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Turner Defends Nuclear Oversight Proposal Following Y-12 Break-In

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

U.S. House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Michael Turner (R-Ohio), shown last year, has defended a legislative plan to reduce Energy Department oversight of U.S. nuclear weapons facilities, despite Democratic assertions that a recent intrusion at one such site points to shortcomings in the proposal (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke). U.S. House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Michael Turner (R-Ohio), shown last year, has defended a legislative plan to reduce Energy Department oversight of U.S. nuclear weapons facilities, despite Democratic assertions that a recent intrusion at one such site points to shortcomings in the proposal (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke).

WASHINGTON – Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio) is standing by a legislative proposal to reduce the Energy Department’s oversight of U.S. nuclear weapons facilities following Democratic claims that a recent security lapse underscores problems with the plan (see GSN, Aug. 8).

Drafted by the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee, the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2013 would make significant changes to the department’s ability to oversee sites such the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, which an 82-year-old nun and two others were able to infiltrate on July 28.

As chairman of the panel’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Turner has been a leading proponent of the measures, which the House approved in May. Under the bill, DOE officials would no longer be authorized “to make policy, prescribe regulations and conduct oversight of health, safety and security in the nuclear security enterprise.” These authorities would shift to the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous division of the department that oversees the nation’s atomic arms complex.

Earlier this week, House Democrats told Global Security Newswire that the incident at Y-12 shows that the legislation is flawed and that nuclear weapons facilities need more DOE oversight, not less.

Turner, however, argued that the Y-12 break-in proves that the current system of oversight is failing and should be overhauled as proposed in the House bill.

“The number of oversight employees has been going up steadily for almost a decade,” Turner said in a statement to GSN. “It’s clear that’s not a solution, as simple as it appears, because we’ve tried it and yet this latest incident still happened.”

Turner previously argued that DOE regulation and oversight of the nuclear weapons complex is too onerous, and is to blame for delays and cost overruns associated with various NNSA projects. He and other Republicans assert that excessive department regulation stifles progress at the national laboratories, which manage much of the work in maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal. They cite as examples the postponement of plans to construct the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement plutonium facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and of delays to various nuclear warhead modernization projects.

“Not one life-extension program is on track,” Turner said at a June hearing his subcommittee hosted to highlight the need for the legislative changes.

The House authorization legislation would rectify the problem by increasing NNSA autonomy, according to proponents.

Prior to the security breach at Y-12 the legislation had already attracted a number of detractors, including the Obama administration, a federal advisory panel and labor groups (see GSN, July 20). Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) – the top Democrat on Turner’s subcommittee – co-sponsored an amendment that would have stripped much of the NNSA reform provisions. The amendment, which Republicans blocked from being debated on the House floor, was also co-sponsored by Representatives Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and George Miller (D-Calif.).

Sanchez and a spokesman for Miller told GSN earlier this week that the Y-12 break-in showed that the Republican-backed NNSA reforms are imprudent.

The Democrat-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee did not include similar reform provisions in its version of the defense authorization bill. A spokesman for the Senate committee declined to comment on how the Y-12 incident could impact conference negotiations.

Fiscal 2013 begins on Oct. 1.

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GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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