Homeland Defense:

Greater Focus on Analysis of Alternatives and Threats Needed to Improve DOD's Strategic Nuclear Weapons Security

GAO-09-828: Published: Sep 18, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 18, 2009.

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A successful terrorist attack on a facility containing nuclear weapons could have devastating consequences. GAO was asked to compare the Department of Defense's (DOD) and Department of Energy's (DOE) efforts to protect the nation's nuclear weapons where they are stored, maintained, or transported. This report (1) compares the nuclear weapons security policies and procedures at DOD and DOE, and the extent to which cost-benefit analyses are required; (2) compares DOD and DOE efforts to assess threats to nuclear weapons; and (3) identifies total current and projected funding requirements for securing nuclear weapons, including military construction costs. GAO analyzed DOD and DOE nuclear weapons security policies and procedures; visited sites that store, maintain, or transport nuclear weapons; and analyzed funding data for fiscal years 2006 through 2013. This report is an unclassified version of a classified report issued in May 2009.

DOD and DOE nuclear weapons security policies and guidance are similar in that both establish minimum security standards for nuclear weapons. However, DOD's guidance does not emphasize or require a cost-benefit analysis when considering alternative security measures, and therefore the full costs of alternatives may not be considered in a comprehensive manner when choosing among security measures. For example, the Navy plans to spend about $1.1 billion on security improvements to protect ballistic missile submarines while in transit, but selected one alternative without considering the full life cycle costs of the available alternatives. In contrast, DOE's policy for nuclear weapons security provides local officials greater flexibility than DOD's in determining how to meet security standards, and has a greater emphasis on cost-benefit analysis as a part of the decision-making process. Although DOD and DOE assess threats to nuclear assets as part of their nuclear weapons security programs, DOD has not provided adequate guidance or capabilities to fully develop local threat assessments where nuclear weapons are stored, maintained, or transported. DOD policies require installation commanders to develop threat assessments using a national assessment as a starting point and tailor that assessment to their installations. However, GAO identified instances where the local threat assessment generally reflected all threats contained in the national assessment, with only minimal adjustments to reflect the local environment. Further, the individuals developing the local assessments had limited guidance, were not trained as intelligence analysts and often used different methodologies. Without clear guidance and necessary threat assessment capabilities, the military services may not be fully leveraging local, regional, and national threat information in preparing local assessments. In contrast, DOE provides guidance and, at the time of GAO's review, was developing an approach to incorporate all available threat information more fully into its assessments, though GAO did not assess its effectiveness because this new approach had not been fully implemented. DOD and DOE have estimated the funds required to protect nuclear weapons to be approximately $11 billion for fiscal years 2006 through 2013, but GAO identified shortfalls in the Air Force's ability to centrally manage and track funding that limits the visibility of Air Force requirements. The Air Force and Navy make up over $8 billion of the total estimated requirement for securing nuclear weapons. The remaining $3 billion is incurred by the two DOE organizations that handle nuclear weapons. Across all four organizations, over half the $11 billion is devoted to funding security forces. Although accountability over funding data is critical to enabling decision makers to address nuclear weapons security funding requirements, GAO found that the Air Force lacked a consistent method to identify requirements specifically related to nuclear weapons security because of the decentralized method through which it manages this funding. Without a method to track these costs, the visibility of these requirements is limited, and the Air Force may not be able to effectively manage its nuclear weapons security funding.

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 DOD's process for evaluating and selecting among alternative security measures, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to modify DOD Directive 5210.41, Security Policy for Protecting Nuclear Weapons, to require alternatives and cost-benefit analyses of nuclear security measures as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with our recommendation and stated that DOD Directive 5210.41, Security Policy for Protecting Nuclear Weapons, provides the guidance to meet the recommendation's intent. In its comments, DOD specifically cited paragraph 4.8 "physical security requirements associated with nuclear weapons shall take into consideration the affordability and life-cycle costs of a nuclear weapon system" and added that the Policy "inherently requires the department to examine cost benefit alternatives." Subsequently, in July 2009, DOD updated its Nuclear Weapons Security Manual to state that cost benefit analysis should be included in the criteria for the selection and implementation of nuclear physical security systems. We believe that DOD's revisions to its Nuclear Weapons Security Manual meets the spirit of our recommendation and will increase the likelihood that DOD organizations will consider cost-benefit analysis in selecting between alternative security measures in the future.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's process for evaluating and selecting among alternative security measures, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Chemical and Biological Defense to modify DOD S-5210.41-M, Nuclear Weapons Security Manual, to provide appropriate guidance to the military services for weighing costs, including life cycle costs, and benefits when considering alternative security measures for nuclear weapons.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with our recommendation and agreed that greater emphasis on costs and benefits and security effectiveness in selecting and implementing nuclear physical security measures is appropriate. DOD further stated that this issue would be addressed in its revision to the Nuclear Weapons Security Manual. However, while the updated Manual states that cost benefit analysis should be included, it does not provide any substantive guidance to the military services on how the cost benefit analysis should be performed or what elements should be considered in such analysis. Therefore, we do not believe DOD's actions fully address the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve installation commanders' ability to assess threats where nuclear weapons are stored, maintained, or transported, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters to provide more specific guidance on the methodology to develop local threat assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation that the Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters provide more specific guidance on the methodology to develop local threat assessments, DOD partially agreed. In July 2009, the Department revised its Nuclear Weapons Security Manual to provide such additional guidance. Specifically, the revised Manual requires military departments, combatant commanders, and unit security and intelligence planners to include local factors when tailoring the national assessment to a specific installation. The revised Manual recommends that officials use local factors to identify threat scenarios, which should be combined with scenarios from the national assessment. In addition, the revision requires the military departments to develop threat assessment review and approval procedures as part of the local threat assessment process and describes the groups that must be formed to assess the local threats. We believe that DOD's revisions to the Manual meet the intent of our recommendation and will assist installation commanders where nuclear weapons are stored, maintained, or transported in localizing threat assessments.

    Recommendation: To improve installation commanders' ability to assess threats where nuclear weapons are stored, maintained, or transported, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Air Force and Navy to provide installation commanders with the capabilities necessary to more fully collect and assess local, regional, and national intelligence information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation in its written response to our report. DOD has taken some steps to provide additional intelligence resources to installation commanders through guidance on how to better utilize intelligence resources. However, additional resources to allow installation commanders to more fully collect and assess regional and local intelligence information has not been provided. Therefore, we are closing this recommendation as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To more effectively manage its nuclear weapons security program and provide visibility and accountability as the Air Force moves to a new nuclear command structure, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to establish a method to centrally manage and track funding associated with nuclear weapons security.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation in its written comments on the report. Since the release of our report, the Air Force has made some changes that allow more centralized tracking and management of nuclear weapons security costs. For example, Headquarters Air Force track and manages funding for base operations security and has visibility over physical security equipment research, development, and procurement. The stand up of Air Force Global Strike Command allows more centralized tracking and management of the operations and maintenance for the weapons systems under their control such as ICBM, bombers, and certain weapons storage area. However, several components of the Air Force nuclear weapons security enterprise are not centrally managed or tracked such as those systems overseas, some transportation assets and certain storage areas. We also found that military personnel cost, which comprise a large part of the total nuclear weapons security costs are not centrally managed or tracked. While some improvements have been made we believe that the Air Force costs associated with nuclear security continue to lack centralized oversight and therefore we are closing this recommendation as not implemented.

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