Mixed Hill Reaction to Secretary Richardson's New Weapons Labs Plan One issue that is sure to be on the front burner when Congress returns at the end of the month is the new semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). When Congress left Washington last fall, there was considerable consternation about the Clinton Administration's implementation of the NNSA provisions of the FY 2000 Defense Authorization Act. President Clinton designated DOE Secretary Bill Richardson to assume the interim duties and functions of the Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, a move that angered many Members of Congress. Richardson was unhappy with the new law that clouded, he contended, lines of authority and responsibility within the department. At a hearing last October, he pleaded with senators to revise the legislation.
In fulfillment of the law, passed in September, Richardson has just sent to the Congress a 30-page "National Nuclear Security Administration Implementation Plan." He also appointed a search committee to identify a qualified candidate for the Under Secretary position. The committee is chaired by former Deputy Secretary of Energy Charles Curtis. Other members include former Energy Secretary James Watkins, Admiral Henry Chiles, and Chairman of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Andrew Athy. The Under Secretary is to be nominated before March 1, a very tight schedule.
The DOE release notes that Richardson appointed this search committee after he was told by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) that the senator "would help with a legislative change that clarifies the Secretary of Energy's authority over the new agency." The question of control has always been central in the formulation of the reorganization law. DOE addresses this point repeatedly on the first page of the Plan, using "overarching authority" and "overarching policy responsibility" in describing the duties of the Secretary. The desired legislative change would, the Plan states, "clarify and ensure that the Secretary of Energy has clear lines of authority and responsibility over the NNSA."
The Plan describes eight "principles of implementation," one of which responds to a major concern of the science community. It reads:
"Ensure that the national security defense laboratories continue to perform scientific research for non-defense DOE programs and others. The national laboratories that, by statute, report to the NNSA all perform significant research for the non-defense DOE programs and for other federal agencies and non-federal organizations. The research facilities at these laboratories are often the best, or only, such facilities in the United States. In some cases, these are the only such facilities in the world. The Implementation Plan is structured to allow the laboratories to continue to perform such research, and to allow non-defense DOE programs and others sufficient control over such externally sponsored research that they will continue to utilize these laboratories for such research. It also provides that the non- NNSA laboratories will continue to conduct research for program offices within the NNSA."
The Implementation Plan may be accessed at http://www.doe.gov/news/nnsa.pdf It describes management changes that do not appear to fundamentally alter the work of the affected laboratories and facilities, which are: Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Kansas City Plant, the Pantex Plant, the Y-12 Plant, Savannah River's tritium operations facilities, and the Nevada Test Site.
Congressional reaction to the Implementation Plan is mixed. Rep. William M. "Mac" Thornberry (R-TX), who represents the district including Pantex, and who is chairman of the Special Oversight Panel on Department of Energy Reorganization, said the Plan "falls short by attempting to shoehorn the [DOE] bureaucracy into the NNSA management structure by 'dual-hatting' department employees." He added, "this runs counter to the spirit and intent of the law." Thornberry was one of the authors of the reorganization legislation.
Senator Domenici released the following statement; note that "believed" is past tense: "I believed we had made some positive steps recently. Secretary Richardson appointed a commission to find and recommend to the president and Congress a qualified person to head the NNSA. I have indicated to Secretary Richardson that I would attempt to work on one legislative change to the law dealing with the secretary's authority. But as far as this brief DOE report is concerned, I am not prepared to agree that it is an appropriate implementation plan. It will have to be carefully looked at, and it is obvious that some of the concepts and approaches are not consistent with what I believe is congressional intent."
The Plan's Executive Summary concludes: "The next phase of implementation, which will begin immediately, is to execute the plan provided in this report."
Richard M. Jones