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Re: Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, Interim Report, Apr 2014

Initial remarks by Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group, May 13, 2014 (references not included)

  1. Summary of remarks

    1. The membership of the Panel is predictive of the outcome.  The chairmanship especially, but also the membership of the panel are both weighted toward military and nuclear administrators with formative experiences during the Cold War, some of whom have active consultancies with DoD and Department of Energy (DOE).  Heather Wilson in particular was the subject of a critical recent Department of Energy Inspector General (DOE IG) report regarding irregularities in billing for her consulting and advocacy for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) labs.  Ellen Tauscher is a current member of the governing boards of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).  It is troubling that obvious conflicts of interests have been built into the Panel without visible congressional reaction, not to mention the strong loyalties of the majority of other members.  These issues undermine the Panel's legitimacy.

    2. The process of writing the Report has been narrow and secretive, which in combination with these membership issues virtually assures a report friendly to the majority's business interests and career dispositions.  The Panel's staff apparently spoke to many people but too great a fraction of them are associated with the problems the Panel is studying in one way or another -- either they had a hand in creating the problems, or they have enabled them, or they have personally benefited from them.  Apparently no members of civil society or independent analysts were consulted.  The Panel's legitimacy is undermined by its process as well as its membership.  

    3. In its content, the Report is not responsive to its congressional mandate, which required the Interim Report to focus "[t]o the extent practicable," on "immediate, near-term actions the advisory panel recommends be taken."  No immediate or near-term actions, or even any long-term actions, are recommended -- not one.   

    4. The Report is instead heavily ideological, demanding specific political outcomes and values, often in the guise of rehearsing political assumptions which are not within or germane to the Panel's policy mandate.  This starts in the second paragraph (p. 7) and continues off and on throughout the report.  The Report is thus much less about management and governance improvements -- it suggests none -- than it is about specific political choices and ideologies which the Panel says must be made and accepted, respectively, which will lead to significantly greater funding and national focus on nuclear weapons.  But what if national focus is turning away from nuclear weapons, as the Report notes?  And what if that is just a magisterial fact of history, a thing not to be changed by the advice of this or any panel?  Under that very different assumption, how shall the warhead complex be governed? 

    5. The Report is specifically nostalgic in more than one place and is nostalgic sub rosa overall, as if there had been a "golden age" of nuclear weapons governance and management corresponding with the early rising careers of the individuals guiding the Report. 

    6. The Report devotes much of its text to summarizing why and how the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has failed.  Much of this is true as far as it goes but there are conspicuous "no go" areas that undermine the impression of objectivity and candor.  These "no go" areas include these:

      1. The Report is silent about, and certainly lacks any analysis of, the conspicuous failures at the NNSA labs.  "Overhead" is only mentioned once for example, and only as something that is not adequately funded by taxpayers.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  

      2. More broadly, the Report does not critique contractor operations or provide any basis for doing so in the final report, or provide any remedies for contractor failures that do not fit within the frame of "failure caused by too much regulation (or not enough money)."  No recommendations for greater accountability are provided, or any basis for any. 

      3. The report is silent about the extreme privatization of the nuclear warhead enterprise.  

      4. Despite proclaiming the Panel's ideological loyalty to nuclear weapons, the Report utterly fails to grasp (or even mention) that NNSA's "national security enterprise," i.e. the nuclear warhead complex, is not composed of potential generic "high reliability, high tech organizations" but is, specifically, a complex of sites that design and build nuclear warheads, a unique management and governance problem.  The unique aspects of the nuclear warhead complex are not addressed at all. 

      5. Very little -- essentially no -- prior work from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) or DOE IG is referenced, which is quite peculiar given the considerable expertise in these two organizations, and their prior work, which bears on the Panel's mandate.

      6. The words "contamination" and "pollution" do not appear in this report, even though the past environmental failures of the nuclear weapons complex have required an effort almost as large as the operations of the complex itself and have impacted the warhead mission extensively.  The joint EPA-FBI raid on the Rocky Flats Plant appears in a footnote, as an example not of environmental crime or of governance failure, but rather of a "shift in focus" away from producing nuclear weapons and toward less focused concerns (which in context would be: not killing workers and neighbors, and not contaminating extensive areas, presumably).  The environmental and worker safety problems at RFP and elsewhere were overseen and enabled, at a minimum, by the Albuquerque Operations Office, which the report suggests was a paragon of good management.

      7. "Safety" as a normative concept does not figure greatly in this report.  Safety regulation, which is internal at DOE in the weapons complex, is generally referred to as excessive, duplicative, and constraining.  The positive relationship between detailed oversight and accident prevention (which can easily cause mission failure) is one of those "no go" areas.  

      8. U.S. treaty obligations to pursue and ultimate achieve complete nuclear disarmament are not mentioned at all.  These obligations are certainly contrary to the political choices which the Panel says must be made in order to have a viable nuclear enterprise.  There are ways to harmoniously work within NNSA's contrasting mandates in the short term, but the Report does not mention either the problem or its possible short-term solutions.  It ignores them. 

      9. Likewise the Report is silent about the conflict between societal attitudes toward weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on the one hand, and warhead complex and governance "culture" on the other hand, which "culture" the Panel says in its Conclusion is the crucial attribute of success.  The NNSA weapons complex designs and builds WMD of the most destructive nature, with very great (if not absolute) humanitarian effects occurring over a wide (if not global) area, and extending deep into future generations.  These WMD are also kept on high alert.  All these facts and others related to them bear heavily on NNSA's governance and management problem, but are not mentioned. 

      10. The Report is silent about congressional complicity in creating and sustaining the problems it reports and in preventing any viable solutions, so far. 

    7. The Report contains contradictions, of which four seem most conspicuous.

      1. The Report says in a variety of ways that there is too much accountability for contractors, especially the labs, but the whole motivation and mandate of the Report concerns program success and accountability.  NNSA does most (95%) of its work through these same contractors, which also control and generate most of the detailed information NNSA uses.

      2. The "noteworthy accomplishments" listed in the Report are in many cases the same programs which comprise the "loss of focus" decried in the Report. 

      3. The Panel wants clarity and focus in mission requirements, but also wants the management and operating (M&O) contractors to be "partners" in determining missions and in the overall management of the weapons complex.  This adds complexity, erodes objectivity, and increases conflicts of interest. 

      4. The Panel wants more "advocacy" for nuclear weapons missions and spending, i.e. greater politicization of choices, not less, which would further muddy the management and governance waters. The Report is a recipe for interference in governance, not for clarity and improvement. 

    8. In sum, because it fails to successfully analyze the sources of NNSA's failures and instead repeats the old mantras of greater focus on nuclear weapons, greater funding, and greater freedom from accountability (especially for the labs), the Report is a contribution toward governance failure, not success.  

(ENDS)

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