Bill Richardson Testifies on New National Nuclear Security Administration The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was only a day old when Department of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson appeared before the House Armed Services Committee. The hearing was cordial, but it is clear that Richardson and some key House members still do not see eye-to-eye on the implementation of this new law.
Last fall, following months of revelations about security problems at the weapons laboratories, Congress included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act establishing a semi-autonomous agency within DOE as of March 1. As Chairman Floyd Spence (R-SC) explained at this March 2 hearing, the NNSA has "responsibility for the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, nuclear non- proliferation, and naval nuclear reactors." Richardson was unenthusiastic about this reorganization proposal as it made its way through Congress last year, but ultimately he and President Clinton were forced to comply since the legislation was passed by veto-proof margins. Late in the session, the Administration announced that Richardson would assume the duties of the NNSA Director, a move that enraged many on the Hill. That problem seems to have been resolved with the announcement that CIA Deputy Director General John Gordon would be nominated to be Director. Many committee members lauded the President's choice; Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) also called Gordon "a great choice . . . he has what it will take to make this agency work." Gordon, Richardson said, began his career as a physicist at an Air Force laboratory. Senate confirmation of Gordon should occur within the next few months.
Despite this announcement, Spence opened the hearing stating "I have serious concerns about the Department's efforts to date. A careful review of the implementation plan suggests that the goal of the Department was not to implement the fundamental changes required by law, but rather to ensure that the existing organizational structure, lines of authority, and fiscal and managerial practices of DOE remain intact. . . . it is my view that the Department today stands in conflict with the will and intent of Congress and the clearly established requirements of law."
Much of the conflict between Richardson and Congress revolves around a fairly small, but in most cases, quite senior, group of DOE officials who are going to do two jobs within the NNSA and DOE. This is called "dual-hatting," and Spence contends it follows neither the letter nor the spirit of the law. Richardson takes an opposite view, contending that because of expertise and for efficiency, there is nothing objectionable about the practice. Committee Ranking Minority Member Ike Skelton (D-MO), while not as critical, admitted that Congress and DOE were "not traveling down the same path," and added that changes may be considered in this year DOD's authorization.
Richardson is very uneasy about his authority to manage and the delegation of his authority. "I come to you wanting to work with you," he told the committee, later saying, "I don't want to get into another fight with you this year." "My point is . . . I have to manage this bureaucracy," he said, telling the committee that its focus on those 18 dual-hats is wrong. Most committee members were unconvinced, Mac Thornberry (R-TX) (who early in the day had his own hearing on this issue) saying that both the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Research Service found the dual-hats to be clearly against the letter and intent of the law. Richardson disagreed. Later, there was an inconclusive discussion about what the delegation of authority meant.
Finally, Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), pressed Richardson repeatedly for an unqualified expression of his support for the National Ignition Facility (NIF). NIF is under fire for cost overruns and schedule slippage. Richardson announced that a new baseline study would be released, and told Tauscher "I have been very concerned about the management of this facility. "The science is sound," he said, but "here bad management has overtaken good science." "I don't want this to ever happen again . . . I'm going to be very tough with them," he stated. Tauscher was unsuccessful in getting Richardson to declare his clear support for NIF, even with management changes, despite her many questions. He told her that you "can't separate the management from the science."
Richard M. Jones