House of Representatives Considering Bill to Weaken Oversight of Nuclear Weapons Labs
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Just eight days after the leak of a government report detailing waste and other problems at the Department of Energy (DOE)’s nuclear weapons labs, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces approved legislation that would actually weaken federal oversight of the expensive facilities, placing the private contractors in charge of regulating themselves. The labs are under the jurisdiction of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within DOE that pays private contractors tens of millions of dollars to run day-to-day operations at top secret research labs and nuclear military facilities, including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.
The leaked Department of Defense (DOD) memo from November 2011 advanced numerous criticisms of DOE and its nuclear labs, especially relating to their expense. Noting that DOE laboratories cost two to three times more than other industrial firms and that fees paid to two of the DOE laboratories “‘have swelled’ by 850 and 600 percent after their conversion from non-profit to for-profit operation,” the memo calls for DOE to downsize its laboratory system. As AllGov reported last week, NNSA has become so sensitive about these issues, it had to be forced by litigation to release the contractor performance reviews.
Nevertheless, the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces voted to relax government oversight of the contractors running the national labs, approving a shift to “performance-based” oversight, which would eliminate health, safety, and financial standards that include fines and penalties, despite the fact that for more than 20 years the Government Accountability Office has listed DOE’s nuclear weapons program on its “high risk” list of programs most vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse.
The bill would also create a “National Security Administration Council” consisting of weapons contractors, which could order the Secretary of Energy to respond to its recommendations within 60 days, and would further weaken the Secretary’s power over the labs by requiring congressional consent of any disapproval of policies, actions regulations, or rules issued by NNSA.
Finally, the bill would weaken the authority of the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board, which was established in 1988 because of serious safety problems at DOE nuclear sites.
To Learn More:
House Subcommittee Proposes Dramatic Shift Toward Self-Regulation of Contractors Managing Nuclear Weapons Complex (by Peter Stockton and Robert Alvarez, Project on Government Oversight)
Nuclear Facilities Agency Releases Weapons Site Report…after being Sued (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)
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