Nuclear Security Enterprise:

NNSA's Management of Data Calls to Contractors

GAO-19-286R: Published: Feb 26, 2019. Publicly Released: Mar 28, 2019.

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Allison B. Bawden
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To help oversee its contractors, the National Nuclear Security Administration asks them to supply data on their activities. Contractors have previously described these data calls as burdensome, duplicative, and a further strain on contractor-NNSA relations.

We could not identify a recent trend in the number of data calls because NNSA and its contractors do not routinely track them. They also use different definitions. Some count only ad hoc requests as data calls while others include requests for contractually required information.

NNSA has tried to better coordinate requests and has taken other steps since 2015 to better manage data calls.

 

Department of Energy

Department of Energy

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Allison B. Bawden
(202) 512-3841
BawdenA@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Information on the number of data calls and any changes over time is not available because the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its seven management and operating (M&O) contractors have different definitions of data calls and do not routinely track such information. Data calls are broadly defined as requests or requirements from the government to obtain information from M&O contractors for the purposes of performing oversight and supporting programmatic work. Some NNSA officials and M&O contractor representatives GAO interviewed used this broad definition of data calls to include any request for information-including those required under contracts-while other officials and representatives considered only ad hoc requests for information as a data call. Further, NNSA officials said that they do not routinely track data calls sent to contractors, and contractor representatives said they do not routinely track data calls across each site they manage. M&O contractor representatives did not identify any specific types of data calls they currently consider to be burdensome. However, contractor representatives GAO interviewed identified broad aspects of data calls that might contribute to them seeming burdensome, such as being non-routine in nature or having short deadlines for response.

In response to several recent reports that identified data calls as a burdensome practice, NNSA has taken several actions to help reduce the time and resources M&O contractors spend responding to data calls. According to NNSA officials GAO interviewed and agency documents GAO reviewed, NNSA has taken actions in four main areas since 2015 to better manage the data calls sent to its contractors. These areas include: (1) improving coordination of data calls; (2) ensuring that data calls follow appropriate contract terms and conditions; (3) establishing an executive-level point of contact to serve as a liaison between NNSA and its M&O contractors to resolve issues with data calls; and (4) streamlining routine or recurring financial data calls.

Why GAO Did This Study

NNSA is responsible for the management and security of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile as well as for U.S. nonproliferation efforts. To execute its missions, NNSA relies on seven M&O contractors to manage and operate its eight sites-collectively known as the nuclear security enterprise. However, NNSA's relationship with its contractors has been a source of concern for years, including NNSA's use of data calls. Specifically, two statutorily required reports issued by an advisory panel in 2014 and a commission in 2015 described an eroding and dysfunctional relationship between DOE and its contractors and identified data calls as onerous, fueling inefficiencies, and generating little added value to NNSA's oversight of its contractors.

GAO was asked to review NNSA's management of data calls to M&O contractors in the nuclear security enterprise subsequent to the issuance of the statutorily required reports. This report examines (1) what is known about data calls to NNSA's M&O contractors, and the extent to which, if any, contractors currently identify data calls as burdensome; and (2) what actions NNSA has taken since 2015 to manage data calls to M&O contractors.

GAO reviewed available documentation from M&O contractors on the data calls they receive and NNSA and DOE documentation related to efforts intended to help manage the agency's data call process. GAO conducted semi-structured interviews with division-leader representatives from the seven M&O contractors regarding how they define, track, and process data calls and confirmed their statements with site director-level management. GAO also interviewed agency officials at NNSA headquarters and gained the perspectives of officials at each of NNSA's field offices on NNSA's process for managing data calls.

What GAO Recommends 

GAO is not making any recommendations.

For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or BawdenA@gao.gov.

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