Nuclear Security:

Better Oversight Needed to Ensure That Security Improvements at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Are Fully Implemented and Sustained

GAO-09-321: Published: Mar 16, 2009. Publicly Released: Apr 15, 2009.

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In April 2008, the Department of Energy's (DOE) security inspection at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) found significant weaknesses, particularly in LLNL's protective force's ability to assure the protection of weapons-grade (special) nuclear material. LLNL is overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within DOE, and managed by a contractor. NNSA is planning to remove most of the special nuclear material from LLNL. GAO was asked to (1) characterize security deficiencies identified in the 2008 inspection; (2) determine the factors that contributed to these deficiencies; (3) identify LLNL's corrective actions to address security deficiencies; and (4) assess LLNL's plan to permanently remove the riskiest special nuclear material from its site. To conduct this work, GAO visited LLNL, reviewed numerous documents and plans, and interviewed LLNL and NNSA security officials.

DOE's Office of Independent Oversight found numerous and wide-ranging security deficiencies with LLNL's safeguards and security program. DOE gave the laboratory the lowest possible rating in two security areas: protective force performance and classified matter protection and control. The Office of Independent Oversight also reported that LLNL's physical security systems, such as alarms and sensors, and its security program planning and assurance activities needed improvement. Weaknesses in LLNL's self-assessment program and LSO's oversight contributed to security deficiencies at the laboratory. LLNL's security self-assessment program and LSO's annual security survey failed to identify numerous security deficiencies before DOE's Office of Independent Oversight conducted its inspection. According to one DOE official, both programs were "broken" and missed even the "low-hanging fruit" of compliance-oriented deficiencies. More specifically, LLNL's self-assessment program should have identified the magnitude of technical problems with a key weapon system used at the laboratory. Furthermore, LSO's September 2007 security survey gave LLNL 100-percent satisfactory ratings in its security performance--differing markedly from the security performance DOE observed during its inspection a short time later. To address these issues, LSO is implementing a new program to better train security officials to perform security assessments and recognize deficiencies; however, according to LSO officials, LSO does not have a specific budget to implement this new security training program. LLNL has developed corrective action plans to address the 54 security deficiencies identified by the Office of Independent Oversight, and both NNSA and DOE will oversee the plans' implementation. As of December 2008, LLNL reported having completed 74 percent of the milestones included in corrective action plans to address physical security deficiencies. DOE plans to re-inspect LLNL in April 2009 and focus on the effectiveness of corrective actions. In the past, LLNL has not sustained corrective actions to address similar security deficiencies. For example, in 1999 DOE reported that LLNL's capability to conduct vulnerability assessments was deficient. By 2000, this problem had been corrected. In 2008, DOE again noted deficiencies in LLNL's vulnerability assessment capability. NNSA has the opportunity to use its new performance-based management and operating contract to hold LLNL's contractor financially accountable for ensuring that security improvements resulting from corrective actions are sustained. The plan to remove most of LLNL's special nuclear material by the end of fiscal year 2012 faces challenges because the plan's schedule depends on a number of factors, some of which LLNL does not control, such as the willingness and ability of other NNSA and DOE sites to receive the material, the timeliness of the effort, adequate funding, and the availability of specialized transport trucks operated by NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation to transfer material to other DOE sites.

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: To improve and sustain federal oversight of security performance at LLNL, the Administrator of NNSA and the LSO Manager should develop a detailed plan and budget for implementing LSO's proposed security training program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At the time we issued our report, the Livermore Site Office (LSO) was implementing a new program to better train security officials to perform security assessments and recognize deficiencies; however, according to LSO officials, LSO did not have a specific budget to implement this new security training program. After our report was issued in March 2009, NNSA determined that all safeguards and security professionals, including those at LSO, should be enrolled in a headquarters-based technical training program, and Site Office Managers were requested to take the appropriate steps to ensure that enrollment and completion occurred. All LSO federal safeguards and security personnel were enrolled in the headquarters-based program on February 26, 2010 and had 18 months from this date to complete the program. As such, the LSO-specific program was canceled, but NNSA's actions meet the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve and sustain federal oversight of security performance at LLNL, the Administrator of NNSA and the LSO Manager should incorporate financial incentives into future performance evaluation plans, as allowed by the new LLNS management and operating contract, for sustaining security improvements at LLNL through the completion of the laboratory's Category I and II special nuclear material de-inventory.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2009, GAO recommended that to improve and sustain federal oversight of security performance at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the National Nuclear Security Administrator should incorporate financial incentives into future performance evaluation plans for sustaining security improvements at LLNL through the completion of the laboratory's Category I and II special nuclear material de-inventory. LLNL planned to complete this de-inventory by the end of fiscal year 2012. As such, NNSA had the opportunity to incorporate relevant financial incentives into its fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012 performance evaluation plans. On September 21, 2012, NNSA announced that LLNL had met its goal of completing removal of all Category I and II special nuclear material. GAO reviewed NNSA's relevant performance evaluation plans for LLNL and found that all three contained incentives to sustain security improvements through completion of de-inventory. Further, meeting the completion criteria to achieve the incentive would enable the LLNL contractor to earn an extension to its contract term. As such, GAO is closing this recommendation as implemented.

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