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Highlights

As a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) administers the Stockpile Life Extension Program, whose purpose is to extend, through refurbishment, the operational lives of the weapons in the nuclear stockpile. NNSA encountered significant management problems with its first refurbishment for the W87 warhead. GAO was asked to assess the extent to which NNSA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have effectively managed the refurbishment of two other weapons--the B61 bomb and the W76 warhead. This report summarizes the findings of GAO's classified report on the refurbishment of the B61 bomb and W76 warhead.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Nuclear Security Administration 1. To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to develop a realistic schedule for the W76 warhead and future life extension programs that allows NNSA to (1) address technical challenges while meeting all military requirements and (2) build in time for unexpected technical challenges that may delay the program.
Open
In past and ongoing work, GAO has identified areas where NNSA's modernization plans may not align with planned funding requests over the Future Years Nuclear Security Plan (FYNSP) and post-FYNSP periods. Based on the FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP), (GAO-14-45) NNSA plans to work on five life extension programs (LEP) or major alterations through 2038. The FY 2014 SSMP states that the LEP workload represents a resource and production throughput challenge that requires improvements in LEP planning and execution. GAO's analysis indicates there is limited contingency time built into the LEP schedules, all of which are technically ambitious. Any delays in schedules could lead to an increase in program costs or a reduction in the number built for any of the LEPs, both of which have occurred in prior and ongoing LEPs. While NNSA has acknowledged issues and identified some steps to improve the LEP process, this recommendation will remain open and unimplemented until NNSA demonstrates successful LEP and refurbishment execution. We reconfirmed this finding in GAO-17-341 where we found the following: In some cases, NNSA's FY 2017 nuclear security budget materials do not align with the agency's modernization plans, both within the 5-year FYNSP for fiscal years 2017 through 2021 and beyond, raising concerns about the affordability of NNSA's planned portfolio of modernization programs. As of June 2020, this situation has not been fully addressed as evidenced by cost increases and likely delays in the B61-12 and W88 ALTV programs; an aggressive schedule in the W80-4 program, and a large scope in the W87-1 warhead replacement. In addition, new programs contained in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review and the announcement of a new development effort, the W93, may further stress NNSA's program.
National Nuclear Security Administration 2. To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to assess the cost and include funding in the baseline for risk mitigation activities that address the highest risks to the W76 and future life extension programs.
Closed - Implemented
The Nuclear Posture Review originally identified a complete production date for the W76 LEP in 2017. However, the complete production date for the W76 LEP has been delayed until 2019 and the total number of units has been reduced. Officials determined that if they decreased the number of units they could free up resources to work on other LEPs. The Navy and Nuclear Weapons Council have endorsed the revised schedule and number of units in terms of meeting the Navy's requirements. Originally NNSA started a reprogramming request for the W76 LEP in FY 2013; however, because NNSA is under a continuing resolution for the rest of the fiscal year they were able to move some funding--$57 million from operating expenses in the Weapons Activities account to the W76 LEP. According to the officials, they completed a throughput analysis and found that Pantex and the sites that will be making components have the facility space to meet these requirements. For example, at Y-12 most of the components for the W76 LEP will be completed before the B61 LEP reaches full capacity. The officials said that employees at Y-12, as well as Kansas City and Los Alamos, will have to transition from one project to the other, but there is sufficient capacity to complete all of the needed work. As such, this recommendation is closed.
National Nuclear Security Administration 3. To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to, before beginning a life extension program, assess the risks, costs, and scheduling needs for each military requirement established by DOD.
Closed - Implemented
This issue appears to be resolved in the upcoming B61 refurbishment. Specifically, requirements were jointly addressed by DoD and NNSA. For example, draft military characteristics (MC) and stockpile to target sequence (STS) were submitted to Nuclear Weapons Council in Dec 2011 with the request for Phase 6.3 authorization. Final MC submission with updated STS was made in July 2012. According to the B61 lead project officer, these were coordinated with all agencies, and are under change control. Furthermore, trades were conducted in Phase 6.2/6.2A, that included all agencies including USSTRATCOM. Options presented to NWC during the request for Phase 6.3 included recommendation for Design Option 3B (now the B61-12) as the most cost effective option that met military requirements. We will continue to closely monitor this issue.
National Nuclear Security Administration 4. To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to ensure that the program managers responsible for overseeing the construction of new facilities directly related to future life extension programs coordinate with the program managers of such future programs to avoid the types of delays and problems faced with the construction and operation of the Fogbank manufacturing facility for the W76 program.
Open
A number of Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plans (SSMP) state that the life extension program (LEP) workload represents a resource and production throughput challenge that requires improvements in LEP planning and execution. The officials elaborated that the main area that will be strained is pit production. NNSA's plutonium strategy needs to be resourced fully and implemented successfully by 2030 to support the W87 warhead replacement. Additionally, the officials said that the UPF project and an arrange of associated programmatic efforts need to be operational by 2025 or there will be challenges in completing all of the planned LEPs. In addition, NNSA needs to re-establish depleted uranium operations, construct a new lithium facility and establish a domestic uranium enrichment function for tritium production by the late 2020s to meet stockpile needs. As such, this recommendation remains open and, given the aggressive warhead and bomb modernization efforts proceeding in parallel with infrastructure modernization efforts, will likely remain open for some time.
National Nuclear Security Administration 5. To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to ensure that program managers for the construction of new facilities for future life extensions base their schedule for the construction and start-up of a facility on the life extension program managers' needs identified in their risk mitigation strategies.
Open
NNSA has generally improved its management of construction projects, to include requirements setting, Analysis of Alternatives, and independent cost estimates, among other items. However, it is too soon to tell if these positive developments will help--or hinder--LEPs that are underway or are being conducted. Key uranium activities, to include construction and operating funds will not be complete until 2025; key tritium and lithium programs and facilities will not complete until the 2030s; key plutonium activities are underway as well, but will not be complete until the late 2020s. As of June 2020, there are no significant changes related to this recommendation, and it will continue to remain open.
National Nuclear Security Administration 6. To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to develop and use consistent budget assumptions and criteria for the baseline to track costs over time.
Closed - Implemented
NNSA plans to improve the LEP process are ongoing, including implementing a new system that uses enhanced value management and resource-loaded schedules to better manage the LEPs. NNSA is beginning to use a software system called Primavera for scheduling. The changes to the process will provide consistency in how NNSA manages the LEPs so that each LEP is not a unique or custom process. In addition, NNSA is taking steps to improve its cost estimates of the LEPs by integrating more information from past LEPs into the models. For example, the cost estimates for some of the LEPs in the FY 2012 SSMP were based on modeling that used data from the never-produced Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. The officials said that one reason the data are not the best input into the models is that the program was never executed; however, they noted that it was the best information available at the time. The cost estimates in the FY 2014 SSMP were based on the costs of the ongoing W76 LEP. This change in modeling led to significant increases in the cost estimates because the estimating approach has changed. This is a positive step in that it provides NNSA with the tools to better manage its programs. We will continue to monitor progress in this area.
Department of Defense 7. To improve DOD's oversight over NNSA's life extension activities and ensure that refurbished weapons meet all military requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct STRATCOM and the Secretary of the responsible Service to comprehensively review military requirements for a weapons system prior to entering Phase 6.2A of a life extension program.
Closed - Implemented
The schedule and cost estimate for the B61 LEP changed from the FY 2012 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) to the FY 2014 SSMP because the FY 2012 SSMP was issued before the B61 LEP completed phase 6.2a, the stage of the 6.x process in which NNSA defines the design and completes a cost study. The B61 LEP completed phase 6.2a in July 2012 with a new, increased cost estimate of $8.0 billion, including $800 million of DOD funding, and a delay in the time frame for the first production unit (FPU) to 2019. Since that time, DOE and NNSA officials said that the current phase 6.x process is being reviewed and an interagency group is working to update the process and guidance. The group plans to present the revised guidance to the Nuclear Weapons Council in 2013. One significant change is that a rough order of magnitude for costs will be required before the down select to a single LEP model. According to these officials, previously, cost was not a factor in the program, but in the current budget environment cost is a factor in decision making. The W78/88-1 LEP will likely use the new 6.x process. As such, we view DoD has having made progress in this area sufficient to close this recommendation. However, we will continue to closely monitor DoD and NNSA nuclear weapons refurbishment programs.
Department of Defense 8. To improve DOD's oversight over NNSA's life extension activities and ensure that refurbished weapons meet all military requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) and the Secretary of the responsible Service to work with NNSA to assess the cost and schedule implications for meeting each military requirement prior to entering Phase 6.3.
Closed - Implemented
This issue appears to be resolved with the planned B61 refurbishment. Specifically, requirements were worked jointly addressed by DoD and NNSA. For example, draft military characteristics (MC) and stockpile to target sequence (STS) were submitted to Nuclear Weapons Council in Dec 2011 with the request for Phase 6.3 authorization. Final MC submission with updated STS was made in July 2012. According to the B61 lead project officer, these were coordinated with all agencies, and are under change control. Furthermore, trades were conducted in Phase 6.2/6.2A, that included all agencies including USSTRATCOM. Options presented to NWC during the request for Phase 6.3 included recommendation for Design Option 3B (now the B61-12) as the most cost effective option that met military requirements. We will continue to closely monitor this issue.
Department of Defense 9. To improve DOD's oversight over NNSA's life extension activities and ensure that refurbished weapons meet all military requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Air Force and the Navy to ensure that their respective Lead Project Officers have the technical and managerial expertise and resources to review NNSA's progress and technical challenges throughout the life extension program.
Closed - Implemented
Our report found that the Air Force did not adequately review NNSA's design, engineering, and testing activities. This review would have alerted it to the fact that NNSA was unable to meet all refurbishment objectives. According to Air Force officials, the Lead Project Officer failed to provide the necessary oversight because he lacked the technical and managerial expertise to do so. He did not alert the Air Force to significant concerns with the testing of the refurbished B61. In particular, the Air Force did not raise concerns about NNSA?s failure to complete all agreed-upon tests until NNSA had completed a majority of its tests and was preparing for full-scale production. Since that time, Air Force (AF) officials report that this issue has been addressed, both in response to nuclear weapons incidents and GAO's report. For example, since a significant 2009 nuclear weapons security incident, according to these officials, the AF has made a significant effort, and provided resources, to improve its management of nuclear weapons. Notably, the AF has added two General Officers (the AFNWC commander and the PEO for Strategic Systems), as well as an SES-level AFNWC Executive Director to manage nuclear operations. In addition, the service created dedicated AF Nuclear Weapons Center. In addition, according to officials, technically qualified staff are supporting LEP programs. More specifically, officials sated that the B61 lead project officer is a nuclear and systems engineer and supervised has over 30 personnel in a variety of technical specialties working B61-12. We will continue to monitor this issue and will seek to independently evaluate AF actions in future work.

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