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More Steps Needed on NNSA Operations Oversight: GAO

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration should take additional steps to address shortcomings in its oversight of significant long-term initiatives and activities carried out by private firms, the Government Accountability Office said in congressional testimony issued on Wednesday (see GSN, June 27).

The agency, a semiautonomous Energy Department branch that manages the U.S. nuclear arms complex, has acted to clarify administrative responsibilities, bolster coordination between its central and other offices, and improve protective standards through the creation of a program to that end at its main location, according to prepared testimony from Gene Aloise, GAO natural resources and environment director.

"Nevertheless, NNSA continues to experience major cost and schedule overruns on its projects, such as research and production facilities and nuclear weapons refurbishments, principally because of ineffective oversight and poor contractor management," states a summary of the assessment for a House Armed Services Committee panel. The report draws from GAO analyses delivered between January 1995 and March 2012.

The agency's accomplishments include sustainment of the nation's nuclear arsenal without information gleaned from new underground test detonations, the document adds (see GSN, June 15).

"At the same time, NNSA’s struggles in defining itself as a separately organized agency within DOE [the Energy Department], and the considerable management problems that remain have led to calls in Congress and other organizations to increase NNSA’s independence from DOE," the report' states.

"However, senior DOE and NNSA officials have committed to continuing reform, and DOE’s and NNSA’s efforts have led to some management improvements," the document adds. "As a result, GAO continues to believe, as it concluded in its January 2007 report, that drastic organizational change to increase independence is unnecessary and questions whether such change would solve the agency’s remaining management problems" (U.S. Government Accountability Office release, June 27).

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