Nuclear Safety:

Potential Security Weaknesses at Los Alamos and Other DOE Facilities

RCED-91-12: Published: Oct 11, 1990. Publicly Released: Nov 26, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined: (1) the adequacy of security at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and other Department of Energy (DOE) facilities; (2) DOE oversight of contractor security forces; and (3) the feasibility of establishing federal security forces at DOE facilities.

GAO found that: (1) DOE did not assess the adequacy of the replacement force at Los Alamos until 6 weeks after contractor personnel went on strike; (2) during the strike, DOE waived medical and physical fitness requirements for the replacement force, and many personnel failed to meet 1 or more of the 12 minimum required skills; (3) DOE sites were not prepared for such strikes; (4) security force training and certification documents were incomplete, inaccurate, or missing, indicating that potential security problems existed; (5) 75 percent of the regular security force lacked one or more of nine skills needed to ensure a minimum level of protection; (6) DOE inspections identified recurring and similar weaknesses, yet rated only one security program as unsatisfactory; (7) DOE lacked specific criteria for rating facility security; (8) DOE lacked an effective system to track corrective actions taken as a result of inspection findings; (9) contractors provided security forces at all but one DOE facility; and (10) labor and benefit costs for a federal security force would be at least $15 million less per year than contract costs, and federal employees could not legally strike.

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 ensure consistency among inspection ratings and provide an incentive for security forces' contractors to correct inspection deficiencies, the Secretary of Energy should withhold a portion of award fees when contractors do not take timely corrective actions on security inspection weaknesses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE agreed with the recommendation and stated it will consider timeliness in correcting identified security weaknesses in determining the amount of the award fee.

    Recommendation: To ensure consistency among inspection ratings and provide an incentive for security forces' contractors to correct inspection deficiencies, the Secretary of Energy should develop specific criteria to eliminate any inconsistency for rating facility security as either satisfactory, marginal, or unsatisfactory.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE believes the inconsistent ratings are due to both the DOE field offices and headquarters inconsistently applying existing standards and criteria and ineffective oversight. DOE is looking at ways to improve consistency of application and oversight because it believes it already has specific criteria for evaluating DOE security programs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should conduct unannounced inspections and performance tests, particularly immediately upon the initiation of an unusual event, such as a strike, to obtain more realistic indications of security force competencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE conducted two limited inspections and performance tests of its security programs, but the tests were announced 1 week in advance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should ensure that security force members receive all required training and institute a mechanism to ensure that contractors document and retain this information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 31, 1993, DOE published in the Federal Register regulations to specify mandatory initial and periodic training requirements. DOE revised its security orders to specify the minimum training records required to be maintained by job task area.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should establish standardized qualification and skill requirements for all protective forces and ensure that strike replacements meet the requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE completed a "Basic Security Inspector Training Program" and 14 training modules as part of its curriculum for standard weapons training and qualification. DOE began training, according to the standardized program, around July 31, 1991.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should expeditiously develop specific contingency plan criteria for strikes and require all contractors to prepare plans that meet the criteria.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE developed a standardized guideline for contingency planning in January 1991 and will review implementation of the guideline during its safeguards and security program reviews.

    Recommendation: Because significant savings may be realized by having federal rather than contract employees provide security services, the Secretary of Energy should conduct an in-depth analysis of the relative costs of federal and contract security services across the nuclear weapons complex and convert to federal forces at locations where it is cost-effective to do so.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has conducted an analysis of federal versus contract security services across its nuclear weapons complex. DOE finalized its analysis and issued a report regarding this matter around May 1992. The report, recommending no further action, was reviewed by the DOE Office of Safeguards and Security, which also concurred that no further action should be taken to federalize the DOE complex.

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