Senator Pete Domenici on the National Nuclear Security Administration About a month ago, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) was the invited keynote speaker at the Nuclear Security Decisionmaker's Forum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was unable to attend because of pressing business on the Senate floor. In his prepared remarks, Domenici criticized the implementation plan for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), cited his concern about the National Ignition Facility, and described his intention to increase the Department of Energy's FY 2001 budget over that requested by the administration. Domenici's views are of great interest because of his chairmanship of the Senate appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over DOE. Selected portions of his address follow:
"Part of the rationale for creation of the NNSA was my recognition that our nation's security would be greatly enhanced by an integrated view of stockpile and non-proliferation activities. Assuring strong leadership with a well defined chain- of-command for both these key areas will help us make the best possible decisions.
"For those of you who followed the debate during creation of the NNSA, you're aware that other considerations were also prominent. For example, Congress recognized that this new agency provided an opportunity to significantly improve the management of security, as well as all other areas, in the Department by aligning responsibilities and authorities for the very first time. It was an opportunity to ensure that our critical national security programs were no longer subject to a multitude of internal 'fiefdoms' that levied unfunded mandates across the Department through a patchwork of conflicting lines of authority."
"...there was a larger goal for the legislation -- to change the culture of the Department's national security program and transform it into an elite agency. The achievement of this goal will determine its long range success.
"The legislation attempted to create a new entity that incorporates the good in the current DOE weapons complex and leaves the bad behind. The new Administrator was provided with a clean slate on which to build the new Agency.
"He can include the best of the old DOE within the NNSA -- the history of scientific achievements, the facilities, and many of the people. And negative elements of the old DOE, like the culture of bureaucratic morass, poor workforce morale, and its security, safety, and environmental failures, should be left far behind.
"The new Agency should incorporate the change of culture that [the] Rudman and Chiles [reports] addressed. Its elite mission and status should enhance its ability to attract the best and the brightest. It should promote our weapons labs' role as leaders in scientific research outside weapons fields. And while the labs would continue to be owned by the NNSA, they could support truly national missions, including more use by the DoD and other elements of the government.
"If this reorganization only accomplishes simplification and clarification of the lines of authority, some will view it as a success. But, if only that occurs, this golden opportunity to transform the bureaucracy that owns these labs will have been lost.
"I was very pleased when Congress overwhelmingly supported creation of the NNSA. Since then, to say the least, progress on the NNSA has been 'interesting' after the President signed the legislation, but provided guidelines about NNSA of questionable legality. In January, the Department issued their Implementation Plan for NNSA, following some of those inappropriate Presidential guidelines -- including his instructions on 'dual-hatting.'
"That dual-hatting of about 20 officials in both the NNSA and the rest of DOE flies in the face of the statute. The implementation plan ignores the department's existing management problems and attempts to simply shoe-horn the existing dysfunctional bureaucracy into the requirements of the new statute. It fails and should be ignored by the first NNSA Administrator.
"There's also been some excellent progress on the NNSA, mainly when the Secretary announced that General Gordon would be nominated to serve as the NNSA Administrator. General Gordon is a superb choice to lead the NNSA, his qualifications are truly unique. I'll be working to ensure that he has the very best opportunity to start addressing the management issues that sparked creation of the NNSA in the first place. To help him craft an appropriate structure, I've introduced legislation to grant him a three year term, ensuring that his leadership will carry over between Administrations.
"The NNSA enabling statutes also provide him with important tools for improving the organization. He can offer enhanced severance pay to assist in reshaping manpower capabilities and he can hire new personnel to strengthen his NNSA team.
"Among the many challenges that General Gordon will face will be the need to ensure that the Department does a better job of managing major projects. The recent debacle at the National Ignition Facility is a prime example of what he has to avoid. It highlights the need for better program management skills in the Department and the labs. As he restructures his organization, this should be one area deserving special focus.
"He's also going to face complex issues associated with allocation of resources in a severely budget-constrained environment. I appreciate that the Secretary was able to obtain a modest budget increase for the Department, but the proposed budget is not sufficient to accomplish their mission.
"One very major area of concern with large future budget implications involves serious infrastructure needs at the plants and labs, with costs that may involve many billions of dollars over many years. The proposed DOE budget does not address this issue. And when General Gordon analyzes these needs, he will be hampered by the lack of any recent comprehensive review of our nation's nuclear stockpile requirements. I'm considering legislation to require such a far-reaching study, which could provide critical information to him and to the Congress.
"To some extent this issue is noted in recent studies like the Foster Report and the Department's 30-Day Study, which highlight significant concerns with our production complex. The proposed budget for next year is not adequately supporting this critical area.
"Another shortfall is in tritium production, where funding for a back-up source of tritium is almost eliminated -- in sharp contrast to earlier assurances from the Secretary that the back- up source would be carried through the design stage.
"Another concern involves the National Ignition Facility. The Administration's budget proposed to simply follow the planned spending curve, despite many statements about large overruns. Perhaps more details on these problems will be forthcoming in future hearings, but to date Congress doesn't have data to even estimate the magnitude of the problem, much less to evaluate credible options.
"To address some of these deficiencies in the Administration's budget, I'll be seeking an increase in their proposed budget for fiscal year 2001. I'll also try to address some of the most urgent concerns at the plants in a supplemental budget request for the current fiscal year....". [Prospects for a supplemental budget are very dim because of the opposition of Senate Majority Trent Lott (R-MS).]
"...the Senate will be eagerly awaiting the formal nomination of General Gordon to run the NNSA. When he is on board, he can begin to address some of the complex issues that I've outlined. And in the meantime, I'll be working in Congress to provide him with the budget and other tools that he'll need to assure success in maintaining and enhancing the strength of the Department's national security programs."
Richard M. Jones