Nuclear Nonproliferation:

Action Needed to Address NNSA's Program Management and Coordination Challenges

GAO-12-71: Published: Dec 14, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 14, 2011.

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What GAO Found:

From fiscal years 2006 through 2010, only about half of the total annual funds available to the DNN programs were costed, or expended, each year. This resulted in uncosted carryover balances of more than $1.5 billion on average from one fiscal year to the next. During this time, the total uncosted DNN operating program balances exceeded thresholds established by the Department of Energy by hundreds of millions of dollars every year. However, much of the annual uncosted DNN-wide funding balances were committed for future expenditure, and total uncommitted uncosted DNN operating program balances were under the thresholds. Nevertheless, three DNN programs had uncommitted balances that frequently exceeded thresholds during this time. NNSA provides semiannual reports to Congress on DNN uncommitted balances. However, these reports do not specify the amounts by which program balances exceeded the thresholds or explain why the excess balances should not be rescinded, redirected, or used to offset future budget requests.

GAO identified four DNN programs authorized by Congress to receive and use contributions from foreign donors, and these authorities expire from 2011 through 2015. Three of these programs received approximately $47.1 million from fiscal years 2006 through 2010 from seven countries. This amount represents about 1 percent of the total funding from annual appropriations acts directed to the four programs over the same period. Extending these authorities would give NNSA more time to obtain foreign contributions. In addition, NNSA has pursued greater cost sharing with foreign countries where DNN programs are implemented, but the extent of cost sharing is unclear because NNSA does not systematically track or maintain such data.

Some DNN program performance measures do not satisfy key attributes that GAO has identified in previous work, namely measures that are clear, reliable, and balanced. For example, one program measure—securing nuclear material facilities in Russia and the former Soviet Union—is unclear, because NNSA counts buildings with security upgrades as completed although NNSA may undertake additional upgrades at some of these sites. In addition, the results of some DNN programs in fiscal year 2010 appear overstated because DNN measured performance against different targets in the end of fiscal year performance report than the ones presented in the budget request to Congress. Moreover, NNSA has dropped one long-standing measure used by the Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program to track reemployment of former Soviet weapons scientists rather than improve the measure as GAO previously recommended and NNSA agreed to revise.

Existing strategies and plans for coordinating federal efforts to combat nuclear smuggling overseas do not incorporate all of the key characteristics of effective national strategies that GAO has identified in previous studies. In addition, there are concerns of potential fragmentation and overlap among some programs working to counter nuclear smuggling overseas, especially those providing equipment and training. Furthermore, there is no single recognized federal agency responsible for leading and directing efforts to combat nuclear smuggling overseas. However, the NSC oversees interagency coordination of these efforts.

Why GAO Did This Study:

GAO has issued numerous reports on the effectiveness of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) programs. For this report GAO was asked to assess (1) the extent of annual DNN uncosted, or unexpended, balances; (2) the level of financial support from foreign donor and recipient governments to the DNN programs; (3) the effectiveness of DNN program performance measures; and (4) the coordination of DNN and other agency nonproliferation programs. GAO analyzed NNSA financial data and other pertinent documents, and interviewed officials from multiple agencies.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: To allow DNN programs to receive and use additional foreign contributions in the future, thereby offsetting some future DNN appropriations requests, Congress may wish to consider extending the time frames under which current DNN programs are authorized in current law to receive and use such contributions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To provide further information to Congress on DNN program budget execution, in the end of fiscal year semiannual reports on DNN uncommitted program funding balances, the Administrator of NNSA should (1) identify uncommitted balances over acceptable carryover thresholds on a program-by-program basis, and (2) justify why such balances should not be considered for rescission, redirection to other NNSA programs, or to offset future DNN budget requests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To clarify how other countries are sharing in the burden of implementing DNN programs, the Administrator of NNSA should develop ways to better track and maintain information on foreign cost sharing for DNN projects overseas. To allow Congress to understand the scope of foreign country cost sharing, NNSA should include in the annual DNN budget requests to Congress information explaining actual or estimated amounts of cost sharing during the prior fiscal year by foreign governments in countries where DNN program activities have been implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with consistent information on DNN program results over time, the Administrator of NNSA should develop and maintain to the extent practicable a consistent set of DNN program performance measures and ensure that, for each fiscal year, the targets for measuring annual program performance as proposed in the budget requests to Congress are the same as those used to assess progress in the end of fiscal year performance reports. In those cases where circumstances warrant a change in performance measures or targets--especially during the course of a fiscal year--the end of fiscal year performance reports should explain why the measures or targets were changed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with better information on the status and progress of DNN program performance and to address clarity, reliability, and balance issues in the performance measures for specific programs, the Administrator of NNSA should develop clearer measures, especially for the Nonproliferation and Verification Research and Development (R&D) program and Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) programs, so the requirements and scope of program efforts can be more easily understood. For the MPC&A program in particular, reconsider the practice under its performance measure of counting buildings and facilities as having "completed" MPC&A upgrades, where there is additional or ongoing security work under way or planned.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with better information on the status and progress of DNN program performance and to address clarity, reliability, and balance issues in the performance measures for specific programs, the Administrator of NNSA should clarify the long-term goal under the performance measure for the U.S. highly enriched uranium (HEU) disposition program to reflect that the overall amount of material for dispositioning and the rate at which it will be downblended is conditional upon decisions regarding the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and the pace of warhead dismantlement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with better information on the status and progress of DNN program performance and to address clarity, reliability, and balance issues in the performance measures for specific programs, the Administrator of NNSA should develop broader, more encompassing, or a more balanced set of public measures to gauge progress by the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative and in the sustainability of MPC&A upgrades provided to foreign countries.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with better information on the status and progress of DNN program performance and to address clarity, reliability, and balance issues in the performance measures for specific programs, the Administrator of NNSA should provide an updated and more reliable measure to assess the nonproliferation impact of the Nonproliferation and International Security program's Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (GIPP) program, as NNSA previously stated it would.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To streamline and eliminate potential for fragmentation and overlap among U.S. government programs involved in preventing and detecting smuggling of nuclear materials, equipment, and technologies overseas, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs should undertake--or direct and delegate an appropriate agency or agencies to undertake--a comprehensive review of the structure, scope, and composition of agencies and programs across the federal government involved in such efforts. Such a review should assess several issues, including: (1) the level of overlap and duplication among agencies and programs, especially in the provision of nuclear detection equipment and in training provided to foreign border security, customs, and law enforcement officials; (2) potential for consolidation of these functions to fewer programs and agencies; (3) the feasibility, costs, and benefits of establishing a special coordinator to preside over the allocation of U.S. counter-nuclear-smuggling assistance to foreign nations and be responsible for directing the interagency process of development, funding, and implementation of all U.S. government programs related to combating nuclear smuggling overseas; and (4) any U.S. laws that would need to be amended by Congress in order to facilitate consolidation, elimination, or other changes to existing programs.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: Following this review, to ensure remaining programs are being coordinated and implemented effectively, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs should issue new guidance that incorporates the elements of effective strategic plans, including clearly delineating the roles and missions of relevant programs, specific priorities and objectives, performance measures and targets, overall program cost estimates, and projected time frames for program completion.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

 

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