Nuclear Security:

DOE Needs to Address Protective Forces' Personnel System Issues

GAO-10-275: Published: Jan 29, 2010. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 2010.

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The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks raised concerns about the security of Department of Energy's (DOE) sites with weapons-grade nuclear material, known as Category I Special Nuclear Material (SNM). To better protect these sites against attacks, DOE has sought to transform its protective forces protecting SNM into a Tactical Response Force (TRF) with training and capabilities similar to the U.S. military. DOE also has considered whether the current system of separate contracts for protective forces at each site provides sufficiently uniform, high-quality performance across its sites. Section 3124 of PL 110-181, the fiscal year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, directed GAO to review protective forces at DOE sites that possess Category I SNM. Among other things, GAO (1) analyzed information on the management and compensation of protective forces, (2) examined the implementation of TRF, and (3) assessed DOE's two options to more uniformly manage DOE protective forces.

Over 2000 contractor protective forces provide armed security for DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) at six sites that have long-term missions to store and process Category I SNM. DOE protective forces at each of these sites are covered under separate contracts and collective bargaining agreements between contractors and protective force unions. As a result, the management and compensation--in terms of pay and benefits--of protective forces vary. Sites vary in implementing important TRF requirements such as increasing the tactical skills of protective forces so that they can better "move, shoot, and communicate" as a unit. While one site has focused on implementing TRF requirements since 2004, other sites do not plan to complete TRF implementation until the end of fiscal year 2011. In addition, broader DOE efforts to manage postretirement and pension liabilities for its contractors have raised concerns about a negative impact on retirement eligibility and benefits for protective forces. Specifically, protective force contractors, unions, and DOE security officials are concerned that the implementation of TRF's more rigorous requirements and the current protective forces' personnel systems threaten the ability of protective forces--especially older members--to continue their careers until retirement age. Efforts to more uniformly manage protective forces have focused on either reforming the current contracting approach or creating a federal protective force (federalization). Either approach might provide for managing protective forces more uniformly and could result in effective security if well-managed. Although DOE rejected federalization as an option in 2009 because it believed that the transition would be costly and would yield little, if any, increase in security effectiveness, the department recognized that the current contracting approach could be improved by greater standardization and by addressing personnel system issues. As a result, NNSA began a standardization initiative to centralize procurement of equipment, uniforms, and weapons to achieve cost savings. Under a separate initiative, a DOE study group developed a number of recommendations to enhance protective forces' career longevity and retirement options, but DOE has made limited progress to date in implementing these recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our report and direction from Congress, in January 2011, DOE and NNSA released its Report to Congress entitled, Implementation Plan for the 29 Recommendations of the Protective Force Career Options Study Group. This plan outlined low and no-cost actions to improve protective force career longevity and retirement. The plan also indentified the study potential actions involving substantial costs or contractual or organization changes. DOE and NNSA have, and continue to take, significant actions for improving protective force career longevity and retirement. In terms of low- or no-cost initiatives, DOE promulgated in September 2013 a revised rule for Medical, Physical Readiness, Training, and Access Authorization Standards for Protective Force Personnel (10 CFR Part 1046). The rule removed barriers (medical, physical readiness, training) to maintaining the desired experience levels of protective forces while maintaining established qualification standards. The rule became final in March 2014. In other actions, DOE included PF-related jobs in the Department's existing centralized job availability database and also clarified issues related to DOE's Human Reliability Program (10 CFR 712) which some protective forces believed was being used in a retaliatory fashion. DOE is currently formally revising this Program to reflect these changes. Likewise, DOE is also evaluating protective forces use of arrest authority and is considering revisions to the relevant federal rule, 10 CFR 1047.

    Recommendation: To better align protective force personnel policies and systems with DOE's security requirements for Category I SNM sites, the Secretary of Energy should promptly develop implementation plans and, where needed, undertake additional research for the DOE study group's 2009 recommendations to improve career longevity and retirement options for protective force personnel. Specifically, for actions such as reviewing the appropriateness of training that the study group identified as low or no cost, unless DOE can state compelling reasons for reconsideration, it should develop and execute implementation plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our report and direction from Congress, in January 2011, DOE and NNSA released its Report to Congress entitled, Implementation Plan for the 29 Recommendations of the Protective Force Career Options Study Group. This plan outlined low and no-cost actions to improve protective force career longevity and retirement. The plan also indentified the study potential actions involving substantial costs or contractual or organization changes. DOE and NNSA have, and continue to take, significant actions for improving protective force career longevity and retirement. In terms of changes that could involve substantial costs or other significant changes, DOE, consistent with their plan and our recommendation, has studied several issues. For example, in October 2011, NNSA completed its Contractor Protective Forces Career Option Study. This actuarial study examined the relative costs and related implementation issues associated with eight different potential retirement models, ranging from limited scope adaptations of existing retirement plans to dramatic restructuring of the entire approach to the contractor PF retirement system. In addition, DOE reviewed retirement programs offered by its contractors and DOE's National Training Center produced a retirement DVD. According to the Department, DOE and NNSA also continue to make efforts to standardize protective force equipment, badges and uniforms. Originally viewed as a way to promote efficiency and costs savings, the Department also views this as a way to promote greater professionalism in the protective force community.

    Recommendation: To better align protective force personnel policies and systems with DOE's security requirements for Category I SNM sites, the Secretary of Energy should promptly develop implementation plans and, where needed, undertake additional research for the DOE study group's 2009 recommendations to improve career longevity and retirement options for protective force personnel. Specifically, for actions that may involve substantial costs or contractual and organizational changes, such as enhancing the uniformity and portability of retirement benefits, DOE should plan and perform research to identify the most beneficial and financially feasible options.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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