oversight

Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Needs to Improve Guidance on Weapon Limitations and Planning for Its Stockpile Surveillance Program

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-02-08.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                United States Government Accountability Office

GAO             Report to Congressional Requesters




February 2012
                NUCLEAR WEAPONS

                NNSA Needs to
                Improve Guidance on
                Weapon Limitations
                and Planning for Its
                Stockpile Surveillance
                Program




GAO-12-188
                                               February 2012

                                               NUCLEAR WEAPONS
                                               NNSA Needs to Improve Guidance on Weapon
                                               Limitations and Planning for Its Stockpile
                                               Surveillance Program
Highlights of GAO-12-188, a report to
congressional requesters




Why GAO Did This Study                         What GAO Found
Most weapons in the U.S. nuclear               For the 52 NNSA identified limitations for all weapons in the U.S. nuclear
stockpile were produced over 20 years          stockpile, 86 percent fall into six types: detonation safety under abnormal
ago and are being sustained beyond             conditions, weapon reliability, weapon delivery, more frequent replacement of
original design lifetimes. It is critical to   limited life components, nuclear yield, and worker safety. Some DOD officials
ensure that these weapons are safe,            expressed concern over the impact that certain weapon limitations have on
secure, and reliable to perform as the         weapon operation, maintenance, and war planning. According to DOD officials,
nation’s nuclear deterrent. The                current DOD mitigation actions, as well as the successful completion of ongoing
National Nuclear Security                      and planned NNSA efforts, should address most limitations for which the officials
Administration (NNSA), a
                                               raised concerns. DOD officials stated that the current stockpile allows sufficient
semiautonomous agency within the
                                               flexibility to mitigate limitations. However, they told GAO that there may be less
Department of Energy, is responsible
for the nation’s nuclear weapons
                                               flexibility in the future as the stockpile continues to age and decreases in size.
program. NNSA identifies nuclear               For each weapon system, NNSA provides DOD with guidance containing
weapon limitations—areas where                 additional information on nuclear weapon limitations. However, GAO found that
military requirements may not be               this guidance does not cover all limitations and some DOD officials said that it
met—and conducts nonnuclear tests to           may not provide them with relevant information for some limitations. Specifically,
evaluate the condition and reliability of      the guidance addresses approximately 60 percent of all limitations but does not
weapons through its nuclear stockpile          include limitations based on certain weapon components. In addition, one senior
surveillance program. GAO was asked            DOD official stated that the guidance did not help clarify the potential impact that
to determine the (1) number and types          a particular limitation may have on weapon operation and maintenance. The
of such limitations and any concerns           applicable military service is now conducting its own analysis of this limitation’s
raised by Department of Defense                potential impact. Furthermore, the national laboratories identified four existing
(DOD) officials, and (2) actions NNSA          weapon limitations (8 percent of all limitations) that are no longer valid because,
has taken to implement its prior               among other reasons, corrective action to address the limitations is complete. In
recommendations for the nuclear                addition, it is uncertain if an ongoing DOD and NNSA review of nuclear weapon
stockpile surveillance program. GAO            military requirements will be used to eliminate limitations based on potentially
reviewed agency documents, analyzed            outdated military requirements.
limitations, and interviewed key NNSA
and DOD officials.                             NNSA has begun to implement some recommendations from the agency’s draft
                                               October 2010 management review of the nuclear stockpile surveillance program
What GAO Recommends                            but has not developed a corrective action plan to guide its multiple actions. For
                                               example, NNSA (1) created and staffed the position of Senior Technical Advisor
Among other things, GAO                        for Surveillance in response to the review’s recommendation to establish strong
recommends that NNSA, in                       NNSA leadership and (2) established a formal process for setting surveillance
appropriate collaboration with DOD,            testing requirements. National laboratory and DOD officials GAO interviewed
expand guidance on weapon                      generally viewed NNSA’s actions as positive steps to improve the program.
limitations to include all limitations,
                                               However, NNSA has not developed a corrective action plan, as called for by
revise this guidance to clearly describe
                                               Office of Management and Budget Circular No. A-123. According to this circular
the limitations’ potential impacts, and
develop a corrective action plan for           on management controls, federal managers are to develop a corrective action
implementing surveillance program              plan to address program operations weaknesses identified through management
recommendations. NNSA generally                reviews, among other things. Such plans are to include specific dates, assigned
agreed with GAO’s recommendations              responsibilities, and metrics to measure progress and hold management
and outlined planned actions to                accountable. According to a senior level NNSA official, the agency did not
address them. DOD agreed with                  implement many of the recommendations from three prior surveillance program
GAO’s recommendations.                         management reviews primarily because there was no specific approach for
                                               implementation. Without a corrective action plan, it is unclear how NNSA will (1)
View GAO-12-188. For more information,         ensure that the draft October 2010 management review’s recommendations are
contact Gene Aloise at (202) 512-3841 or       fully implemented and (2) demonstrate to key stakeholders, such as Congress
aloisee@gao.gov.
                                               and DOD, that NNSA is committed to improving the surveillance program.
                                                                                        United States Government Accountability Office
Contents


Letter                                                                                   1
               Scope and Methodology                                                     4
               Background                                                                6
               Action Being Taken to Address Limitations of U.S. Nuclear
                 Weapons                                                                 9
               NNSA Has Not Developed a Corrective Action Plan to Improve the
                 Nuclear Stockpile Surveillance Program                                 18
               Conclusions                                                              22
               Recommendations for Executive Action                                     23
               Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                       24

Appendix I     Comments from the National Nuclear Security Administration               27



Appendix II    Comments from the Department of Defense                                  31



Appendix III   GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                    34



Tables
               Table 1: Nuclear Weapons in the U.S. Stockpile, as of September
                        2011                                                             7
               Table 2: Types of Nuclear Weapon Limitations for all U.S. Nuclear
                        Weapons                                                         11


Figure
               Figure 1: NNSA’s Stockpile Surveillance Program                           9




               Page i                                            GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Abbreviations
CT                 computed tomography
DOD                Department of Defense
DOE                Department of Energy
LANL               Los Alamos National Laboratory
LLNL               Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
MAR                major assembly release
NNSA               National Nuclear Security Administration
OMB                Office of Management and Budget
RMI                Requirements Management Integration
SNL                Sandia National Laboratories
STRATCOM           U.S. Strategic Command

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Page ii                                                      GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   February 8, 2012

                                   Congressional Requesters

                                   Arms control agreements and other policies since the 1960s have led the
                                   United States to maintain nuclear deterrence with decreasing numbers of
                                   weapons. Most nuclear weapons currently in the stockpile were produced
                                   over 20 years ago and are being sustained beyond their original design
                                   lifetimes. Consequently, it is critical to ensure that the weapons in the
                                   nuclear stockpile are safe, secure, and reliable.

                                   The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous
                                   agency within the Department of Energy (DOE), is responsible for, among
                                   other things, the nation’s nuclear weapons, nonproliferation, and naval
                                   reactors programs. 1 NNSA manages the nuclear stockpile through the
                                   three national nuclear weapons design laboratories—Los Alamos
                                   National Laboratory (LANL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
                                   (LLNL), and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL); four production plants—
                                   Pantex Plant in Texas, Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee,
                                   Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and Kansas City Plant in
                                   Missouri; and the Nevada National Security Site.

                                   The U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), part of the Department of
                                   Defense (DOD), has primary responsibility for targeting nuclear weapons,
                                   preparing the U.S. strategic nuclear war plan, and, if ordered by the
                                   President, executing the war plan. The Nuclear Weapons Council,
                                   established by Congress in 1986, is a joint DOD/DOE organization that
                                   facilitates high-level coordination to secure, maintain, and sustain the
                                   nuclear stockpile. 2 The Nuclear Weapons Council charters a Project
                                   Officers Group for each weapon system to provide a technical forum for
                                   weapon development and management activities. 3 Each Project Officers
                                   Group is led by a lead project officer from either the Navy or Air Force;
                                   both the Navy and Air Force (referred to in this report as military service)
                                   maintain and operate nuclear weapons.


                                   1
                                    NNSA was created in 1999 under Title 32 of the National Defense Authorization Act for
                                   Fiscal Year 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-65, § 3201 et seq.
                                   2
                                    Pub. L. No. 99-661, § 3137 (1986).
                                   3
                                    In this report, we use the term weapon to refer to a weapon system.




                                   Page 1                                                      GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Weapons are designed and produced to meet DOD’s military
requirements—key operational, nuclear yield, and maintenance
requirements—throughout the Stockpile-to-Target Sequence, which is the
range of physical environments that could be encountered as the weapon
travels from stockpile storage to a potential target. 4 The responsible
national laboratories prepare a major assembly release (MAR) when they
determine that a nuclear weapon is satisfactory for release to the military
service. Among other things, the MAR contains a list of the weapon’s
limitations, which are areas where the weapon may not meet certain
military requirements throughout the Stockpile-to-Target Sequence.
Limitations may specify additional conditions for storing, maintaining, or
operating the weapon.

According to NNSA and DOD officials, identifying limitations is important
to stockpile management because it provides a mechanism for explicitly
knowing where DOD requirements may not be met and suggests
strategies to mitigate risk. Some limitations are unique to a particular
weapon, and other limitations may occur in multiple weapons. NNSA
periodically updates a weapon’s MAR for a variety of reasons, including a
completion of a weapon alteration or a life extension program (referred to
in this report as activities). A weapon alteration is a material change
regarding assembly, maintenance, or storage that does not alter the
weapon’s operational capability. A life extension program, which can take
up to a decade to complete, is a refurbishment intended to extend the
lifetime of a weapon for an additional 20 to 30 years. When NNSA
updates a weapon’s MAR, existing limitations may either remain
unchanged or be deleted, and new limitations may be added.

Since 1992, the United States has observed a moratorium on
underground testing of nuclear weapons. In 1995, the President
established an annual stockpile assessment and reporting requirement to
help ensure that the nation’s nuclear weapons remain safe and reliable
without underground nuclear testing. Subsequently, Congress enacted
the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, which
requires that the directors of the national laboratories and the
Commander of STRATCOM each complete an annual nuclear weapons
stockpile assessment report. 5 These reports cover, among other things,


4
 For example, a Stockpile-to-Target Sequence may include a temperature range of -180
to +155 degrees Fahrenheit and an acceleration force of 10G at launch.
5
Pub. L. No. 107-314, § 3141 (2002).




Page 2                                                    GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
issues of particular concern about the nuclear stockpile as a whole, as
well as issues of concern for individual weapons. 6

Shortly after the moratorium on underground testing, Congress required
DOE to establish the Stockpile Stewardship Program to increase
understanding of the basic phenomena associated with nuclear weapons
and provide better predictive understanding of the safety and reliability of
weapons, among other things. 7 One element of the Stockpile Stewardship
Program is NNSA’s Stockpile Evaluation Program (surveillance
program). 8 Under this program, NNSA conducts a variety of nonnuclear
tests that evaluate the condition, safety, and reliability of stockpiled
weapons. NNSA’s surveillance program is a critical information source for
overall knowledge of the stockpile, as well as the annual assessment
process. In the last five annual assessment reports (fiscal years 2006
through 2010), directors of the national laboratories consistently
expressed concerns with the surveillance program, both about the overall
direction of the program and the limited number of surveillance tests
being conducted. The STRATCOM Commander reported similar
concerns in his 2009 and 2010 annual assessment reports. Furthermore,
in 2009, the JASON panel of scientific experts recommended that NNSA
revise the surveillance program to meet immediate and future stockpile
needs. 9 In its report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2011 National
Defense Authorization Act, the House Armed Services Committee (1)
stated that surveillance is essential to stockpile stewardship and that
inadequate surveillance would place the stockpile at risk and (2) directed
NNSA to submit a report by October 1, 2010, to the congressional




6
 The Secretaries of Energy and of Defense are required to submit the laboratory directors’
and STRATCOM Commander’s annual assessment reports unaltered to the President, who
forwards them to Congress, along with the conclusions the Secretaries have reached about
the safety, reliability, performance, and military effectiveness of the nuclear stockpile.
7
Pub. L. No. 103-160, § 3138 (1993).
8
According to NNSA officials, the surveillance program started in 1958.
9
 JASON is a group of nationally known scientists who advise government agencies on
defense, energy, and other technical issues.




Page 3                                                       GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
              defense committees on its plans to address the 2009 JASON
              recommendation. 10

              Recognizing the need for a revised surveillance program in the post Cold
              War era, NNSA has conducted management reviews of the surveillance
              program in 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2010. The latest management review,
              issued in draft in October 2010 and not yet made final, found that NNSA did
              not implement the majority of prior recommendations to revise the program
              because NNSA (1) does not have a well-defined, documented process for
              executing the surveillance program; (2) changed leadership of the
              surveillance program at critical points in the implementation of early
              recommendations; and (3) did not develop a metric to ensure full
              implementation of any recommendation, which resulted in a continuing
              emphasis on reassessing the program. The draft 2010 review observed
              that many prior recommendations were still applicable today and provided
              additional recommendations, such as establishing strong federal
              leadership, implementing formal processes to guide program planning and
              execution, and establishing communication and information pathways.

              In this context, you asked us to review nuclear weapon limitations and the
              state of the surveillance program. Specifically, we examined the (1)
              number and types of identified weapon limitations and any concerns
              raised by DOD officials (Navy, Air Force, and STRATCOM); and (2)
              actions NNSA has taken to implement its prior recommendations for the
              nuclear stockpile surveillance program.


              To determine the number and type of nuclear weapon limitations, we
Scope and     reviewed each weapon’s current MAR and associated NNSA guidance. We
Methodology   then interviewed officials from NNSA and the national laboratories to obtain
              clarification on technically complicated limitations. NNSA and DOD do not
              group limitations into types or categories. However, in order to report
              unclassified weapon limitation information in this report, we developed
              categories for types of limitations based on the MAR information. Using
              content analysis methodology, two analysts independently assessed each




              10
                 H.R. Rep. No. 111-491 (May 21, 2010). NNSA officials told us that the agency
              addressed this reporting requirement on April 15, 2011, by including a classified annex in
              its Fiscal Year 2012 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan.




              Page 4                                                       GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
limitation and coded it as a certain type of limitation. 11 To determine DOD
officials’ concerns with the limitations’ impact for nuclear weapon
operations, maintenance, and war planning, we interviewed officials in the
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters,
Navy and Air Force lead project officers from each weapon’s Project Officer
Group and interviewed and received briefings from officials in
STRATCOM’s Joint Functional Component Command For Global Strike,
the entity responsible for preparing and maintaining the nation’s nuclear
war plan. In addition, we reviewed and analyzed the last five annual
assessment reports (fiscal years 2006 to 2010) to determine what
limitations the STRATCOM Commander reported. We also interviewed the
current chairman of a technical advisory group who is responsible for
completing the majority of the STRATCOM Commander’s annual
assessment report and reviewed prior GAO work on the annual
assessment process. 12 To determine what, if any, mitigation actions DOD
and NNSA currently engage in or plan to complete to address nuclear
weapon limitations, we reviewed NNSA guidance and interviewed NNSA,
national laboratory, and DOD officials. To determine how NNSA manages
and reports on nuclear weapon limitations, we reviewed (1) established
procedures governing the MAR development and revision process, (2)
NNSA guidance on nuclear weapon limitations, and (3) documents
associated with an ongoing joint DOD/NNSA review of nuclear weapon
military requirements. We compared the documents with the Standards for
Internal Control in the Federal Government. 13 To determine if certain
nuclear weapon limitations were potentially no longer applicable, we
compared limitations with the most current information related to corrective
actions as well as the current applicability of military requirements, as
reported by NNSA guidance on limitations and officials from NNSA, the
national laboratories, and DOD.

To determine the extent to which NNSA has taken actions to address its
recommendations on its surveillance program, we reviewed NNSA’s draft



11
  Intercoder reliability (agreement) statistics were generated in the coding process, and
the two analysts agreed on 90 percent of the limitations. Coding differences were resolved
through reviewer discussion.
12
  GAO, Nuclear Weapons: Annual Assessment of the Safety, Performance, and Reliability
of the Nation’s Stockpile, GAO-07-243R (Washington D.C.: Feb. 2, 2007).
13
  GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1
(Washington, D.C.: November 1999).




Page 5                                                      GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
             October 2010 management review and analyzed key NNSA
             documentation related to implementation efforts. This documentation
             includes a draft version of NNSA’s surveillance program manual; charters
             establishing the roles and responsibilities for entities responsible for
             managing the program; draft project management tools; and newly
             established procedures for establishing, executing, and tracking
             surveillance testing requirements. In addition, we interviewed key NNSA
             personnel, including the acting senior technical advisor for surveillance,
             about NNSA’s planned efforts to address its recommendations. We also
             compared NNSA’s actions against the federal standards for addressing
             recommendations from management reviews contained in the Standards
             for Internal Control in the Federal Government and Office of Management
             and Budget (OMB) Circular No. A-123, Management’s Responsibility for
             Internal Control. 14 To determine the national laboratories’ role in the
             surveillance program, we conducted site visits, toured select facilities
             used to conduct surveillance tests, interviewed officials, and received
             briefings from officials at LLNL and SNL. 15 We requested and received
             information in writing from LANL.

             We conducted our work from October 2010 to February 2012 in
             accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
             Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
             sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
             findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that
             the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
             conclusions based on our audit objectives.


             NNSA’s Office of Defense Programs is responsible for the manufacture,
Background   maintenance, refurbishment, surveillance, and dismantlement of nuclear
             weapons. Most modern nuclear weapons consist of three sets of
             components—a primary, a secondary, and a set of nonnuclear
             components enclosed in a case. When detonated, the primary and
             secondary components, which together are referred to as the weapon’s
             “nuclear explosive package,” produce the weapon’s explosive force, or
             “yield.” LANL, located in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and LLNL, located in


             14
              GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.
             15
               For our site visits, we selected one of the two national laboratories with design
             responsibility for a weapon’s nuclear components and the national laboratory with design
             responsibility for nonnuclear components.




             Page 6                                                      GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
                                        Livermore, California, have design responsibility for the nuclear explosive
                                        package. SNL, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Livermore,
                                        California, has design responsibility for nonnuclear components. Some
                                        nonnuclear components—collectively called “limited-life components”—
                                        have shorter service lives than the weapon itself and, therefore, must be
                                        periodically replaced. The U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile consists of
                                        eight weapons systems. Table 1 shows the weapon systems in the U.S.
                                        nuclear stockpile, their dates of entry into the stockpile, and the
                                        laboratories and military services responsible for each system.

Table 1: Nuclear Weapons in the U.S. Stockpile, as of September 2011
Warhead or bomb         Description                        Military service         Laboratory        Date of entry into stockpile
B61-3/4/10              Tactical bomb                      Air Force                LANL, SNL         1979/1979/1990
B61-7/11                Strategic bomb                     Air Force                LANL, SNL         1985/1996
W76-0/1                 SLBM warheada                      Navy                     LANL, SNL         1978/2008
W78                     ICBM warheadb                      Air Force                LANL, SNL         1979
W80-0/1c                Cruise missile warhead             Navy/Air Force           LLNL, SNL         1984/1982
B83-1                   Strategic bomb                     Air Force                LLNL, SNL         1993
W87                     ICBM warhead                       Air Force                LLNL, SNL         1986
W88                     SLBM warhead                       Navy                     LANL, SNL         1989
                                        Source: NNSA.
                                        a
                                            Submarine-launched ballistic missile.
                                        b
                                            Intercontinental ballistic missile.
                                        c
                                         The Department of Defense concluded in 2010 that the Navy’s W80-0 serves a redundant purpose
                                        and should be retired.


                                        In February 2007, we reported on the process that DOD and DOE have
                                        established for fulfilling the annual assessment of the safety, performance,
                                        and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.16 We found that (1) the
                                        STRATCOM Commander’s annual assessment of the nuclear stockpile is
                                        based primarily on the advice of a technical advisory group and provides an
                                        operational perspective; (2) the technical advisory group holds an annual
                                        conference where each entity involved in managing the stockpile—national
                                        laboratories, Project Officer Groups, NNSA, and DOD—present briefings to
                                        provide a complete perspective on the various issues affecting the stockpile;
                                        and (3) the laboratory director’s annual assessment is derived primarily from
                                        ongoing activities associated with NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program,
                                        such as the results of weapon system and component level tests conducted



                                        16
                                             GAO-07-243R.




                                        Page 7                                                          GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
by NNSA’s stockpile surveillance program as well as data that provides an
assessment of a weapon’s current reliability.

NNSA’s stockpile surveillance program comprises the Core Surveillance
Program and the Enhanced Surveillance Campaign, which are funded
separately. Under the Core Surveillance Program, the national
laboratories and production plants evaluate weapons and weapon
components for the attributes of function, condition, material properties,
and chemical composition through the following:

•    System-Level Laboratory Testing. For such tests, units from each
     stockpiled weapon are chosen annually, either randomly or
     specifically, and sent to the Pantex Plant for disassembly, inspection,
     reconfiguration, and testing by the national laboratories.

•    System-Level Flight Testing. These tests drop or launch a weapon
     with its nuclear material removed. NNSA coordinates flight testing with
     DOD, which is responsible for providing the military assets (e.g.,
     aircraft and missiles) needed to drop or launch a weapon.

•    Component and Material Testing. These tests are conducted on
     nuclear and nonnuclear components and materials by both the national
     laboratories and the production plants that manufactured them. 17

The mission of the Enhanced Surveillance Campaign—a research and
development effort initiated in 1998—is to provide tools for assessing
weapon aging by characterizing aging trends, develop predictive aging
models, and develop new diagnostic capabilities. 18 When the diagnostics
developed by the Enhanced Surveillance Campaign reach maturity, they
can be incorporated into the Core Surveillance Program’s component and
material tests. For example, in fiscal year 2009, the Enhanced
Surveillance Campaign developed a high-resolution computed



17
  In 2007, NNSA embarked on a series of fundamental changes to the surveillance
program that it believes will improve the detection of aging defects through increased
testing of weapon components and materials. NNSA initially expected to complete
component and material testing pilots by 2012 but now expects completion of these
testing pilots by 2018.
18
  NNSA defines campaigns as technically challenging, multiyear, multifunctional efforts to
develop and maintain the critical capabilities needed to continue assessing the safety and
reliability of the nuclear stockpile without underground testing.




Page 8                                                       GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
                        tomography (CT) image analysis tool for a particular nuclear component,
                        which NNSA officials said they believe will enhance its ability to identify
                        potential defects or anomalies. NNSA plans to conduct approximately 30
                        of these CT component tests in fiscal year 2012 under Core Surveillance,
                        according to planning documents. Figure 1 shows the interrelationships
                        among the segments of NNSA’s Stockpile Surveillance Program.

                        Figure 1: NNSA’s Stockpile Surveillance Program




                        For all U.S. nuclear weapons in the current nuclear stockpile, NNSA
Action Being Taken to   identified 52 weapon limitations, and of these, the majority fall into six
Address Limitations     types. DOD officials told us that a few limitations are a concern due to the
                        potential impact on DOD weapon operation, maintenance, and war
of U.S. Nuclear         planning, but these officials also said that current and planned mitigation
Weapons                 actions generally address their concerns with weapon limitations. We
                        found that NNSA guidance to DOD on some limitations contains
                        incomplete information, and DOD officials told us that the way NNSA
                        communicates the potential impact of limitations on nuclear weapon
                        operation, maintenance, and war planning is sometimes unclear.
                        Furthermore, the national laboratories identified four existing weapon
                        limitations (8 percent of all limitations) that are no longer valid—because,
                        among other things, corrective action to address the limitation is
                        complete—while some limitations will remain in effect until DOD changes
                        potentially outdated military requirements.




                        Page 9                                             GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Types of Limitations, DOD   We characterized the 52 limitations that NNSA identified for all U.S. nuclear
Concerns, and Mitigation    weapons into 10 types of limitations based on our analysis of each
Actions                     weapon’s MAR and associated guidance documents as well as through
                            interviews with officials from NNSA, the national laboratories, and DOD.
                            Eighty-six percent of these limitations fall into 6 types: detonation safety
                            under abnormal conditions, weapon reliability, weapon delivery, more
                            frequent replacement of limited life components, nuclear yield, and worker
                            safety. According to DOD officials, a large majority of these weapon
                            limitations do not impact DOD nuclear weapon operation, maintenance,
                            and war planning activities. However, some DOD officials expressed
                            concerns to us over the impact of a few weapon limitations, such as
                            increased maintenance costs or additional issues to consider when
                            developing war plans. For most limitations about which they raised
                            concerns, DOD officials told us that current DOD mitigation actions, as well
                            as the successful completion of ongoing and planned NNSA efforts, should
                            address these concerns. DOD officials stated that the current stockpile
                            allows sufficient flexibility to mitigate limitations. However, they told us there
                            may be less flexibility in the future as the stockpile continues to age and
                            decreases in size. Moreover, officials at one national laboratory told us that
                            a smaller stockpile may not be able to support required mitigation actions if
                            additional limitations, especially those that result in large decreases to
                            weapon reliability, are identified in the future. The 2010 Nuclear Posture
                            Review states that the United States is currently considering future
                            stockpile reductions that would be based on a variety of factors, including
                            the continuing implementation of NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship
                            Program. 19 Table 2 and the following discussion relates to the type of
                            nuclear weapon limitations and the percentage of those limitations by type.




                            19
                              The Nuclear Posture Review is a legislatively mandated review that establishes U.S.
                            nuclear policy, strategy, capabilities and force posture for the next 5 to 10 years.




                            Page 10                                                     GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Table 2: Types of Nuclear Weapon Limitations for all U.S. Nuclear Weapons

                                                                           Percentage of the 52
                                                                 limitations for all U.S. nuclear
    Type of nuclear weapon limitations                                                  weapons
    Detonation safety under abnormal conditions                                                25%
    Weapon reliability                                                                         13%
    Weapon delivery                                                                            12%
    More frequent replacement of limited life components                                       12%
    Nuclear yield                                                                              12%
    Worker safety                                                                              12%
    Weight                                                                                       6%
    Transportation                                                                               4%
    Weapon testing unable to duplicate an Stockpile-to-                                          4%
    Target Sequence environment
    Reliability of use control system componenta                                                 2%
Source: GAO analysis of NNSA’s MAR documents.

Notes: Percentage does not equal 100 due to rounding.
a
 A use control system is a combination of design features, operational procedures, and other controls
intended to allow authorized use and prevent unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.


•      Detonation safety under abnormal conditions. Thirteen limitations—25
       percent of all nuclear weapon limitations—are associated with
       detonation safety under abnormal conditions (i.e., conditions not
       expected to occur during nuclear explosive operations and associated
       activities). DOD officials did not raise concerns with any limitations of
       this type. As established by DOD, the probability of a nuclear
       detonation must not exceed 1 in a million per exposure to abnormal
       conditions (i.e., detonation safety standard for abnormal conditions).
       NNSA has issued a safety limitation for each weapon concerning
       potential exposure to a certain combination of abnormal conditions.
       DOD officials told us that these safety limitations are not a concern,
       provided that established procedures are followed, because of the
       extremely low probability of a weapon’s exposure to the abnormal
       conditions. 20 Specifically, both the Air Force and Navy have
       established procedures and restrictions for storing, handling, and
       transporting a nuclear weapon to minimize, among other things, the


20
  A 1998 joint DOE-DOD study determined that the probability of encountering the
abnormal conditions to be extremely unlikely and did not recommend any operational
changes.




Page 11                                                             GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
     potential that weapons are exposed to any abnormal conditions. In
     addition, there is another limitation, common across multiple
     weapons, concerning a weapon’s high explosives being exposed to
     abnormal conditions. DOD officials told us that this limitation is not a
     concern and that there is a very low probability that a weapon would
     encounter the abnormal conditions. Furthermore, they said that there
     is infinite combination of possibilities for the specified abnormal
     conditions. As such, it is very difficult for NNSA to produce
     computational models that can verify DOD’s detonation safety
     standard is met for each possibility. 21

•    Weapon reliability. Seven limitations—13 percent of all nuclear
     weapon limitations—are associated with weapon reliability. 22 DOD
     officials did not raise concerns with five weapon limitations of this type
     but did raise concerns with two specific weapon reliability limitations.
     DOD officials told us that one limitation could potentially impact DOD
     operations; however, no mitigation actions have been developed
     because the applicable military service and the national laboratories
     are still trying to understand the technical issues behind the limitation.
     DOD officials told us that another limitation, associated with a
     particular weapon system, could potentially impact war planning or
     operations, and the STRATCOM Commander stated in two recent
     annual assessments reports that he had concerns with this particular
     reliability limitation. 23 DOD officials told us that both short-term and
     long-term mitigation actions address this limitation. Specifically,
     STRATCOM revised its planning to include actions that can increase
     the reliability of a key weapon component and thus increase the
     weapon’s overall reliability. However, STRATCOM officials told us that
     these mitigation actions impact operational flexibility. According to
     these officials, NNSA’s planned activities for this weapon, when
     completed, will address the reliability limitation, among other things. In



21
  Officials at one national laboratory told us that these abnormal conditions are an
extraordinary unlikely event that cannot be assessed with existing stockpile stewardship
tools and that no mitigation activities are planned for these types of events.
22
  NNSA defines weapon reliability as “the probability of achieving the specified yield, at
the target, across the Stockpile-to-Target Sequence of environments, throughout the
weapon’s lifetime, assuming proper inputs.”
23
  According to the Chairman of the technical advisory group, weapon limitations generally
do not affect STRATCOM’s war planning efforts but that, on occasion, the STRATCOM
Commander determined that certain limitations could affect some aspects of war planning.




Page 12                                                        GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
    the most recent annual assessment, the Commander wrote that
    NNSA’s planned activities to address this limitation, among other
    things, faces schedule constraints and will likely require additional
    resources.

•   Weapon delivery. Six limitations—12 percent of all nuclear weapon
    limitations—relate to the delivery of a weapon to its intended target.
    DOD officials did not raise concerns with four weapon limitations of
    this type, and they told us that mitigation actions have addressed their
    concerns with potential impacts to DOD operation, maintenance, and
    war planning activities for two specific weapon delivery limitations.
    Specifically, one limitation states that a weapon may not perform as
    designed if delivered in a particular mode. STRATCOM officials told
    us that they no longer plan to deliver the weapon in that mode but
    would instead use an alternate delivery mode that can produce similar
    weapon effects. The second limitation states that a weapon no longer
    met what DOD officials described to us as a key weapon delivery
    requirement. STRATCOM officials told us that joint actions between
    the applicable military service and STRATCOM mitigate their
    concerns with this limitation, though at higher weapons maintenance
    and management costs.

•   More frequent replacement of limited life components. Six
    limitations—12 percent of all nuclear weapon limitations—are
    associated with the more frequent replacement of components that
    have a shorter service life than the weapon itself. DOD officials did not
    raise concerns with two weapon limitations of this type but did raise
    concerns with four specific limited life components replacement
    limitations. According to DOD officials, these four limitations
    significantly increase the military’s maintenance burdens or costs for
    the affected weapons. For example, a military service lead project
    officer told us that each replacement activity imposes a substantial
    cost—in labor, equipment operation, and security risks—and that
    more-frequent replacement activities further increase these already
    substantial costs. This lead project officer said that, within the next
    few years, NNSA plans activities that, when complete, will meet the
    replacement interval established by DOD. Furthermore, another
    military service lead project officer told us that more-frequent
    replacement complicates the coordination of maintenance schedules
    and stated that NNSA has not planned any actions to address this
    limitation because of expected changes to the nuclear force structure.

•   Nuclear yield. Six limitations—12 percent of all nuclear weapon
    limitations—concern a weapon’s capability to produce the desired


Page 13                                             GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
    nuclear yield. DOD officials did not raise concerns with five weapon
    limitations for this type, and they told us that mitigation actions have
    addressed their concerns with potential impacts to war planning for
    one specific nuclear yield limitation. DOD officials said that most of the
    nuclear yield limitations reflect negligible differences from the yield
    requirements specified by DOD and do not affect war planning
    because of improved accuracy in delivering weapons to potential
    targets. However, DOD officials told us that one of these limitations,
    associated with a single weapon system, could affect DOD war
    planning but that the impact is mitigated in the short term by having
    the military service conduct more-frequent maintenance on the
    weapon. NNSA is also planning activities that, if successful, would
    address the limitation.

•   Worker safety. Six limitations—12 percent of all nuclear weapon
    limitations—concern workers’ personal safety when conducting
    weapon operation and maintenance activities. DOD officials did not
    raise concerns with any limitations of this type. Specifically, these
    officials said that some of these limitations would be encountered if a
    low-probability event with multiple abnormal conditions occurred
    together and that some of these limitations have been addressed by
    established procedures for maintenance activities. For example,
    maintenance technicians working on a certain weapon are to follow
    procedures designed to limit the amount of energy present in the
    maintenance bay.

•   Weight. Three limitations—6 percent of all nuclear weapon
    limitations—concern a weapon’s actual weight being greater than the
    weight specified by DOD. DOD officials did not raise concerns with
    any limitations of this type. These limitations are applicable to three
    weapon systems. DOD officials said that these limitations were
    present when the weapons were first produced.

•   Transportation. Two limitations—4 percent of all nuclear weapon
    limitations—relate to how a weapon can be transported. DOD officials
    did not raise concerns with any limitations of this type and said that
    NNSA has already addressed one of these limitations. Specifically,
    NNSA has developed a specialized transportation adaptor that
    enables transportation of the weapon in a manner consistent with
    DOD military requirements.

•   Weapon testing unable to duplicate a Stockpile-to-Target Sequence
    environment. Two limitations—4 percent of all nuclear weapon
    limitations—are associated with the inability of a single weapon


Page 14                                             GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
                                 system’s testing program to duplicate two environments that the
                                 weapon could encounter as it travels from the stockpile to a possible
                                 target. DOD officials did not raise concerns with these two specific
                                 limitations and said that NNSA now believes that the agency can
                                 duplicate one of the specified environments. NNSA plans to conduct a
                                 computational simulation and analysis of this specified environment
                                 during fiscal year 2012.

                             •   Reliability of use control system components. One limitation—2
                                 percent of all nuclear weapon limitations—is associated with the
                                 reliability of use control system components. DOD officials did not
                                 raise any concerns with this type of limitation because of changes in
                                 operational plans.


NNSA Guidance to DOD         Through Sandia National Laboratories, NNSA provides DOD guidance
on the Potential Impact of   containing additional information on nuclear weapon limitations for each
Weapon Limitations Is Not    weapon. However, we found that this guidance does not cover all current
                             limitations, and DOD officials said that it may not provide them with
Complete and Consistently    relevant information for some limitations. DOD officials told us that
Clear                        nuclear weapon limitations—which are primarily reported to DOD when
                             NNSA issues or revises a weapon’s MAR—can be statements that, in
                             some instances, contain highly technical information and vague wording
                             and may not clearly communicate a limitation’s potential impact on
                             stockpile operation, maintenance, and war planning. As stated previously,
                             most modern nuclear weapons consist of the nuclear explosive package
                             and nonnuclear components enclosed in a case. In general, limitations
                             arise due to issues associated with either a weapon’s nuclear
                             components or nonnuclear components. For limitations that involve
                             components for which Sandia National Laboratories has design
                             responsibility (i.e., nonnuclear components), the guidance lists each
                             limitation as written in the MAR; usually provides additional technical
                             information about the limitation’s cause, scope and impact; and lists a
                             recommended mitigation action. 24 The guidance includes information on
                             29 limitations—about three-fifths of all current limitations. However, the
                             guidance does not provide information for limitations that are associated
                             with a weapon’s nuclear explosive package. The guidance states that


                             24
                               Sandia National Laboratories began issuing the guidance in 2009. This document also
                             provides guidance on “environments of concerns,” which are areas where military
                             requirements are still met but with decreased safety or performance margins.




                             Page 15                                                   GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
these limitations are for the two national laboratories with design
responsibility for nuclear components to address, but neither NNSA nor
its two laboratories (Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory) provide DOD with such guidance on
nuclear weapon limitations.

GAO’s Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government states
that management should comprehensively identify risks from both
external and internal sources and that once risks have been identified,
management should decide what actions should be taken to manage
them. 25 As stated previously, nuclear weapon limitations identify areas
where DOD’s military requirements may not be met. Potentially unmet
DOD military requirements could present risks to nuclear weapon
operation, maintenance, and war planning and require mitigation actions.
It is critical that NNSA’s guidance to DOD on nuclear weapon limitations
identify all existing limitations to help ensure that risks are
comprehensively identified and management has the information needed
to determine what, if any, actions are needed to manage weapon
limitations.

In addition, NNSA’s guidance on nuclear weapon limitations may not
always provide DOD with sufficiently relevant information about the
potential impact some nuclear weapon limitations may have on stockpile
operation, maintenance, and war planning. For example, one military
service lead project officer said that his efforts to clarify the impact that a
particular limitation may have on weapon reliability with officials at a
national laboratory were inconclusive and that the military service is now
conducting its own analysis. For this particular limitation, NNSA’s
guidance provides little additional technical information and concludes
that the weapon may not operate as required in a particular delivery
mode, and the recommended mitigation action is to have laboratory staff
brief STRATCOM war planners. Acknowledging that the guidance is
relatively new, the military service lead project officer told us that the
document is not very helpful in explaining this limitation’s potential
operational impact and that discussing a limitation in terms of military
requirements and Stockpile-to-Target Sequence would be more helpful.
GAO’s Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government states
that information should be recorded and communicated to management



25
 GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.




Page 16                                               GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
                            and others within an entity in a form and within a time frame that enables
                            them to carry out their responsibilities. 26 Since military service lead project
                            officers are senior managers responsible for a weapon’s development
                            and management activities, it is critical that NNSA’s guidance provides
                            information in a form that allows them to fully understand the potential
                            impacts limitations have on nuclear weapon operations, maintenance,
                            and war planning to determine what, if any, actions are needed to
                            manage weapon limitations.


The National Laboratories   The national laboratories identified 4 (8 percent) of the 52 current nuclear
Identified Some             weapon limitations—affecting four weapons—as no longer valid and
Limitations That Are No     should be removed when NNSA revises the weapons’ MAR. 27 The
                            national laboratories concluded that these 4 weapon limitations could be
Longer Valid, While Other
                            removed from the list of limitations contained in a weapon’s MAR for
Limitations Will Remain     various reasons, including that corrective action to address the limitation
Valid until DOD Changes     has been completed, that there is no military requirement, and that the
Military Requirements       replacement interval for limited life components currently meets and has
                            always met military requirements. DOD and NNSA officials told us that if
                            NNSA cannot prove that a weapon meets military requirements, a
                            limitation must be listed for that weapon. Our review found and some
                            DOD officials we spoke with said that certain military requirements for
                            nuclear weapons that were applicable during the Cold War may not be
                            applicable given the structure and role of today’s nuclear stockpile. In
                            addition, some DOD officials we spoke with said that the department can
                            be reluctant to modify a weapon’s established military requirements
                            because there is little documentation or transparency about why some
                            military requirements exist and that this issue is especially applicable to
                            weapons that were designed to be delivered from multiple military assets.
                            These officials said that DOD does not want to delete a requirement
                            unless there is sufficient evidence for why it was established and it is
                            clear that the basis for that requirement is no longer applicable.

                            DOD and NNSA are currently jointly reviewing and considering changing
                            DOD’s nuclear weapon requirements to help align NNSA infrastructure
                            planning with deterrent planning, according to documentation from the


                            26
                             GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.
                            27
                               We included these four limitations in our above analysis of the types of weapon
                            limitations because they are listed in each weapon’s current MAR.




                            Page 17                                                      GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
                       Nuclear Weapons Council. The findings of this joint review could also be
                       used to ensure that limitations reflect the most current and accurate
                       information. For example, one weapon delivery limitation that DOD
                       officials did not raise concerns with could be eliminated if military
                       requirements are updated because there is sufficient specificity as to the
                       origin of that requirement to conclude that it is no longer applicable to
                       today’s current and planned nuclear force structure, according to
                       STRATCOM officials. However, the joint DOD and NNSA requirements
                       review does not have a specific completion date, and it is uncertain if the
                       review’s findings will be used to update limitations based on potentially
                       outdated military requirements and, thereby, ensure a relevant and
                       reliable counting of nuclear weapon limitations.


                       NNSA has begun to implement some of the recommendations from its
NNSA Has Not           draft October 2010 management review of the nuclear stockpile
Developed a            surveillance program, but NNSA has not developed a formal corrective
                       action plan to guide its multiple actions. The draft October 2010 review,
Corrective Action      conducted jointly by NNSA and the three national laboratories, makes
Plan to Improve the    multiple recommendations to NNSA to address a number of weaknesses
Nuclear Stockpile      in the surveillance program, such as the lack of federal leadership in
                       program management and the absence of formal, documented processes
Surveillance Program   for surveillance planning and management. Actions NNSA has taken to
                       implement the recommendations include the following:

                       •    The creation of a Senior Technical Advisor for Surveillance (senior
                            advisor) position. This position was created in response to the
                            review’s recommendation to establish strong NNSA leadership for the
                            surveillance program. According to the official position description, the
                            senior advisor is to serve as the agency’s lead official for surveillance
                            execution and integration and is responsible for providing direction
                            and oversight to major surveillance modernization efforts. The senior
                            advisor reports directly to the senior NNSA official responsible for
                            overseeing stockpile activities related to research, development,
                            design, and production. 28 NNSA designated an acting senior advisor
                            in October 2010 and hired a permanent senior advisor in July 2011.
                            According to NNSA officials, the senior advisor has brought
                            leadership to the surveillance program. For example, when a dispute


                       28
                         This official is the Office of Defense Programs’ Assistant Deputy Administrator for
                       Stockpile Management.




                       Page 18                                                       GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
    between national laboratory and production plant officials on the
    appropriate safety standards for handling a toxic chemical caused a
    backlog of a key component test, the acting senior advisor was able to
    mediate this dispute, and the component testing was resumed.

•   Establishment of a formal requirements-setting process. NNSA
    formalized the process for having the national laboratories submit
    surveillance testing requirements and having NNSA’s production
    plants evaluate the requirements. The process is being applied to
    surveillance testing requirements for fiscal years 2012 through 2017.
    Specifically, the national laboratories determine surveillance testing
    requirements; production plants review these requirements for
    technical feasibility and resource availability; and a new committee
    adjudicates unresolved conflicts in priorities. Previously, NNSA had
    set surveillance testing requirements informally and on an annual
    basis. National laboratories and production plant officials said that
    informal planning created problems in executing surveillance tests
    because, among other reasons, they did not have sufficient time to
    schedule tests around other stockpile work—such as life extension
    programs—that used the same personnel and equipment.

•   A new surveillance governance structure. This structure is intended to
    promote integrated planning and prioritization as recommended by the
    management review. Elements of the new structure include the
    Surveillance Integrated Requirements Working Group (requirements
    group) and the Surveillance Enterprise Steering Committee (steering
    committee). Established in July 2011, the requirements group
    resolves mismatches between surveillance testing requirements and
    financial, human, and material resources. Specifically, this group
    examines surveillance testing requirements and assesses the impact
    of uncompleted tests. Established in May 2011, the steering
    committee is the highest-level organization in NNSA solely
    responsible for surveillance; the steering committee approves
    surveillance testing requirements and will resolve disputes between
    the national laboratories and the production plants that are not
    resolved by the requirements group.

•   Management of the requirements process through a centralized
    database called the Quality Evaluation Requirements Tracking
    System. In line with the review’s recommendation regarding critical
    communication and information pathways, NNSA will require each
    entity in the Core Surveillance process to use this system to input,
    access, or manage surveillance data. For example, within this system,
    the laboratories will issue surveillance testing requirements, and the


Page 19                                            GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
     plants will track progress and document completion of tests. NNSA
     will use the data in this system as a basis for the formal performance
     measures the agency uses to hold the national laboratories and
     production plants accountable for the execution of surveillance
     activities.

•    Codification of surveillance governance and processes. Codification
     supports the review’s recommendation to implement a disciplined and
     integrated management process, with clear roles and responsibilities.
     NNSA is codifying surveillance governance and processes in section
     5 of the Requirements Management Integration (RMI) manual. 29
     When completed, this manual will include the charters for key entities
     in the newly established surveillance governance structure and clear
     delineation of roles and responsibilities, according to NNSA officials.
     The manual will also include at least 12 guidance documents to serve
     as project management tools. For example, one such document
     codifies the process for investigating anomalies identified through
     surveillance activities; another addresses the process for adjusting
     surveillance schedules or plans. The guidance documents are all
     currently in draft, with completion expected by the end of September
     2012, according to NNSA surveillance program planning documents.
     The 2010 management review cited the critical need for clear roles
     and responsibilities for all individuals and committees throughout the
     surveillance enterprise; it found that the number of committees with
     undefined or poorly defined roles and responsibilities, combined with
     inadequate documentation, clearly contributed to NNSA’s past
     difficulties in modernizing the surveillance program.

•    Better Integration of Core and Enhanced Surveillance. As of August
     2011, NNSA charged the managers of the Core Surveillance Program
     and the Enhanced Surveillance Campaign with defining integration
     points between them. NNSA also began developing an RMI guidance
     document detailing how the Enhanced Surveillance Campaign should
     develop new diagnostic tools. The 2010 review found that NNSA lacked
     a clearly defined interface between the Core Surveillance Program and
     Enhanced Surveillance Campaign and that the lack of a documented
     process for promoting integration, among other things, has resulted in
     the underutilization of Enhanced Surveillance Campaign capabilities in


29
  The RMI will replace NNSA’s Development and Production Manual (NNSA Order AL-
56XB), which currently serves as the authorization basis for Directed Stockpile Work
activities—including stockpile surveillance.




Page 20                                                   GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
     the Core Surveillance Program’s testing activities. In June 2011, the
     acting senior advisor told us that integration between Core and
     Enhanced Surveillance is central to the surveillance program’s future
     and that increased integration presents a management challenge. Two
     of the surveillance program’s objectives are to detect precursors of
     aging weapon components sufficiently early for corrective action in
     existing weapons and to ensure any defects are not repeated in life
     extension programs. According to NNSA officials, these objectives
     depend on the continued development of Enhanced Surveillance
     Campaign technologies that are then used to improve the number and
     scope of the Core Surveillance Program’s component and material
     tests.

National laboratory and DOD officials we spoke with generally viewed
NNSA’s current and planned actions to improve the surveillance program
as positive developments. However, these actions are not guided by a
formal corrective action plan. According to an OMB circular that defines
management’s responsibility for internal control in federal agencies,
federal managers are to develop a corrective action plan to address
weaknesses found in program operations, as identified through
management reviews, inspector general and GAO reports, program
evaluations, and financial statement audits. 30 Corrective action plans are
to include specific dates, assigned responsibilities, and metrics to
measure progress to resolve the findings of audits and reviews. The
circular also states that agencies should periodically assess and report on
the progress of those plans. Furthermore, under the Standards for
Internal Control in the Federal Government, federal managers are to take
steps to ensure that the findings of audits and other reviews are promptly
resolved by completing, within established time frames, all actions that
correct or otherwise resolve the matters brought to management’s
attention. 31 A corrective action plan would provide a framework for such
time frames, as well as a mechanism for holding management
accountable for meeting the time frames. According to the acting senior
advisor, NNSA did not address many of the findings and
recommendations in its three previous surveillance program management
reviews primarily because the agency did not have a specific approach



30
 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular No. A-123, Management’s
Responsibility for Internal Control (Dec. 21, 2004).
31
 See GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.




Page 21                                               GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
              for implementation. This statement echoes the 2010 draft management
              review finding that the prior reviews’ recommendations were not
              implemented because, among other reasons, NNSA did not have a well-
              defined, documented process for executing the surveillance program. In
              May 2011, more than 6 months after NNSA issued its draft October 2010
              management review, the acting senior advisor directed the steering
              committee to establish a working group to develop a plan to implement
              the review’s recommendations, but both the scope and time frame of this
              plan remain uncertain. In the interim, NNSA officials have requested
              reports on individual actions taken to implement the review’s
              recommendations but not on the agencywide effort to implement these
              recommendations. Without such a plan, it is unclear how NNSA will (1)
              ensure that the draft review’s recommendations are fully implemented
              and (2) demonstrate to key stakeholders, such as Congress and DOD,
              that NNSA is committed to improving the surveillance program.


              It is critical that U.S. nuclear capability continues to reassure our allies
Conclusions   and deter potential adversaries. With most weapons currently in the
              stockpile having been produced over 20 years ago and being sustained
              beyond their original design lifetimes, it is a testament to NNSA, the
              national laboratories, and the production plants that DOD officials were
              confident that nuclear weapon limitations do not currently reduce the
              effectiveness of the nation’s strategic deterrent. However, several factors
              raise concerns with the limitations and NNSA’s management of them.
              First, some limitations require mitigation actions, which can impose
              logistical burdens, increased security risks, and war planning restrictions
              on the Air Force, Navy, and STRATCOM. DOD officials said they would
              have less flexibility in mitigating limitations in the future should the
              stockpile’s size be reduced as future arms control agreements are
              pursued. Second, NNSA guidance on limitations does not always clearly
              communicate to DOD the potential impacts that limitations have on
              nuclear weapon operations, maintenance, and war planning and does not
              include all identified limitations; it is uncertain if the risks associated with
              limitations are comprehensively identified and analyzed. Third, NNSA’s
              current list of nuclear weapon limitations may not reflect the most up-to-
              date information, and the joint DOD and NNSA military requirements
              review may not contain enough specificity to ensure a relevant and
              reliable count of limitations.

              The stockpile surveillance program provides critical data that informs
              stockpile decisions. A smaller, aging stockpile calls for increasingly
              complex and time-sensitive data. NNSA’s multiple actions taken in


              Page 22                                               GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
                      response to recommendations in its draft 2010 surveillance program
                      management review demonstrate the agency’s commitment to improving
                      the program. NNSA is planning to fully address the findings and
                      implement the recommendations contained in its draft review. However, it
                      is unclear how or if NNSA will do so because the agency has not
                      developed a comprehensive corrective action plan in accordance with
                      OMB Circular No. A-123 that details actions that agency personnel must
                      take to implement the recommendations with specific dates, assigned
                      responsibilities, and metrics to measure progress of this implementation.
                      Completion of such a plan would provide the agency with a reasonable
                      basis for ensuring that recommendations are fully implemented. Without
                      such a plan, NNSA is in danger of not implementing many of the draft
                      review’s recommendations, as it failed to do in its three previous
                      surveillance program management reviews. For example, previous delays
                      in integrating Core and Enhanced Surveillance have been attributed, in
                      part, to a lack of a documented process. Furthermore, the successful
                      development and completion of a comprehensive corrective action plan
                      would demonstrate to key congressional and DOD stakeholders NNSA’s
                      commitment to improving the surveillance program. Without such a plan,
                      it is unclear how NNSA will provide itself and key stakeholders with these
                      assurances.


                      To improve the processes used to test and report on the nation’s nuclear
Recommendations for   weapons stockpile, we are making four recommendations to the
Executive Action      Secretaries of Defense and of Energy and the Administrator of the
                      National Nuclear Security Administration, as appropriate:

                      •   To improve the clarity of information NNSA provides to DOD about
                          nuclear weapon limitations, we recommend that the Secretary of
                          Energy and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security
                          Administration, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, (1)
                          expand the guidance provided by NNSA to DOD so that it includes
                          each existing limitation and (2) assess, and revise as appropriate, the
                          guidance provided by NNSA to DOD to ensure it clearly describes the
                          potential impacts that each limitation may have on nuclear weapon
                          operations, maintenance, and war planning.

                      •   To improve the reliability and relevance of information associated with
                          limitations, we recommend that the Secretary of Energy and the
                          Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, in
                          coordination with the Secretary of Defense, determine if the findings




                      Page 23                                            GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
                         of the joint DOD and NNSA military requirements review can be used
                         to eliminate certain limitations.

                        To increase confidence in NNSA’s ability to fully address all findings
                         and recommendations from its draft surveillance management review,
                         we recommend that the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of
                         the National Nuclear Security Administration prepare and complete a
                         comprehensive corrective action plan in accordance with OMB
                         Circular No. A-123. This plan should identify the detailed actions that
                         agency personnel must take to fully implement the recommendations
                         in the review and include specific dates, assigned responsibilities, and
                         metrics to measure progress of this implementation. This corrective
                         action plan should also address how to better integrate Core and
                         Enhanced Surveillance.


                     We provided NNSA and DOD with a draft of this report for their review
Agency Comments      and comment. In its written comments, NNSA said that GAO did a
and Our Evaluation   commendable job in reviewing a highly complex and technical area.
                     NNSA agreed with two of the four recommendations and “agreed in
                     principle” with the other two recommendations. NNSA also outlined the
                     actions that it plans to take to address all four of the report’s
                     recommendations. The complete text of NNSA’s comments is presented
                     in appendix I. NNSA also provided technical clarifications, which we
                     incorporated into the report as appropriate.

                     For two of the recommendations, NNSA stated that the Assistant Deputy
                     Administrator for Stockpile Management will oversee the development
                     and execution of a corrective action plan for the nuclear stockpile
                     surveillance program and ensure that the findings of the joint DOD and
                     NNSA military requirements review be appropriately implemented. NNSA
                     agreed in principle with the other two recommendations aimed at
                     clarifying the information NNSA provides to DOD on nuclear weapon
                     limitations. NNSA stated that it agrees with the desired outcome of these
                     two recommendations, but NNSA concluded that a key procedural
                     weakness in the process used to report on weapon limitations is the
                     absence of a document that formally communicates DOD’s position on
                     limitations. NNSA said that it will ask the Nuclear Weapons Council to
                     require that military service lead project officers provide NNSA with a
                     consolidated DOD response each time a MAR is issued, and that this
                     response could include any concerns with nuclear weapon limitations. We
                     agree with NNSA that the management of nuclear weapon limitations
                     requires active participation from both NNSA and DOD through the



                     Page 24                                            GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear Weapons Council. If NNSA and DOD follow through with these
planned actions, we believe that the agencies will be responsive to our
recommendations.

In its written comments, DOD agreed with all four of the report’s
recommendations and said that the process by which nuclear weapon
limitations are managed needs to be addressed. DOD said that it will
coordinate with NNSA, through the Nuclear Weapons Council, to
implement our recommendations. The complete text of DOD’s comments
is presented in appendix II.


We are sending copies of this report to the Secretary of Defense, the
Secretary of Energy, the Administrator of NNSA, the appropriate
congressional committees, and other interested parties. The report also is
available at no charge on the GAO website at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact
me at (202) 512-3841 or aloisee@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices
of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last
page of this report. GAO staff who made major contributions to this report
are listed in appendix III.




Gene Aloise, Director,
Natural Resources and Environment




Page 25                                           GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
List of Requesters

The Honorable John S. McCain
Ranking Member
Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate

The Honorable Jeff Sessions
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate

The Honorable Michael R. Turner
Chairman
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
Committee on Armed Services
House of Representatives

The Honorable Jon Kyl
United States Senate

The Honorable David Vitter
United States Senate




Page 26                            GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Appendix I: Comments from the National
              Appendix I: Comments from the National
              Nuclear Security Administration



Nuclear Security Administration




              Page 27                                  GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Appendix I: Comments from the National
Nuclear Security Administration




Page 28                                  GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Appendix I: Comments from the National
Nuclear Security Administration




Page 29                                  GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Appendix I: Comments from the National
Nuclear Security Administration




Page 30                                  GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Appendix II: Comments from the Department
             Appendix II: Comments from the Department
             of Defense



of Defense




             Page 31                                     GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Appendix II: Comments from the Department
of Defense




Page 32                                     GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Appendix II: Comments from the Department
of Defense




Page 33                                     GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  Gene Aloise, (202) 512-3841 or aloisee@gao.gov
GAO Contact
                  In addition to the contact named above, Jonathan Gill, Assistant Director;
Staff             Patrick Bernard; and Alisa Beyninson made key contributions to this
Acknowledgments   report. Colin Chambers, Penney Harwell-Caramia, Jon Kucskar, Michelle
                  Munn, Kevin O’Neil, Tim Persons, Rebecca Shea, Carol Shulman, and
                  Kiki Theodoropoulos provided technical assistance.




(361215)
                  Page 34                                           GAO-12-188 Nuclear Weapons
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