability development efforts presented in the 2010 GNDA strategic plan, and focuses on the implementation of the DHS (domestic) parts of the GNDA, rather than that of the entire U.S. government. (Full implementation of the GNDA is the responsibility of several different federal departments and agencies, as well as specific programs that are managed by state, local, tribal, or private entities.) Specifically, it establishes DHS GNDA priorities and outlines the DHS GNDA capabilities necessary to achieve them. Included in this implementation plan are the roles and responsibilities of the lead components and offices within DHS that address individual performance goals and supporting capabilities of the GNDA, as well as specific activities to achieve these capabilities. The implementation plan also establishes a mechanism to gauge progress toward achieving GNDA goals as capabilities are established and enhanced over time. For each DHS-led or co-led performance goal detailed in the 2010 GNDA strategic plan, the DHS GNDA implementation plan establishes specific performance measures and their associated metrics for DHS-implemented programs. These measures enable management of performance to the DHS GNDA objectives. Finally, a key component of the implementation plan is a summary of planned budget resources allocated to the GNDA-related programs, projects, and activities through fiscal year (FY) 2017, to detect, analyze, and report radiological and nuclear materials out of regulatory control. For the current and upcoming fiscal year, details are provided down to the individual program level. For the out-years (FY 2014-2017), budget figures are reported at an estimated aggregated level.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that U.S. governmentwide efforts to secure the homeland are well coordinated, well conceived, and properly implemented, the Secretary of Homeland Security should develop a strategic plan for the domestic part of the global nuclear detection strategy to help ensure the future success of initiatives aimed at closing gaps and vulnerabilities. This plan should focus on, among other things, establishing time frames and costs for the three areas of recent focus--land border areas between ports of entry, aviation, and small maritime vessels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The 2013 Joint Annual Interagency Report (JAIR) describes a number of steps taken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement GAO's recommendation to ensure that governmentwide efforts to secure the homeland are well coordinated, conceived, and implemented. To begin with, the JAIR goes beyond what was recommended and also includes the Director of the Office of National Intelligence and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in efforts to guide strategic efforts to combat nuclear smuggling, as well as the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Defense, Energy, and State. Section 3 of the JAIR, in addition to providing budget allocations for the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture (GNDA) sub-layers for FY 2008 through 2012, describes efforts to align resources and missions/priorities to avoid duplication by providing information on the resources spent and efforts undertaken to coordinate cross-cutting budgets to minimize the number of gaps and overlaps (duplication) between programs planned, developed, and executed by GNDA stakeholders. It also describes, as an example of coordination, a Memorandum of Understanding undertaken by the Departments of Energy, Defense, and Homeland Security to manage the coordination and funding of significant research and development efforts to enhance radiation detection capabilities across the U.S. government. Section 4 further defines various assets and capabilities applicable to the GNDA and describes how these assets and capabilities are aligned with operational elements of the GNDA. One example of this interagency coordination, highlighted by DHS officials in a separate, written statement, is the consolidation of GNDA radiation alarm adjudication and reach-back programs in FY 2012. Initially, with the establishment the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) in 2005, two separate alarm adjudication and reach-back programs were funded: DNDO Secondary Reach-back program and the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Triage Program. According to DHS officials, NNSA and DNDO determined that resources would be more efficiently used by merging the programs into one jointly-managed national rad/nuc analysis program. DHS officials also report in the JAIR that they use other mechanisms to align budgets and avoid duplication. For example, DHS uses the GNDA Implementation Plan, issued in April 2012, to make sure that all of the goals, roles, and responsibilities of the GNDA that fall wholly within the purview of DHS were well coordinated, but also involved, coordination with interagency partners. These efforts were supplemented with a GNDA International Implementation Plan which establishes, according to DHS, priorities, measures progress, and identifies mechanisms to coordinate U.S. government agency efforts.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that U.S. governmentwide efforts to secure the homeland are well coordinated, well conceived, and properly implemented, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Energy, and the Secretary of State, use the Joint Annual Interagency Review to guide future strategic efforts to combat nuclear smuggling. This effort should include analyzing overall budget allocations to determine whether governmentwide resources clearly align with identified priorities to maximize results and whether there is duplication of effort across agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DNDO officials, DNDO initiated a project and developed a number of tools to expand maritime Preventive Rad/Nuc Detection (PRND) beyond the West Coast Maritime Pilot (WCMP) including undertaking additional planning to identify: (1) How and Where a Broader Strategy Will Be Implemented: In FY11 Q4, DNDO initiated a Maritime PRND Program Assistance project to aid maritime regions in developing small vessel PRND programs. Using lessons learned from the WCMP, DNDO will assist maritime regions in developing CONOPS, SOPs, equipment selection criteria, and approaches for training and exercises. The project will focus on Group I and II port regions and the region's willingness to pursue PRND among multiple port security priorities. However, exactly how regions are selected is under development as DNDO program assistance in general is under review. (2) Technology Required: The maritime region will use the current technology available including Personal Radiation Detectors (PRDs), Radioisotope Identification Devices (RIIDs), and backpacks that support current maritime PRND operations. As technologies advance through programs such as DNDO's Small Vessel Standoff Detection program and transformational research efforts, these new technologies will be considered for future maritime PRND planning and operations. (3) Organizations Involved: Based on the WCMP effort, DNDO officials stated that it was their belief that future Maritime PRND program efforts should be initiated with the Federal, State, Local and Tribal Agencies that make up the Area Maritime Security Committees s (AMSC). Both Puget Sound and San Diego WCMP program development efforts were coordinated through the AMSCs and using this existing coordinating committee is optimal. Upon completion of the WCMP the PRND mission has been folded into existing AMSC sub-committees. The Maritime Program Assistance Program will follow this model and use the existing AMSC to coordinate and sustain the PRND efforts of regional maritime stakeholders. (4) Sustainment: The maritime regions will be responsible for the procurement of PRND equipment and labor hours for training and exercises. These initial and sustainment costs will be covered through federal grant funding such as the Port Security Grant Program (PSGP) or internal funding. For example, the Puget Sound region recently received $1.9M in PSGP funding to sustain PRND efforts developed during the WCMP. Additionally, a Small Vessel PRND Risk Reduction and Resource Allocation Modeling tool is being developed to assist regions in determining initial and long-term sustainment costs to support future resource planning and budgeting. Maritime Assistance has become the successor for development of maritime radiological and nuclear detection programs and is based on lessons learned from the West Coast Maritime Pilot (WCMP). According to DNDO, final evaluations of the WCMP project indicate that is was successful in establishing a passive, efficient, risk-informed regional RND program focused on detecting and interdicting rad-nuc threats via small vessels. Upon completion of the WCMP, DNDO evaluated the lessons learned and began identifying tools and efforts required to assist in the establishment of Maritime RND efforts in other maritime regions.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that U.S. governmentwide efforts to secure the homeland are well coordinated, well conceived, and properly implemented, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, if the decision is made to expand the maritime radiological and nuclear program beyond the pilot, undertake additional planning to identify next steps, including how and where a broader strategy would be implemented, what technology would be needed, what organizations should be involved, and how such efforts would be sustained.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security


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