oversight

Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise: Strategies and Challenges in Sustaining Critical Skills in Federal and Contractor Workforces

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-04-26.

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

             United States Government Accountability Office

GAO          Report to the Subcommittee on Oversight
             of Government Management, the Federal
             Workforce, and the District of Columbia,
             Committee on Homeland Security and
             Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate
April 2012
             MODERNIZING THE
             NUCLEAR SECURITY
             ENTERPRISE
             Strategies and
             Challenges in
             Sustaining Critical
             Skills in Federal and
             Contractor
             Workforces




GAO-12-468
                                              April 2012

                                              MODERNIZING THE NUCLEAR SECURITY
                                              ENTERPRISE
                                              Strategies and Challenges in Sustaining Critical
Highlights of GAO-12-468, a report to the
                                              Skills in Federal and Contractor Workforces
Subcommittee on Oversight of Government
Management, the Federal Workforce, and the
District of Columbia, Committee on Homeland
Security and Governmental Affairs, U.S.
Senate

Why GAO Did This Study                        What GAO Found
NNSA has primary responsibility for           The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its M&O contractors
ensuring the safety, security, and            have developed and implemented multifaceted strategies to recruit, develop, and
reliability of the nation’s nuclear           retain both the federal and contractor workforces needed to preserve critical skills
weapons stockpile. NNSA carries out           in the enterprise. NNSA’s recruiting and retention efforts for its federal staff focus
these activities at three national labs,      on attracting early career hires with competitive pay and development
four production sites, and one test           opportunities. Its development efforts generally rely on two key programs to
site—collectively known as the nuclear        develop its critically skilled workforce––one that identifies needs and another that
security enterprise. Contractors              identifies the qualifications necessary to meet them. For strategic planning
operate these sites under management
                                              purposes, NNSA is also undertaking a comprehensive reassessment and
and operations (M&O) contracts. The
                                              analysis of staffing requirements to ascertain future federal workforce
enterprise workforces often possess
certain critical skills that can only be
                                              requirements. M&O contractors’ recruitment and retention strategies vary from
developed through a minimum of 3              site to site, but each site focuses on maintaining competitive compensation
years of experience working in a              packages. Their development efforts vary in approach and scope and face some
secure, classified environment.               challenges––particularly in preserving underground nuclear testing skills.

Because NNSA could have difficulty            To assess the effectiveness of its own––and its M&O contractors’––strategies for
maintaining the critically skilled            recruiting, developing, and retaining the workforces needed to preserve critical
workforces necessary to ensure the            skills, NNSA monitors key human capital metrics. NNSA focuses on two key
safety, security, and reliability of the      metrics in assessing its own strategies—the time it takes to hire a new employee
nation’s nuclear weapons, GAO was             and its attrition rates. To assess the effectiveness of its contractors’ strategies,
asked to examine: (1) strategies NNSA         NNSA monitors key human capital metrics using data that M&O contractors
and its M&O contractors use to recruit,       collect, including acceptance rates, attrition rates, comparability of pay and
develop, and retain critically skilled        benefits with peer institutions, and the ability to fill a critical skills position within a
workforces; (2) how NNSA assesses             certain number of days. M&O contractors assess key human capital performance
the effectiveness of these strategies;        measures, but these metrics do not have standardized definitions. For example,
and (3) challenges in recruiting,             one of the M&O contractors’ key metrics—acceptance rates for offers of
retaining, and developing this                employment—may not be consistently measured across the enterprise. Without
specialized workforce and efforts to          this information, NNSA’s ability to monitor the effectiveness of its and its M&O
mitigate these challenges. GAO
                                              contractors’ strategies to recruit, develop, and retain the workforces needed to
reviewed NNSA’s and its M&O
                                              preserve critical skills may be hindered. In particular, without common
contractors’ human capital documents
and interviewed officials.                    enterprisewide definitions of human capital performance metrics, NNSA may not
                                              be able to collect consistent and comparable data across all eight sites in the
What GAO Recommends                           enterprise.
GAO recommends that NNSA consider             The enterprise’s work environments and site locations pose recruiting
developing standardized definitions for       challenges, and NNSA and its M&O contractors face shortages of qualified
human capital metrics across the              candidates, among other challenges. For example, staff must often work in
enterprise to ensure NNSA and its             secure areas that prohibit the use of personal cell phones, e-mail, and social
M&O contractors gather consistent             media, which is a disadvantage in attracting younger skilled candidates. In
contractor data. NNSA concurred with          addition, many sites are geographically isolated and may offer limited career
GAO’s recommendation.                         opportunities for candidates’ spouses. Critically skilled positions also require
                                              security clearances—and therefore U.S. citizenship—and a large percentage of
                                              students graduating from top science, technology, and engineering programs are
                                              foreign nationals. The pool of qualified candidates is also attractive to high
                                              technology firms in the private sector, which may offer more desirable work
                                              environments. NNSA and its M&O contractors are taking actions to address
View GAO-12-468. For more information,
contact Gene Aloise at (202) 512-3841 or      these challenges where possible, including streamlining hiring and security
aloisee@gao.gov.                              clearance processes and taking actions to proactively identify new scientists and
                                              engineers to build a pipeline of critically skilled candidates.
                                                                                           United States Government Accountability Office
Contents


Letter                                                                                                   1
              Background                                                                                 6
              NNSA and Its M&O Contractors Use Multifaceted Strategies to
                Recruit, Develop, and Retain Their Workforces                                           9
              NNSA Monitors Key Human Capital Metrics to Assess the
                Effectiveness of Strategies to Maintain Critically Skilled
                Workforces                                                                              23
              NNSA and Its M&O Contractors Face Challenges in Recruiting,
                Retaining, and Developing Their Workforces                                              28
              Conclusions                                                                               35
              Recommendation for Executive Action                                                       36
              Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                                        36

Appendix I    Comments from the National Nuclear Security Administration                                38



Appendix II   GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                                     39



Figure
              Figure 1: Nuclear Security Enterprise Sites                                               7


              Abbreviations

              CHRD                                Contractor Human Resources Division
              DOE                                 Department of Energy
              KPP                                 Knowledge Preservation Program
              M&O                                 management and operations
              NNSA                                National Nuclear Security Administration
              TQP                                 Technical Qualification Program



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              Page i                             GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   April 26, 2012

                                   The Honorable Daniel K. Akaka
                                   Chairman
                                   The Honorable Ron Johnson
                                   Ranking Member
                                   Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management,
                                    the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia
                                   Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
                                   United States Senate

                                   The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)—a separately
                                   organized agency within the Department of Energy (DOE)—has primary
                                   responsibility for ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of the
                                   nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. 1 NNSA carries out these activities at
                                   eight government-owned, contractor-operated sites, which include three
                                   national laboratories, four production plants, and one test site.
                                   Collectively, these sites are referred to as the nuclear security enterprise.
                                   The enterprise, formerly known as the nuclear weapons complex, has
                                   been a significant component of U.S. national security since the 1940s.
                                   Contractors operate sites within the enterprise under management and
                                   operations (M&O) contracts. 2 These contracts provide the contractor with
                                   broad discretion in carrying out the mission of the particular contract but
                                   grant the government the option to become much more directly involved
                                   in day-to-day management and operations.

                                   Historically, confidence in the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile
                                   was derived through a continuous process of designing, testing, and
                                   deploying new weapons to replace older weapons. In 1992, at the end of
                                   the Cold War, and in response to a congressionally imposed U.S. nuclear




                                   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
                                    M&O contracts are agreements under which the government contracts for the operation,
                                   maintenance, or support, on its behalf, of a government-owned or -controlled research,
                                   development, special production, or testing establishment wholly or principally devoted to
                                   one or more of the major programs of the contracting federal agency. Federal Acquisition
                                   Regulation, 48 C.F.R. § 17.601.




                                   Page 1                             GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
test moratorium, 3 the United States ceased underground testing of
nuclear weapons, and adopted the Stockpile Stewardship Program as an
alternative to testing and producing new weapons. The Stockpile
Stewardship Program primarily relies on analytical simulations and
computer modeling to make expert judgments about the safety, security,
and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons. In addition, NNSA
refurbishes weapons in the stockpile to extend their operational lives.
Under current national policy, NNSA may also be called upon to resume
underground nuclear testing at the Nevada National Security Site within a
3-year time frame under certain circumstances, including the
accumulation of uncertainties about the reliability of the nuclear stockpile.

Currently, NNSA’s workforce is made up of about 34,000 M&O contractor
employees that span the enterprise, and about 2,400 federal employees
directly employed by NNSA in its Washington headquarters, at site offices
located at each of the eight enterprise sites, and at its Albuquerque, New
Mexico, complex. NNSA’s staff provide leadership and program
management for the nuclear security enterprise and support and oversee
its M&O contractors by providing business, technical, financial, legal, and
management advice, including support for contractor workforce planning
and restructuring, compensation, benefits, oversight of labor-
management relations, and the quality of contractor deliverables such as
nuclear weapons components. Many workers in the enterprise––both
NNSA’s staff and its M&O contractors––possess certain critical skills not
readily available in the job market. These workers often have advanced
degrees in scientific or engineering fields or experience in high-skill,
advanced manufacturing techniques. In addition, certain critical skills are
unique to the enterprise and, according to NNSA officials, can only be
developed within its secure, classified environment. According to these
officials, it generally takes a minimum of 3 years of on-the-job training to
achieve the skills necessary to succeed in most critical skills positions.
Some nuclear weapons expertise can take even longer to develop and
must be gained through several years of mentoring, training, and on-the-
job experience. For example, according to officials at Los Alamos
National Laboratory, it takes 5 to10 years to train a scientist or engineer
with an advanced degree to be a fully qualified nuclear weaponeer.


3
 The moratorium was begun pursuant to the Energy and Water Development
Appropriations Act, 1993, Pub. L. No. 102-377, § 507 (1992). The Comprehensive Nuclear
Test Ban Treaty, which would ban all nuclear explosions, was signed by the United States
in September 1996 but has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate.




Page 2                            GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
Over the last 20 years, in an effort to operate more efficiently and at
reduced cost, DOE has sharply reduced its enterprise contractor
workforce––from approximately 52,000 in 1992 to its current level of
about 34,000. This decrease raised concerns about preserving critical
skills in the enterprise. In 1999, a report from a congressionally mandated
commission warned that unless DOE acted quickly to recruit and retain its
critically skilled staff and M&O contractor employees—and sharpen the
expertise already available—the department could have difficulty ensuring
the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons. 4 DOE,
and later NNSA, took steps to correct these problems, and in February
2005, we reported that these efforts had been generally effective. 5
However, in February 2011, in a report assessing the extent to which
NNSA has the data necessary to make informed, enterprisewide
decisions, 6 we found that NNSA did not have comprehensive information
on the status of its M&O contractor workforce. In particular, we reported
that NNSA did not have data on the critical skills needed to maintain the
Stockpile Stewardship Program’s capabilities. As a result, we
recommended that NNSA establish a plan with time frames and
milestones for the development of a comprehensive contractor workforce
baseline that includes the identification of critical human capital skills,
competencies, and levels needed to maintain the nation’s nuclear
weapons strategy. NNSA stated that it understood all of our
recommendations in that report and believed that it could implement
them. As of March 2012, NNSA had completed a draft plan and was
incorporating stakeholders’ comments. NNSA officials said that they
expect to complete the final contractor workforce baseline plan by May
2012.



4
 In 1997, the National Defense Authorization Act, Pub. L. No. 104-201 §3162 (1996)
established the Commission on Maintaining U.S. Nuclear Weapons Expertise (known as
the “Chiles Commission”) and directed it to assess and report to Congress on, among
other things, DOE’s ongoing efforts to recruit and retain scientific, engineering, and
technical personnel. The Commission’s 1999 report projected that large numbers of
retirements over the next few years could further erode the experience and expertise of
the critically skilled workforce. See Report of the Commission on Maintaining U.S. Nuclear
Weapons Expertise: Report to the Congress and Secretary of Energy (Washington, D.C.:
Mar. 1, 1999).
5
 GAO, National Nuclear Security Administration: Contractors’ Strategies to Recruit and
Retain Critically Skilled Workforce Are Generally Effective, GAO-05-164 (Feb. 2, 2005).
6
GAO, Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Needs More Comprehensive Infrastructure and
Workforce Data to Improve Enterprise Decision-making, GAO-11-188 (Feb. 14, 2011).




Page 3                             GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
NNSA expressed concerns in its FY 2012 Stockpile Stewardship
Management Plan about the state of both its federal and contractor
workforces, stating that there was an urgent need to “refresh” both. In
particular, NNSA noted that many employees have retired or are
expected to retire soon. At the same time, NNSA’s mission has become
even more dependent on high-level science, computer science,
technology, and engineering skills as it has moved from underground
testing as a means for assessing the safety and reliability of nuclear
weapons to one dependent on advanced computer simulations, analyses,
and nonnuclear tests. These changes make it even more important that
NNSA and its M&O contractors preserve critical skills in their workforces.
Additional concerns about human capital in the enterprise have been
raised by the debate over––and eventual ratification of––the New Start
Treaty, 7 which commits the United States to reduce the size of its
strategic nuclear weapon stockpile from a maximum of 2,200 to 1,550
nuclear weapons. Reductions in the number of nuclear weapons make it
all the more important that NNSA and contractor staff have the requisite
critical skills to maintain the safety, security, and reliability of the
remaining weapons. However, as the enterprise has contracted, NNSA
officials note that training opportunities have been limited, leaving little or
no redundancy in certain critical skills within the contractor workforce.

In this context, you asked us to examine NNSA’s human capital planning.
Specifically, our objectives were to examine: (1) the strategies NNSA and
its M&O contractors use to recruit, develop, and retain the workforces
needed to preserve the critical skills in the enterprise; (2) how NNSA
assesses the effectiveness of these strategies; and (3) challenges that
NNSA and its M&O contractors face in recruiting, retaining, and
developing this specialized workforce and their efforts to mitigate these
challenges.

To address these three objectives, we conducted interviews with human
capital planning officials at NNSA headquarters, the Albuquerque
complex in New Mexico, and all eight NNSA site offices. We also
obtained and reviewed NNSA information about recruiting and retention
practices for critically skilled employees, as well as each site’s efforts to
preserve knowledge needed to sustain critical capabilities. We visited six


7
 The U.S. Senate passed the resolution of ratification for the New Start Treaty on
December 22, 2010. President Obama signed the instrument of ratification on February 2,
2011.




Page 4                            GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
of the eight sites in the enterprise, including the three national
laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National
Laboratories in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
in California; two of the production plants, the Pantex Plant in Texas and
the Y-12 Plant in Tennessee; and the test site, Nevada National Security
Site in Nevada. We conducted telephone interviews with human capital
managers at the two other production plants, the Kansas City Plant in
Missouri and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. To examine the
strategies NNSA and its M&O contractors use to recruit and retain
critically skilled workers, we collected key workforce data from each
facility, including NNSA and M&O contractor reports and other documents
on the performance and progress made in meeting recruitment and
retention targets. To identify challenges in retaining, recruiting, and
developing the critical skills workforce, we sent a standardized set of
questions about workforce planning efforts and challenges to each M&O
contractor and NNSA site office, and analyzed their written responses.
We also interviewed NNSA and M&O human capital officials at each site
about site-specific workforce challenges and their efforts to address them.
We reviewed two NNSA systems for managing human capital data; to
assess the reliability of these systems, we interviewed knowledgeable
NNSA officials to assess the reliability of these data and determined that
they were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of this report. We
conducted this performance audit from December 2010 through April
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.




Page 5                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
             To ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear
Background   weapons stockpile, NNSA relies on contractors who manage and operate
             government-owned laboratories, production plants, and a test site.
             NNSA’s eight enterprise sites each perform a different function, all
             collectively working toward fulfilling NNSA’s nuclear weapons-related
             mission. Figure 1 shows the locations of the sites and describes their
             functions.




             Page 6                      GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
Figure 1: Nuclear Security Enterprise Sites




                                          Page 7   GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
To provide support and oversight, NNSA locates between about 30 and
110 NNSA staff in a site office at each facility, and also draws on the
resources of NNSA staff in headquarters and the Albuquerque complex.
According to NNSA officials, this support and oversight requires that
some NNSA staff have critical skills comparable to the contractors they
support and oversee. For example, NNSA staff may need technical
knowledge and expertise to accept and review deliverables from M&O
contracts and, when presented with options, be able to determine how
best to proceed to meet contract goals, mission, and objectives. They
may also need skills related to the safe operation of sensitive defense
nuclear facilities such as expertise in occupational safety and fire safety.
For example, according to NNSA officials at the Livermore Site Office,
most of the staff in critical skills positions there are focused on ensuring
safety at the laboratory’s nuclear facilities.

Maintaining critical skills within its workforce is not a challenge unique to
NNSA. Every 2 years, we provide Congress with an update on GAO’s
high-risk program, under which GAO designates certain government
operations as high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste,
abuse, and mismanagement, or their need for transformation to address
economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges. In 2001, GAO
designated strategic human capital management across the entire federal
government as a high-risk area, in part because critical skill gaps could
undermine agencies’ abilities to accomplish their missions. We have also
reported in the past that NNSA and its predecessor organizations’ record
of inadequate management and oversight of contractors has left the
government vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.
Contract management at DOE has been on GAO’s high risk list since
1990, the first year our high-risk list was published. 8 Progress has been
made, but NNSA and DOE’s Office of Environmental Management
remain on our high-risk list. 9

As of 2011, our most recent update of the high-risk list, significant steps
had been taken to address some of the federal government’s strategic
human capital challenges. Strategic human capital management was
designated a high-risk area 10 years earlier governmentwide and remains


8
  GAO, Government Financial Vulnerability: 14 Areas Needing Special Review, OCG-90-1
(Washington, D.C.: Jan. 23, 1990).
9
GAO, High Risk Series: An Update, GAO-11-278 (Feb. 16, 2011).




Page 8                           GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                          on the high-risk list because of a need for all federal agencies to address
                          current and emerging critical skills gaps that are or could undermine
                          agencies’ abilities to meet their vital missions. Specifically, across the
                          federal government, we reported that resolving remaining high-risk
                          human capital challenges will require three categories of actions:

                          •   Planning. Agencies’ workforce plans must define the root causes of
                              skills gaps, identify effective solutions to skills shortages, and provide
                              the steps necessary to implement solutions.

                          •   Implementation. Agencies’ recruitment, hiring, and development
                              strategies must be responsive to changing applicant and workforce
                              needs and expectations and also show the capacity to define and
                              implement corrective measures to narrow skill shortages.

                          •   Measurement and evaluation. Agencies need to measure the effects
                              of key initiatives to address critical skills gaps, evaluate the
                              performance of those initiatives, and make appropriate adjustments.




                          NNSA and its M&O contractors have developed and implemented
NNSA and Its M&O          multifaceted strategies to recruit, develop, and retain both the federal and
Contractors Use           contractor workforces needed to preserve critical capabilities in the
                          enterprise. NNSA focuses on attracting early career hires with competitive
Multifaceted              pay and development opportunities, and the agency is reassessing future
Strategies to Recruit,    enterprisewide workforce needs. M&O contractors’ strategies vary from
Develop, and Retain       site to site, but each site focuses on maintaining competitive
                          compensation packages.
Their Workforces

NNSA Focuses on           NNSA takes various steps to recruit, develop, and retain a federal
Attracting Early Career   workforce with the necessary critical skills. NNSA’s recruitment strategies
Federal Workforce Hires   are focused primarily on students and recent graduates in science and
                          engineering programs. NNSA generally relies on two key programs to
with Competitive Pay,     develop its critically skilled workforce––one that identifies needs and
Flexible Schedules, and   another that identifies the qualifications necessary to meet them. Its
Development               retention efforts focus on competitive pay, flexible schedules, and
Opportunities             development opportunities. NNSA is also undertaking a comprehensive
                          reassessment to ascertain future federal workforce requirements.




                          Page 9                         GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
NNSA’s Recruitment Strategies   NNSA has several programs targeted toward recruiting students and
Focus on Students and Recent    recent graduates, primarily in science and engineering fields. NNSA
Graduates in Science and        began these programs within the past 7 years as a means of succession
Engineering Programs            planning. 10 NNSA’s programs focused on recruiting students include the
                                following:

                                •    The Student Temporary Employment Program is a summer internship
                                     program for high school through graduate students of any discipline.
                                     Students participating in this program receive a salary while working
                                     at NNSA.

                                •    The Student Career Experience Program is a program for graduate
                                     students in science, engineering, and other fields. This program aims
                                     to persuade skilled graduates to pursue careers in NNSA. Participants
                                     work for NNSA full-time during school breaks and part-time the rest of
                                     the year. These positions can be converted to full-time competitive
                                     appointments when participants receive their degrees.

                                •    The Minority Serving Institutions Program aims to strengthen the
                                     diversity of the applicant pool by exposing younger minority students
                                     to technical fields and NNSA work early in their educational careers.
                                     This program focuses on students beginning in junior high school and
                                     continues through college entry and has cooperative agreements to
                                     enhance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curricula
                                     at all levels at 29 minority-serving institutions. Since the program’s
                                     inception in 2007, 167 minority students have participated in hands-on
                                     research at NNSA site offices and laboratories.

                                NNSA’s key program for recruitment of recent graduates is its Future
                                Leaders Program. NNSA established the program in 2005 to recruit
                                recent U.S. citizen graduates of bachelor’s and master’s programs,
                                primarily in engineering and science. The Future Leaders Program is a 2-
                                year development program that requires participants to complete
                                classroom and on-the-job training, in addition to developmental
                                assignments outside their home office. NNSA hires about 30 recent
                                graduates into this program each year. Applicants are hired into the



                                10
                                  Succession planning is an ongoing, strategic process for identifying and developing a
                                diverse pool of talent for an organization’s potential future leaders. GAO, Diversity
                                Management: Expert-Identified Leading Practices and Agency Examples, GAO-05-90
                                (Jan. 14, 2005).




                                Page 10                            GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                             program offices where they will be permanently placed and are selected
                             based on each program office’s skills needs. According to NNSA officials,
                             approximately two-thirds of the 175 program participants hired from 2005
                             through 2010 have engineering and science backgrounds that enable
                             them to develop the technical critical skills NNSA needs to provide
                             support and oversight of contractors. As their careers advance, some
                             program participants are expected to become more focused on
                             developing deep expertise in a particular technical area, and others will
                             gravitate toward more senior management and leadership positions.
                             NNSA officials told us they consider the program very successful because
                             nearly 90 percent of all those hired into the program since 2005 remained
                             at NNSA.

NNSA’s Development           NNSA relies primarily on two programs to develop a federal workforce
Strategies Include Two Key   with the requisite critical skills––the Federal Technical Capability Program
Programs                     and the Technical Qualification Program (TQP). NNSA employees’ critical
                             skills generally fall into two broad categories: (1) technical skills related to
                             managing the safe operation of nuclear facilities, and (2) technical
                             knowledge and expertise necessary to accept and review contract
                             deliverables. To ensure that it has sufficient numbers of federal
                             employees with critical skills to manage the safe operation of nuclear
                             facilities, NNSA relies on the Federal Technical Capability Program 11––a
                             DOE-wide effort to define requirements and responsibilities for meeting
                             the department’s commitment for recruiting, developing, and retaining the
                             technically competent workforce necessary to achieve this mission. To
                             implement the goals of the Federal Technical Capability Program at the
                             site level, NNSA senior managers conduct annual workforce analyses
                             and develop staffing plans that identify critical technical capabilities and
                             positions that ensure the safe operation of nuclear facilities. For example,
                             NNSA relies on senior managers to identify the fire safety needs for the
                             National Ignition Facility, a stadium size research facility at Lawrence
                             Livermore National Laboratory and to identify how many fire protection
                             engineers are required to meet these needs. To help meet these goals,
                             DOE established the TQP, which sets technical qualification requirements
                             for NNSA positions related to the safe operation of nuclear facilities and
                             tracks federal employees’ progress in meeting these qualifications. More
                             specifically, the TQP documents how NNSA:




                             11
                              DOE O 426.1, Federal Technical Capability, Sept. 20, 2011.




                             Page 11                          GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                                 •   identifies needed positions,

                                 •   tailors qualification standards for them,

                                 •   establishes time and duty limitations for qualification,

                                 •   describes the process to identify learning activities to achieve
                                     competency for the specific job duties, and

                                 •   establishes methods for evaluating qualification.

                                 NNSA officials told us that only federal employees in positions related to
                                 managing the safe operation of nuclear facilities are required to
                                 participate in the TQP. However, NNSA managers may also subject
                                 employees who accept and review contract deliverables to TQP
                                 requirements to help ensure that they have the skills necessary to
                                 evaluate technical criteria of contract deliverables.

                                 Beyond the TQP, according to NNSA officials, human capital managers
                                 rely on annual human capital needs assessments to inform subsequent
                                 recruitment and hiring efforts to ensure the requisite mix of skills is
                                 present in the federal workforce. These assessments consider attrition
                                 and other demographic data, succession planning, and education and
                                 experience requirements. For example, NNSA officials told us that in
                                 2011 its Office of Human Capital Management surveyed NNSA programs
                                 to identify needs for the Future Leaders Program. As part of this survey,
                                 they analyzed attrition in the federal workforce and used the information
                                 to assist in decisions about how many engineers to hire across the
                                 enterprise through the Future Leaders Program. Recruitment efforts in
                                 2012 will focus on finding replacements for these engineers.

NNSA’s Retention Strategies      NNSA’s retention strategies focus on offering new staff competitive pay,
Focus on Competitive Pay,        flexible schedules, and career development opportunities.
Flexible Schedules, and Career
Development Opportunities        Competitive pay. According to NNSA officials, NNSA’s retention efforts
                                 place a high priority on preserving the agency’s capacity to offer
                                 competitive compensation. For example, for relatively new hires, such as
                                 those hired through the Future Leaders Program, NNSA can sometimes
                                 offer as much as $6,000 in lump sum hiring bonuses and up to $10,000 in
                                 student loan repayment in return for signing a service agreement. In
                                 some cases, NNSA is also able to offer retention bonuses of up to 25
                                 percent of annual salary to employees that might otherwise leave federal
                                 service. In addition, NNSA has the flexibility to offer particularly desirable



                                 Page 12                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
applicants higher starting salaries and reward top performers with higher
pay.

For more senior employees, according to NNSA officials, DOE and NNSA
sought, and were granted, authorities by Congress to offer higher pay to
staff primarily in certain engineering and science fields. Specifically, to
help it retain more experienced competitive service employees with
critical skills––that is, employees in regular civil service positions—
Congress granted exceptions to normal hiring regulations, including
salary caps, under three excepted service authorities. First, under the
Department of Energy Organization Act, 12 the Secretary of Energy is
granted special excepted service hiring authorities to hire up to 200 highly
skilled scientific, engineering, professional, and administrative individuals
to upgrade the department’s technical and professional capabilities.
NNSA can use this authority in some cases to hire senior-level
employees from outside the government or difficult-to-hire administrative
staff. According to NNSA officials, there are presently 50 such individuals
employed by NNSA. Second, under the National Defense Authorization
Act, 13 the Secretary of Energy is also granted special excepted service
hiring authorities to hire up to 200 highly skilled individuals––typically
scientists, technicians and engineers with skills related to and necessary
for the operation of nuclear facilities. According to NNSA officials, there
are currently about 100 such individuals currently employed by NNSA.
Third, under the National Nuclear Security Administration Act, 14 NNSA
may hire up to 300 highly qualified scientists, engineers, and other
technically skilled workers needed to support the missions of NNSA under
similar excepted service hiring authorities. According to NNSA officials,
NNSA has used this authority to hire and employ about 280 highly skilled
individuals. 15 NNSA officials told us that all of these flexibilities are useful
and help NNSA compete with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and
national laboratories.




12
 Pub. L. No. 95-91 §621(d) (1977).
13
 Pub. L. No. 103-337 §3161 (1994).
14
 Pub. L. No. 106-65 §3241 (2000).
15
  For excepted service positions, each agency develops, within basic requirements
prescribed by law or regulation, its own hiring system, which establishes the evaluation
criteria to be used in filling these excepted positions.




Page 13                             GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                              Flexible schedules. NNSA’s retention efforts also include a flexible
                              schedule program that gives employees the opportunity to work a
                              nontraditional schedule or vary their work hours from day to day. For
                              example, employees with school-aged children may opt to work more
                              than 8 hours some days and fewer hours other days in order to
                              accommodate school early release days.

                              Development opportunities. NNSA offers some employees the
                              opportunity to undertake career development opportunities such as
                              rotational assignments and details. Integral parts of the Future Leaders
                              Program are 30-day local rotational assignments and 60-day
                              headquarters or field assignments away from their home locations. For
                              example, a Future Leaders Program participant based in NNSA’s
                              Washington headquarters who is interested in a program run by Sandia
                              National Laboratories in Albuquerque might be assigned for 60 days to
                              related work at NNSA’s Sandia Site Office or Albuquerque complex. In
                              addition, NNSA has implemented a program called the In-Teach
                              Program, which focuses on knowledge preservation and transfer by
                              providing funding to train highly skilled senior employees to become more
                              adept at transferring knowledge and skills to less skilled more junior
                              employees.

NNSA Is Undertaking a         NNSA is currently undertaking a comprehensive reassessment and
Comprehensive Reassessment    analysis of the staffing requirements for its federal workforce through
to Ascertain Future Federal   2016 in headquarters and field locations. NNSA officials told us that the
Workforce Requirements        reassessment is needed for strategic planning purposes and will improve
                              NNSA’s efforts to ensure that its federal workforce has the skills
                              necessary to carry out its missions, including technical, support, and
                              oversight capabilities. The reassessment includes the following four
                              phases:

                              •   Describing and identifying organizational core competencies, and the
                                  workforce required for NNSA’s future

                              •   Analyzing the current workforce and gaps related to requirements for
                                  NNSA’s future

                              •   Developing a plan to close gaps between future requirements and the
                                  current workforce

                              •   Developing and implementing a workforce management system which
                                  is integrated with legacy Department of Energy human capital
                                  information technology systems



                              Page 14                      GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                                NNSA officials told us they expect the reassessment and resulting report
                                to be complete in fiscal year 2013.


M&O Contractors’                M&O contractors’ recruitment, development, and retention strategies are
Recruitment,                    site-specific. Generally, their recruitment efforts vary by the type of
Development, and                employee needed––particularly, whether the position requires an
                                advanced degree. Their development efforts vary in approach but are
Retention Strategies Vary       also site specific and face some challenges––particularly in preserving
but Generally Focus on          underground nuclear testing skills. Their retention efforts focus on
Competitive Compensation        maintaining competitive total compensation packages––salaries and
Packages                        benefits––but their strategies to mitigate attrition vary from site to site.

M&O Contractors’ Recruitment,   NNSA’s M&O contractors have developed and implemented site-specific
Development, and Retention      strategies to recruit, develop, and retain the workforces needed to
Strategies Are Site-Specific    preserve critical capabilities throughout the enterprise and accomplish
                                NNSA’s mission. Accordingly, contractors have typically developed site-
                                specific workforce planning systems that enable them to identify the kinds
                                of candidates they need to recruit, develop, and retain in order to align
                                projected nuclear weapons-related work and budget resources. Using
                                these workforce planning systems, site managers can anticipate the
                                nuclear weapons-related work NNSA has contracted for, how it will be
                                funded, how many staff are required, and what skills will be needed, and
                                can avoid potential shortages in staff or skills. For example, in the course
                                of their 2- and 5-year planning processes, managers at Sandia National
                                Laboratories use a four-step workforce planning tool, the Workforce
                                Acquisition Project, to anticipate critical skills hiring needs based on the
                                expected lab-wide business outlook and attrition. This early assessment
                                of critical skills requirements ensures that the contractor has sufficient
                                time to identify and recruit new staff as necessary and give new staff
                                time––generally 2 to 5 or more years––to develop their skills.

M&O Contractors’ Recruitment    M&O contractors’ strategies for recruitment vary according to the kinds of
Strategies Vary According to    employees they need to hire—in particular, whether the position requires
the Types of Employees          an advanced degree. For example, the weapons laboratories, which
Needed                          include Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore National
                                Laboratories, typically require highly skilled candidates with advanced
                                degrees to replace physicists, engineers, and other experts who retire or
                                leave for other jobs. M&O contractors at weapons laboratories thus focus
                                their recruitment efforts on students and recent graduates of the nation’s
                                leading graduate schools in science, engineering, and mathematics.
                                Efforts to attract candidates begin with summer internship programs and
                                continue with support for post-doctoral fellowships and direct offers of


                                Page 15                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                                 employment. Officials at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told
                                 us that, in addition to these efforts to recruit students and recent
                                 graduates, they also recruit at the midcareer or higher level at
                                 professional meetings in science and technology fields and through the
                                 cooperative relationships with American universities and industries to
                                 broaden the prospective employee pool and enhance the intellectual
                                 vitality of its existing workforce.

                                 According to M&O contractor officials, the critical skills needs at other
                                 enterprise production plants, such as the Y-12 National Security Complex
                                 and Pantex Plant, differ from those at the weapons laboratories, and their
                                 recruiting strategies reflect these differences. Unlike the weapons
                                 laboratories, production plants generally do not require candidates with
                                 advanced degrees; rather candidates typically need a bachelor’s degree
                                 or, in the case of manufacturing and skilled craft positions, an associate’s
                                 degree or skills in advanced manufacturing techniques. As such, M&O
                                 contractors at production plants can generally recruit regionally for the
                                 staff they need and have less need to recruit nationally. For example,
                                 M&O contractor officials at Y-12 told us that they recruit predominately
                                 bachelor’s level candidates––predominately engineers––from universities
                                 within a 300-mile radius of Oak Ridge, particularly from the University of
                                 Tennessee in nearby Knoxville. Production plants are also generally well-
                                 established within their communities and focus most of their recruitment
                                 efforts for skilled manufacturing positions on the local area. For example,
                                 M&O contractor officials at the Pantex Plant told us that they have
                                 developed strong ties with local community colleges over the years and
                                 typically look for high school graduates and community college students
                                 and graduates with some specialized, skilled training or work experience.
                                 Nevertheless, according to Pantex officials, they have also taken
                                 advantage of opportunities to recruit from outside the local areas, seizing
                                 opportunities to recruit automotive workers with machine tool experience
                                 and highly skilled plant workers from another nuclear security enterprise
                                 production facility, the Savannah River Site, in the wake a reduction in
                                 force.

M&O Contractors’                 M&O contractors told us their strategies for development are often linked
Development Strategies Vary in   to recruitment because appealing development opportunities can
Approach and Scope and Face      encourage candidates to accept job offers. As with strategies for
Some Challenges                  recruitment, those for development are tailored to the specific needs of
                                 each site’s workforce, but many of the M&O contracting officials we spoke
                                 with cited continuing educational opportunities and the option to move
                                 within the organization as appealing development opportunities. For
                                 example, M&O contractor officials at Sandia National Laboratories told us


                                 Page 16                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
that offering continuous training opportunities and the opportunity to move
to different jobs within different components of the laboratory was very
appealing to entry-level hires. Accordingly, Sandia’s Corporate Learning
and Professional Development Programs offer various training
opportunities. Sandia officials told us that these opportunities help
employees keep skills current, provide additional educational
opportunities, and help laboratory management anticipate critical skills
needs in the workforce. As part of these programs employees can also
take training offered by Sandia’s technical and compliance training group,
which is focused on skills currently in demand at Sandia, or participate in
university graduate degree programs, which Sandia will pay for. The
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Education Assistance
Program provides up to $50,000 in tuition assistance for coursework
toward a higher degree.

Production plants also offer continuous learning and development
opportunities. For example, the M&O contractor officials at the Kansas
City Plant told us employees are encouraged to pursue higher education
in areas where the plant has a skills gap. In such cases, the contractor
will pay tuition and, if the employee attends school full-time, continue to
pay 70 percent of the employee’s base salary. Kansas City Plant
employees may also participate in developmental programs at the entry
or midcareer levels that allow participants to undertake three rotational
assignments to support their targeted and tailored personal development
plans. In addition, the Pantex plant offers employees support for technical
training opportunities with local colleges. The Nevada National Security
Site also offers a number of developmental opportunities to its staff,
including a voluntary mentoring program for all employees, assistance
with career planning, various training and certification programs, and
attendance at seminars and conferences. M&O contractor employees
also have access to online courses and books as well as CD-based
training sessions on a wide variety of topics, including supervision,
management and leadership; computer skills and certifications;
communication; and mentoring.

M&O contractors told us that, in their development efforts, they rely on
knowledge preservation and transfer programs, including recording the
performance of high-skill critical tasks, formal classroom training, on-the-
job training, and mentoring programs to preserve critical capabilities in the
nuclear security enterprise. Knowledge preservation programs are
focused on the physical preservation or recording of critical information
and knowledge––typically in paper records, microfilm and microfiche, and
in various audio and video media. Knowledge transfer programs seek to


Page 17                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
ensure that experienced laboratory or production plant employees
successfully pass on the knowledge to replicate critical tasks to newer
employees.

Knowledge preservation. All M&O contractors at nuclear security
enterprise sites have taken steps to record critical knowledge. These
knowledge preservation programs are broadly similar from site to site,
whether laboratory or production plant. For example, Los Alamos National
Laboratory officials report that their archives house information on
weapons designs and experiments dating to the inception of the
laboratory. This information is contained in documents and other media
such as film, audio and videotape, drawings, and photographs. The
information housed in the archives is still relevant and is used by
researchers across the enterprise. It may also be used outside the
enterprise by, for example, documentary filmmakers and occupational
health researchers. More recently, in the 2000s, Los Alamos gathered
and developed critical information in the course of the Reliable
Replacement Warhead Program—a program that explored the possibility
of developing new nuclear weapons designs. Los Alamos engineers and
scientists documented all decisions in the Reliable Replacement
Warhead design process through written and video documentation. The
other weapons laboratories have also invested in electronic records and
videos to preserve critical knowledge. According to Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory officials, Livermore maintains an extensive electronic
archive of papers and reports, as well as tutorial lectures by experienced
weaponeers on key areas of weapons knowledge. Sandia National
Laboratories also has its Knowledge Management Streaming Assets
Library program, which has recorded about 1,500 hours of classified exit
interviews with retiring weaponeers and made them available to current
staff.

M&O contractors at the weapons production plants report broadly similar
efforts to preserve critical knowledge at their sites. For example, the Y-12
National Security Complex has the Knowledge Preservation Program
(KPP). Similar to Sandia National Laboratories’ knowledge preservation
efforts, the KPP films retiring employees as they do their work and
interviews them on how they do it, then archives the videos in an
electronically searchable format. As employees approach retirement, a
KPP video and interview is part of the retirement checklist. These videos
are evaluated for accuracy by an expert before they are entered into the
KPP system. Y-12 officials told us that other NNSA sites have created
videos or archives for knowledge preservation but they are not as easily
accessible. M&O contractors at the Pantex Plant have undertaken similar


Page 18                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
efforts, including creating and maintaining what Pantex officials call
“picture books” on weapons assembly, and interviewing experienced
Pantex workers to capture their knowledge in areas such as high
explosives and making these interviews available as a training tool.

According to M&O contractor officials at the Nevada National Security
Site, however, efforts to preserve critical knowledge regarding
underground nuclear testing have faced challenges, as they have been
limited and sporadic. These efforts have been complicated by two factors:
(1) the need to protect vital national security information against
unauthorized disclosure led to a practice of not keeping written
documentation about the specifics of critical tasks; and (2) significant
numbers of employees were laid off in the mid-1990s after U.S.
underground nuclear testing ended. Until 2007, NNSA maintained a
program that undertook substantial efforts to capture and record critical
knowledge possessed by these workers, but NNSA and M&O contractor
officials said these efforts were not comprehensive or systematic, and
funding was discontinued.

Knowledge transfer. M&O contractors at the weapons laboratories rely on
a range of approaches to transfer knowledge, while there is more
similarity among the knowledge transfer programs of M&O contractors at
production plants. Specifically, each of the three weapons laboratories
uses a combination of classroom training, on-the-job training, and
mentoring relationships to transfer critical nuclear weapons design
information, but with varying reliance on each of these three components.
For example, at one end of the spectrum, Sandia National Laboratories
relies most heavily on a classroom-focused curriculum––its highly
regarded Weapons Intern Program. According to Sandia officials, the 11-
month Weapons Intern Program succeeds in transferring such knowledge
and experience through a blended learning environment, consisting of live
and multimedia-based classroom instruction, individual and team
research projects, hands-on activities, and off-site facility and operations
tours and briefings. The live instruction is provided through a large
contingent of subject matter experts in the various weapon technology,
design, evaluation, production, operations, policy, and management
areas.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is at the other end of the
spectrum, relying mostly on mentoring programs and on-the-job-training
opportunities to transfer advanced nuclear weapon design skills to new
staff. According to Lawrence Livermore officials, their approach to
developing critical skills expertise is to embed new employees into work


Page 19                      GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
groups directly engaged in important work, with an experienced employee
acting as a mentor. As new employees gain skills and experience and
demonstrate their readiness, they are assigned tasks of increasing levels
of complexity and responsibility. Laboratory officials stated that, in their
experience, employees supporting the weapons program must be
exposed to years of work in the field to acquire the needed knowledge
and judgment to be a fully qualified weaponeer. An extensive electronic
archive of papers and reports is available, as well as tutorial lectures on
key areas of weapons knowledge, but Livermore officials told us there is
no substitute for hands-on experience with weapons.

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s approach is not as classroom-focused
as Sandia’s program, nor is it as dependent on mentoring relationships
and on-the-job training as Lawrence Livermore’s. Specifically, Los
Alamos officials told us that critical skills are being transferred through a
combination of formal training opportunities, mentoring, and archiving
programs. For example, the TITANS program, referred to informally as
“nuclear design university” is a 3-year, credential-granting program with 2
years of coursework and 1 year of thesis research and writing under the
direction of a mentor. Thesis projects can either be focused on learning
new modeling techniques or on mastering the simulation of above-ground
experiments. For example, one knowledge transfer technique is to
reanalyze old data from actual experiments to teach newer employees to
use modern simulation techniques to estimate the results of real testing.
The results of the student’s analysis are then compared to actual testing
data. Los Alamos officials told us this practice is a very effective method
for examining how well the student has mastered the use of computer
simulation techniques—a very critical skill when live nuclear testing is not
an option.

Knowledge transfer at weapons production facilities is focused more on
having employees demonstrate that they can replicate specific tasks. For
example, M&O contractor officials at the Pantex Plant told us that they
are very aggressively taking steps to ensure that younger workers can
carry on performing some of the same tasks after older workers retire.
The centerpiece of the Pantex effort is the Retiree Corps. Through this
program, recent retirees are brought back on a part-time basis—for a
maximum of 800 hours a year, an average of a little less than 2 days a
week—specifically to teach current Pantex employees how to do their
high-skill critical task. Retirees host talks and seminars, provide a
narrative to schematics of detailed procedures and photos, and are
recorded and/or videotaped explaining their tasks. Pantex officials told us



Page 20                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                                they verify the knowledge transfer by requiring the trainee to demonstrate
                                that he or she can replicate the task.

                                Again, however, the M&O contractor at the Nevada National Security Site
                                faces some challenges. The site has an active on-the-job training
                                program and specialized training on specific diagnostic and recording
                                techniques relevant to underground nuclear testing. However, according
                                to M&O contractors, funding for this program has been minimal for
                                several years. In addition, according to Nevada National Security Site
                                M&O contractor officials, it is challenging to preserve some of the critical
                                skills necessary for underground nuclear testing when there is no
                                opportunity to provide any direct experience with such testing.

M&O Contractors’ Retention      NNSA officials and M&O contractors told us that maintaining competitive
Strategies Focus on             total compensation packages—that is, combined salary and benefits—is
Maintaining Competitive Total   crucial for achieving their strategies for recruiting, developing, and
Compensation Packages           retaining the workforce with the skills necessary to sustain critical
                                capabilities in the nuclear security enterprise, but that other factors are
                                also useful in both attracting desirable candidates and mitigating attrition.
                                For example, M&O contractor officials at Sandia National Laboratories
                                told us that offering the highest salary is not required to attract top talent,
                                but offering pay comparable to peer institutions is a necessity.
                                Accordingly, NNSA officials work very closely with M&O contractors to
                                ensure that contractor compensation remains comparable to other
                                enterprise laboratories and plants, private laboratories, companies, and
                                other government entities that recruit and try to retain similar talent. M&O
                                contractors undertake compensation studies every year and
                                comprehensive benefits evaluation surveys every 2 years. This
                                compensation study is done using survey data from recognized regional,
                                national, and international surveys as needed. Based on these data, M&O
                                contractors may seek permission from NNSA to pay certain employees
                                more by submitting a special request in the Compensation Increase Plan.
                                If the plan is accepted by NNSA, salaries will be increased. In addition to
                                raising salaries for M&O contractors to keep them competitive, NNSA will
                                also authorize and pay for sign-on and retention bonuses, significant
                                monetary recognition and awards programs, and special compensation
                                packages for especially difficult-to-recruit and retain critical skills
                                specialties. The biennial benefits evaluation compares the value of M&O
                                contractor workforce benefits to 15 peer competitors for the same talent.




                                Page 21                        GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
According to DOE policy, 16 M&O contractors may offer benefits up to 105
percent of the value of peer institutions’ benefits.

NNSA officials and M&O contractors told us that other factors are useful
in both attracting desirable candidates and mitigating attrition. For
example, the weapons laboratories in particular can offer scientists and
engineers access to state-of-the-art equipment—such as the National
Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory—and the
opportunity to do cutting edge research that cannot be done outside the
enterprise due to national security restrictions. Similarly, for the three
production plants located in relatively remote, nonmetropolitan
locations—particularly Pantex, Y-12, and the Savannah River Site—
attrition rates are lower among candidates with ties to the local area. For
example, M&O contractor officials at Y-12 told us that they recruit locally
to the extent possible, because, historically, employees from nearby
communities have been less likely to seek opportunities that would
require them to relocate. These officials added that the local community is
familiar with Y-12, and that about 35 percent of new applicants are
employee referrals.

M&O contractors have broadly similar retention initiatives. While M&O
officials at all sites in the enterprise told us that competitive total
compensation packages—that is, salary and benefits—are ultimately the
most important factors in employee retention, sites also typically offer a
similar mix of other programs designed to encourage retention, such as
work/life balance programs, flexible work schedules, and some form of
continuous education and learning programs. In addition, some of the
M&O contractors we spoke with told us that, to the extent they are able,
they try to accommodate the desires and expectations of more recently
hired employees for opportunities for faster advancement, meaningful and
challenging assignments, and recognition of high performance.




16
 DOE O 350.1, Contractor Human Resource Management Programs, Sept. 30, 1996.




Page 22                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                            To assess the effectiveness of its strategies for recruiting, developing,
NNSA Monitors Key           and retaining the NNSA staff and M&O contractors needed to preserve
Human Capital               critical skills in the nuclear security enterprise, NNSA monitors key human
                            capital metrics, including the length of time to hire employees and
Metrics to Assess the       attrition. To assess the effectiveness of its M&O contractors’ strategies,
Effectiveness of            NNSA uses M&O contractors’ data to monitor key human capital metrics,
Strategies to Maintain      but these metrics do not have standardized definitions.

Critically Skilled
Workforces

NNSA Monitors Key           To assess the effectiveness of its strategies for recruiting, developing,
Human Capital Metrics for   and retaining the federal workforce with the requisite critical skills to
Its Staff                   support and oversee M&O contractors, NNSA focuses on monitoring two
                            key metrics—the length of time it takes them to hire an employee and its
                            attrition rates—and tracks employees’ progress toward completing the
                            required training and certifications through the TQP. NNSA officials told
                            us the length of time it takes them to hire an employee is a useful metric
                            because it is an indicator of the efficiency of their human capital
                            management processes. Attrition rates, especially for those leaving
                            NNSA for reasons other than retirement are a valid indicator of the
                            relative attractiveness of NNSA employment. Increases in the time it
                            takes to hire employees and increases in the attrition rate would indicate
                            a potential problem that would eventually make it more difficult for NNSA
                            to attract and retain the workforce it needs to achieve its mission.

                            Overall responsibility for maintaining a federal workforce with the
                            necessary critical skills to carry out NNSA’s mission resides in NNSA’s
                            Office of Human Capital Management, located at NNSA headquarters,
                            and its site offices are also responsible for closely monitoring changes in
                            their workforces and keeping NNSA headquarters informed of any
                            changes. They also have direct responsibility for making sure that site
                            office employees are maintaining the technical certifications required to
                            perform their duties. NNSA’s Office of Human Capital Management
                            Services, located at the Albuquerque complex, may also assist both
                            headquarters and site office staff in monitoring these issues.




                            Page 23                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
NNSA Monitors M&O                To assess the effectiveness of its M&O contractors’ strategies for
Contractors’ Human               recruiting, developing, and retaining their workforces, NNSA monitors key
Capital Data, but Some           human capital metrics using data the contractors collect. M&O contractors
                                 assess key human capital metrics, but these metrics do not have
Metrics Do Not Have              standardized definitions.
Standardized Definitions
M&O Contractors Are              NNSA generally gives M&O contractors the primary responsibility for
Responsible for Managing Their   identifying their workforce needs and taking the necessary steps to
Workforce Needs but NNSA         ensure they maintain workforces with the skills to meet the responsibilities
Monitors Key Human Capital       outlined in their M&O contracts with NNSA. Accordingly, NNSA officials
Metrics                          told us that, in 2005, they discontinued a requirement for M&O
                                 contractors to report on efforts to recruit and retain staff with critical skills,
                                 as well as more formal reporting requirements for workforce and
                                 succession planning. More specifically, according to NNSA officials, M&O
                                 contractors expect NNSA to instruct them on what they are required to do
                                 and what the contract deliverable and timeline is, but expect to be able to
                                 determine on their own how to meet their contractual obligations,
                                 including how to recruit, develop, and retain staff with the requisite critical
                                 skills.

                                 Nonetheless, M&O contractors collect data on key human capital metrics
                                 for their workforces and provide these data to NNSA directly from their
                                 own human resource data systems. All contractors also undertake some
                                 level of workforce and succession planning, although there are no formal
                                 or specific requirements directing how they do so. According to NNSA
                                 officials, these metrics vary from site to site, but generally provide the
                                 same key information, including

                                 •   acceptance rates for offers of employment, which are benchmarked
                                     on a site-specific basis but are typically around 80 percent;

                                 •   attrition rates, both for retirement and non-retirement reasons, which
                                     are also benchmarked on a site-specific basis;

                                 •   pay comparability—whether salaries are competitive with peer
                                     institutions;

                                 •   benefits comparability––whether benefits are competitive with peer
                                     institutions; and

                                 •   ability to fill a critical skills position within a certain number of days––
                                     usually 48 to 90 days.




                                 Page 24                         GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
According to NNSA officials, these five metrics are tracked very closely by
M&O contractors at all sites, and attrition, employment acceptance rates,
and pay and benefits comparability data are systematically collected at
regular intervals enterprisewide. If any of these metrics indicate a problem
in retention, for example, NNSA officials told us, action would be taken to
address it. For example, these metrics were monitored very closely by
NNSA and the M&O contractors at Los Alamos National Laboratory and
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory during their 2006 transition to a
new M&O contract with less generous retirement and medical benefits.
There were concerns that this change could lead to a spike in attrition
among highly skilled staff that could in turn lead to difficulties in the
laboratories meeting deadlines on project deliverables. Similarly, NNSA is
now carefully watching the same metrics at Sandia National Laboratories
because the M&O contractor substantially cut future retirement benefits
that took effect for those employees who remained at the lab beyond the
end of 2011. If the metrics indicate greater attrition than expected, the
laboratory could adjust its recruiting strategies to hire more staff.

NNSA also maintains close, cooperative working relationships between
its federal and contractor workforces. Much of NNSA’s expertise in M&O
contractor human capital issues resides in its Contractor Human
Resources Division (CHRD) at its Albuquerque complex. According to
NNSA officials, the work of CHRD is both critical and central to how
NNSA manages human capital issues with the M&O contractors. CHRD
staff are in day-to-day contact with the M&O contractors on a wide range
of human capital issues, including those related to recruitment,
development, and retention of employees with critical skills. For example,
if an M&O contractor is having difficulty recruiting staff with particular
critical skills, it can submit a supplementary Compensation Increase Plan
to the NNSA site office for authorization to offer candidates higher
salaries. When this occurs, NNSA headquarters and the relevant site
office largely rely on CHRD to review, analyze, and make
recommendations to senior management on whether to accept, amend,
or reject such a request. Because most sites do not have full-time human
capital subject matter expertise in residence, NNSA site office officials in
particular rely heavily on CHRD both for such expertise and to monitor
M&O contractors’ human capital performance metrics at all nuclear
security enterprise sites. For example, officials at the Sandia Site Office
told us that there is no full-time subject matter expert on human capital
issues at the site office, so the office relies heavily on a CHRD staff
member to inform the office’s oversight of Sandia National Laboratories
on this issue. According to NNSA officials, if NNSA had concerns about
what a contractor was doing or had doubts that the contractor was going


Page 25                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
to be able to continue meeting its contractual obligations because of
weaknesses in its recruitment, development, and retention strategies for
critically skilled workers, NNSA would raise such concerns and require
that corrective actions be undertaken.

However, as we noted in our February 2011 report, 17 NNSA lacks
comprehensive information on the status of its M&O contractor workforce.
Specifically, the agency does not have an enterprisewide workforce
baseline of critical human capital skills and levels for the M&O contractor
workforce to effectively maintain the capabilities needed to achieve its
mission. NNSA officials said this is primarily because NNSA relies on its
contractors to track these critical skills. As a result, we recommended that
NNSA establish a plan with time frames and milestones for the
development of a comprehensive contractor workforce baseline that
includes the identification of critical human capital skills, competencies,
and levels needed to maintain the nation’s nuclear weapons strategy.
NNSA stated that it understood all of our recommendations in that report
and believed that it could implement them. NNSA has taken some actions
toward this recommendation. As of March 2012, NNSA had completed a
draft plan and was incorporating stakeholders’ comments. NNSA officials
said that they expect to complete the final contractor workforce baseline
plan by May 2012. While contractor efforts may be effective at a specific
site, these efforts neither ensure long-term survival of these skills across
the enterprise nor provide NNSA with the information needed to make
enterprisewide decisions that have implications on human capital. NNSA
officials told us that they have determined that, as the responsible federal
oversight agency for its M&O contractors, they recognize that they need a
comprehensive and enterprisewide outlook regarding M&O contractor
workforce data, particularly the identification of the critical skills needed to
maintain and sustain future capabilities, and to verify that strategies are,
indeed, in place to meet future requirements.

Accordingly, NNSA officials told us that they are developing the
Enterprise Modeling Consortium––an initiative to, among other things,
develop the needed skills data and models necessary to help NNSA
manage its contractor workforces in a more proactive manner. The
consortium is designed to help NNSA undertake more integrated,
enterprisewide M&O contractor workforce reporting and analysis and



17
 GAO-11-188.




Page 26                        GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                              identify the skills and competencies needed by the workforce, as well as
                              the necessary staffing levels, based on the known and projected
                              integrated program requirements needed to implement the Stockpile
                              Stewardship Management Plan and associated budgeted programs for
                              NNSA, DOE, and other federal agencies. NNSA officials told us that
                              NNSA provided $400,000 to the Enterprise Modeling Consortium in fiscal
                              year 2012 to fund further research and development on modeling.
                              However, according to these officials, there is significant work left to do
                              on the Consortium and they cannot provide an estimate for when the
                              Consortium will be completed.

M&O Contractors Assess Key    Each M&O contractor collects key human capital performance data;
Human Capital Performance     however, we found that there are no specific, enterprisewide definitions of
Measures, but These Metrics   these data. NNSA officials told us that they have not asked M&O
Do Not Have Standardized      contractors to standardize these definitions because they believe their
Definitions                   current system is effective. We previously reported that the lack of
                              standard definitions for performance measurement data can significantly
                              hinder agencies’ ability to use such data in planning and reporting. 18
                              NNSA officials also told us that they believe M&O contractors have
                              effectively used the flexibilities provided in their contracts and have
                              demonstrated that they can identify specific critical skills needed and take
                              the steps needed to, by and large, sustain them. However, NNSA is now
                              considering developing a more comprehensive enterprisewide system,
                              the Enterprise Modeling Consortium, to track M&O contractor human
                              capital performance metrics and other workforce data and common
                              definitions of performance metrics may become more important.
                              Specifically, without common enterprisewide definitions of human capital
                              performance metrics, NNSA may not be able to collect consistent and
                              comparable data across all eight sites in the enterprise. For example, one
                              of the M&O contractors’ key metrics—acceptance rates for offers of
                              employment—may not be consistently measured across the enterprise.
                              Human capital staff at one national laboratory told us they participated in
                              a program they compared to “speed dating,” whereby candidates at a
                              career fair may be interviewed for multiple positions and given offers of
                              employment on the spot. However, job applicants may receive multiple
                              offers of employment in a single day and may accept more than one offer
                              to negotiate for a better salary or to have more time to consider their



                              18
                                GAO, The Government Performance and Results Act: 1997 Governmentwide
                              Implementation Will Be Uneven, GAO/GGD-97-109 (Washington, D.C.: June 2, 1997).




                              Page 27                         GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                            options. In such a situation, the employment offer to a candidate could be
                            counted as an acceptance even if that candidate never became a
                            laboratory employee. When asked about this scenario, NNSA officials
                            stated that it was their understanding that M&O contractors were only
                            counting as accepted offers those who ultimately reported for work, but
                            acknowledged there was no NNSA standard definition and that they did
                            not know for certain how such offers were counted.

                            Successful human capital management and workforce planning depend
                            on valid and reliable data. These data can help an agency determine:
                            performance objectives, goals, and the appropriate number of employees,
                            and can help develop strategies to address gaps in the number,
                            deployment, and alignment of employees. However, NNSA has not
                            identified or considered the potential inconsistencies in these human
                            capital metrics; therefore, decision makers are relying on information that
                            may not be consistently reported.


                            NNSA and its M&O contractors face challenges in recruiting, retaining,
NNSA and Its M&O            and developing their workforces and are using several tools to address
Contractors Face            these challenges. NNSA and its M&O contractor work environments, site
                            locations, and high costs of living pose recruiting challenges. NNSA and
Challenges in               its M&O contractors also face shortages of qualified candidates, an aging
Recruiting, Retaining,      workforce, and variable funding. NNSA and its M&O contractors are
and Developing Their        taking actions to address their current human capital challenges, where
                            possible.
Workforces

NNSA and Its M&O            Officials from NNSA site offices and M&O contractor work sites reported
Contractor Work             that their secure work environment and location make recruitment of
Environments, Site          advanced science and technology candidates more challenging. Due to
                            the sensitive nature of nuclear weapons work, NNSA and M&O contractor
Locations, and High Costs   sites must be more secure than most private sector laboratories or
of Living Pose Recruiting   commercial plants. To meet this security requirement, laboratories and
Challenges                  plants in the enterprise tend to be restrictive environments, isolated from
                            security threats by geography and classification protocols. In addition to
                            these potentially undesirable traits, in the view of some candidates, some
                            sites are further constrained by a high cost of living.

                            Restrictive environment. Officials from most M&O contractors reported
                            that the restrictive environment required for nuclear weapons research
                            and maintenance is a disadvantage in recruiting new staff with the


                            Page 28                      GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
potential to become weapons experts. Staff typically need to acquire and
maintain high-level clearances and must often work in secure areas that
prohibit the use of personal cell phones, personal e-mail, and social
media. In particular, they told us younger candidates typically expect to
stay continuously connected to their peers via cell phone and social
media. Furthermore, any research completed in classified work can only
be seen within the classified community; for researchers who desire
broader recognition of their work and opportunities for wider collaboration,
academia or private industry may be more attractive. Because of these
restrictions, most M&O contractor human resources staff told us that it
was more difficult to recruit younger scientists and engineers.

Isolation. An isolated location may be desirable for building or maintaining
nuclear weapons, but it may not appeal to some desirable candidates
with advanced degrees in science, technology, and engineering. For
example, Los Alamos National Laboratory officials told us that the
laboratory’s relative isolation––nearly 100 miles from Albuquerque, New
Mexico–– may make it less appealing to some candidates. In addition, the
relative lack of other types of employment opportunities nearby may pose
challenges for candidates with spouses in careers outside of science,
technology and engineering. Officials at two of the three weapons
laboratories told us they focus on recruiting top candidates nationwide to
gain a wide breadth of thought and opinion among their staff. The
laboratories track the proportion of job offers accepted but cannot always
ascertain or be sure of the reason a candidate rejects an offer because,
according to officials at Lawrence Livermore, candidates may simply state
they declined an offer for “personal reasons.”

In addition, some of the production plants and the test site are also in
isolated locations and face some of the same challenges as the
laboratories. However, these sites require fewer candidates with
advanced degrees and can generally rely on the local workforce to fill
other types of critical skills positions. For example, Savannah River Site
and Pantex are also both located far from other large cities. However,
because of their relative isolation, they are among the biggest employers
in these areas, and many local candidates are qualified and eager to
accept positions in weapons manufacturing and maintenance. Pantex
officials reported that they do not have difficulty finding most workers to
perform weapons maintenance, which requires a shorter amount of on-
the-job training than weapons design but nonetheless requires a set of
critical skills. However, site staff have had to develop strategies to attract
candidates to fill those positions that require advanced degrees. Unlike
the laboratories, officials at all of the production plants told us that they


Page 29                        GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
focus their recruiting efforts for these positions at local and regional
colleges and universities. Officials at Y-12, for example, have identified
competitive science and engineering programs at universities within 300
miles of their plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Y-12 officials reported that
they have better results in both recruiting and retaining critically skilled
workers when those workers have personal ties to the area. In contrast,
M&O contractor officials from the laboratories told us that they needed to
recruit from the top academic programs across the country.

High cost and competition. Two enterprise sites are located in areas with
high costs of living, which can deter qualified candidates—Los Alamos
and Lawrence Livermore. NNSA and its M&O contractors have flexibility
to offer higher compensation for some critical skills, but some candidates
are unwilling to live in high cost areas. For example, housing in Los
Alamos is expensive and scarce. According to Los Alamos National
Laboratory staff, some employees commute nearly 100 miles each way
from Albuquerque every day partly due to cost of living constraints. Los
Alamos Human Resources managers reported that high housing costs
are a concern among current and prospective employees. Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, is
also a high cost area. NNSA has authorized higher salaries for some
critically skilled M&O contractor employees but delays during the hiring
process can give private sector recruiters an advantage with critically
skilled candidates. Lawrence Livermore uses the flexibilities it has to
negotiate competitive compensation, but a candidate interested in
weapons work may be drawn to another site with a lower cost of living,
such as Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque or one of the
production plants.

Further complicating NNSA’s recruiting efforts is the demand for qualified
candidates in the private sector as well, and private sector jobs may offer
a work environment that many candidates may find more desirable. The
same pool of candidates who can excel in engineering, modeling, and
simulation tasks is also attractive to high technology firms. For example,
according to M&O contractor officials at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory, a web-based provider of DVD rentals and streaming media
uses computational scientists to predict consumers’ preferences for films,
which is the same skill set the weapons laboratories would use for
modeling and simulation. However, this company does not have the
constraints that a federal contractor has with compensation limits and a
restrictive work environment.




Page 30                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
NNSA and Its M&O               NNSA and its M&O contractors are making workforce plans, but face
Contractors Face               shortages in qualified critically skilled candidates and an aging workforce.
Shortages of Qualified         In addition, uncertainty about future funding makes long-term workforce
                               development initiatives challenging to execute.
Candidates, an Aging
Workforce, and Variable
Funding
Qualified Candidates Are in    The laboratories have not yet experienced any critical shortages of
Short Supply and the Current   critically skilled workers, but they all reported that finding candidates with
Workforce Is Aging             the appropriate qualifications is a growing recruitment challenge and that
                               a more mobile and aging workforce is a retention challenge.

                               Shortages of qualified candidates. NNSA officials told us that qualified
                               candidates are in short supply and that competition from science and
                               technology-related companies in the private sector poses additional
                               challenges. Candidates for most critical skills positions at national
                               laboratories must meet certain criteria, including (1) an advanced degree
                               (master’s or doctorate) in a scientific, technical, or engineering field; (2)
                               the ability to obtain a high-level security clearance, which requires U.S.
                               citizenship; and (3) an interest in and willingness to learn weapons design
                               work. The requirement for U.S. citizenship in particular is becoming an
                               increasingly difficult criterion to satisfy in the recruitment process.
                               National laboratory officials told us that a large percentage of students
                               graduating from top science, technology, and engineering programs are
                               foreign nationals. M&O contractors can hire foreign nationals to work
                               outside of weapons-related areas, but the citizenship requirement for
                               working on programs supporting U.S. nuclear weapons is not
                               negotiable. 19

                               In addition, national laboratory recruiting staff noted hurdles finding
                               candidates with an interest in and willingness to learn weapons design
                               work. For example, officials at Sandia National Laboratories told us
                               younger candidates with the necessary qualifications are often more
                               interested in fields that contribute to improving the environment. In
                               addition, because of the sensitive nature of weapons work, civilian
                               graduate programs cannot teach weapons-specific skills, so would-be
                               weaponeers may not know whether the work suits them until after they



                               19
                                 To work with weapons, all candidates must be able to obtain a Q-level clearance, which
                               has similar requirements to a top secret clearance in other defense-related agencies.




                               Page 31                           GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                              have invested significant time working in the enterprise. Even if
                              candidates accept a position, they do not actually have the authorization
                              to design nuclear weapons; current policy allows them to refurbish
                              components within the existing stockpile, and then only when funding is
                              appropriated for that specific activity.

                              A more mobile workforce. NNSA and M&O contractor officials noted that
                              a general shift from defined benefit retirement systems offering pensions
                              to a defined contribution retirement system has made employees much
                              more mobile and, therefore, harder to retain. A defined contribution
                              retirement system makes employees much more mobile because, once
                              the employee is vested––typically after a few years––their contributions to
                              their retirement accounts are portable, therefore they no longer depend
                              on tenure with a single employer. According to NNSA officials, M&O
                              contractors no longer expect newly hired employees to spend their entire
                              careers in the enterprise; rather, they expect them to work for a national
                              laboratory or production plant for an average of 5 to 10 years.

                              Aging workforce. Many of the critically skilled employees currently filling
                              these positions, both at the national laboratories and other NNSA sites,
                              are at or near retirement age, which adds additional uncertainty to the
                              projected human capital needs of the enterprise. NNSA officials told us
                              that they are aware that many critically skilled employees are at or near
                              retirement age, and they are tracking those retirements closely. Human
                              capital staff from NNSA and its M&O contractors told us that it is difficult
                              to anticipate retirement trends, especially during an economic recession.
                              M&O contractor human resources staff said that they have found fewer
                              staff retiring than they would have projected, due to uncertainties about
                              their financial investments. These economic factors may have helped to
                              preserve some critical skills within the enterprise, but officials are
                              concerned that when the economy rebounds, eligible staff may retire at
                              higher-than-projected levels. Such levels of attrition could leave a skills
                              gap that would take years to replenish.

Variable Funding Can Impede   Knowledge transfer activities in the nuclear security enterprise tend to
Workforce Development         require multiple years to complete, but contractors have been challenged
Efforts                       to plan and maintain these development efforts because funding varies
                              from year to year. NNSA officials typically do not dictate whether or how
                              much funding goes toward knowledge transfer within contractor
                              workforces, except for specific programs at Sandia, because NNSA
                              prefers not to fence funding for particular contractor activities. Contractors
                              use what NNSA calls science campaigns—which, among other things,
                              fund research to improve the ability to assess warhead performance


                              Page 32                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                            without nuclear testing and help to maintain the scientific infrastructure of
                            the nuclear weapons laboratories—and life extension programs—which
                            ensure weapons’ readiness and extend the life of existing warheads
                            through design, certification, manufacture, and replacement of
                            components—as a means for knowledge transfer, where more
                            experienced weaponeers can train newer staff on weapons design and
                            maintenance. Both science campaigns and life extension programs
                            require long-term planning to ensure that the necessary resources are
                            available.

                            According to NNSA and M&O contractor officials, funding for science
                            campaigns and life extension programs has varied over the years. M&O
                            contractor officials at both plants and laboratories told us their knowledge
                            transfer plans have been adversely affected in years when funding has
                            been reduced. In recent years, plans for certain life extension programs
                            and science campaigns have been scaled back after plans have been
                            made and contractor resources allocated. According to M&O contractors
                            at the laboratories, reduced funding for life extension programs
                            diminishes their opportunities to give their newer weaponeers hands-on
                            experience. For example, weapons staff at Lawrence Livermore National
                            Laboratory told us that they made knowledge transfer plans based on
                            their approved warhead life extension projects, and that when those
                            projects were sidelined; newer weaponeers were denied significant
                            training opportunities. However, because funding decisions are beyond
                            the M&O contractors’ purview, M&O contractor officials told us there is
                            little they can do to prepare for or mitigate this challenge.


NNSA and Its M&O            NNSA and its M&O contractors reported that they are taking actions to
Contractors Are             address their human capital challenges where possible. Specifically,
Addressing Their Current    NNSA and M&O contractor officials told us they engaged in workforce
                            planning to avoid potential critical skill gaps in the enterprise. NNSA-wide
Human Capital Challenges,   workforce plans are not expected to be completed until 2013 according to
Where Possible              NNSA officials, but certain components are already in practice at various
                            sites, such as streamlined hiring and security clearance practices and
                            “pipeline” building for critically skilled employees.

                            Streamlined hiring and security clearance processes. NNSA and its M&O
                            contractors have streamlined human capital processes to attract and hire
                            new critically skilled workers. In the past, federal hiring processes have
                            caused longer waits, both for candidates awaiting a decision and for
                            human capital officials awaiting security clearances for new hires. M&O
                            contractor staff reported that delays had previously allowed strong


                            Page 33                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
candidates to find other opportunities, or if candidates were hired and
waiting for a clearance, they could lose interest in the position before they
started. M&O contractor staff told us that finding work for hired-but-
uncleared staff to complete was frustrating for both the new staff and their
supervisors. NNSA has made reducing cycle time a priority, and officials
from several sites reported that they have been able to hire and obtain
clearances for employees more quickly in recent years.

Building a pipeline of critically skilled employees. Both NNSA and its M&O
contractor officials acknowledge that, due to the long period required for
developing some critical skills employees, they need to anticipate their
critical skills needs for multiple years in the future. All sites have recruiting
and development plans to preserve critical skills in their workforce, which
they refer to as a pipeline. Sites use pipelines in two ways to avoid critical
skills gaps. First, they use training and project assignments to ensure that
critical skills are being developed and preserved in newer employees. For
example, Lawrence Livermore has assessed its employees’ skill sets and
experience, so it knows which are currently performing essential
operations more than 25 percent of the time––called core employees––
and which are being prepared to perform those operations––called pipe
employees. They can augment a pipe employee’s expertise in an area if
management sees a shortage of core employees in that skill set. Second,
in recruiting activities, human resources staff may maintain information
about potential future candidates for weapons programs, either with
contacts made in internship, fellowship, and coop programs or by keeping
records of interested candidates who were not hired. For example,
Sandia is building a database of potential candidates, so that in the future
it is not relying exclusively on that year’s graduating class from the top
science and engineering programs.

Succession planning can also inform pipeline decisions. M&O contractor
officials at some sites said that they have begun to analyze potential skills
gaps if a specific retirement or separation were to occur. Those M&O
contractors who are undertaking these analyses can rely on managers’
assessments of their employees or software packages designed to
facilitate succession planning. M&O contractors told us that this kind of
planning is currently used in management or leadership capacities, but in
the future it could be applied to other areas such as critical skills
capacities. Each M&O contractor has a unique way of implementing its
pipeline, but M&O contractor officials from all sites told us they all realize
the need to consider future retirements and mission requirements in their
current hiring and development plans. For example, a senior M&O
contractor manager at Sandia National Laboratories responsible for


Page 34                        GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
              building the laboratories’ talent pipeline told us that Sandia is facing
              unprecedented hiring needs due in part to expected increases in
              retirements. He expects to experience 33 to 50 percent attrition in the
              next 4 to 5 years, while the total number of Sandia employees will need to
              remain about the same. Accordingly, Sandia officials told us they expect
              to have hired approximately 3,100 new employees in the 3 years ending
              in 2012—about 800 in 2010, 1,100 in 2011, and 1,200 in 2012.

              Some of the human capital challenges facing the enterprise are beyond
              the control of NNSA and its M&O contractors, and in these cases, NNSA
              has authorized increased compensation to help the sites acquire or retain
              the personnel they require. The site locations are fixed, and site staff
              cannot change the number of U.S. citizens completing graduate science
              and technology programs. Similarly, NNSA and its contractors have no
              choice but to adapt to the increased mobility of their staff resulting from
              the shift to a defined contribution retirement systems. To mitigate these
              challenges, NNSA and its contractors continue to offer financial incentives
              to recruit and retain critically skilled employees, with competitive starting
              salaries. The scale of these financial incentives can vary by location and
              position, but NNSA reported that this strategy has thus far been adequate
              for recruiting and retaining the talent they need.


              NNSA and its M&O contractors have taken a number of useful steps to
Conclusions   sustain critical skills in the enterprise in the face of several challenges.
              NNSA has begun to implement the recommendation we made in our
              February 2011 report to establish a plan with time frames and milestones
              for the development of a comprehensive contractor workforce baseline
              that includes the identification of critical human capital skills,
              competencies, and levels needed to maintain the nation’s nuclear
              weapons strategy. However, while contractor efforts may be effective at a
              specific site, they do not provide NNSA with the information needed to
              make enterprisewide decisions that have implications on human capital.
              Without this information, NNSA’s ability to monitor the effectiveness of its
              and its M&O contractors’ strategies to recruit, develop, and retain the
              workforces needed to preserve critical skills may be hindered. In
              particular, without common enterprisewide definitions of human capital
              performance metrics, NNSA may not be able to collect consistent and
              comparable M&O contractor human capital data across all eight sites in
              the enterprise. Since NNSA is now considering developing a more
              comprehensive enterprisewide system to track data on critical skills
              through its Enterprise Modeling Consortium, this may be an opportune



              Page 35                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
                     time to explore establishing common, uniform definitions for the human
                     capital metrics used in this system.


                     To improve NNSA’s ability to monitor the effectiveness of its strategies––
Recommendation for   and its M&O contractors’ strategies––to recruit, develop, and retain the
Executive Action     workforces needed to preserve critical skills in the enterprise, we
                     recommend that the Administrator of NNSA take the following action:

                     As it develops its Enterprise Modeling Consortium and other
                     enterprisewide systems for tracking M&O contractor human capital
                     performance metrics, NNSA should consider developing standardized
                     definitions across the enterprise, especially across M&O contractors, to
                     ensure they gather consistent data using human capital metrics with
                     consistent, uniform definitions.


                     We provided NNSA with a draft of this report for their review and
Agency Comments      comment. NNSA provided written comments, which are reproduced in
and Our Evaluation   appendix I. NNSA stated that it appreciated GAO’s recognition of the
                     significant challenges NNSA faces in sustaining critical skills in its
                     workforce and the efforts NNSA is taking to identify critical human capital
                     skills, competencies, and levels needed to maintain the nation’s nuclear
                     weapons strategy. In addition, NNSA stated that it agreed with the GAO’s
                     recommendation that NNSA should consider developing standardized
                     definitions for human capital metrics across the enterprise to help ensure
                     consistent and comparable data. NNSA also provided other additional
                     technical information, which we incorporated where appropriate.


                     We are sending copies of this report to 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.




                     Page 36                       GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
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 II.




Gene Aloise
Director
Natural Resources and Environment




Page 37                      GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
Appendix I: Comments from the National
              Appendix I: Comments from the National
              Nuclear Security Administration



Nuclear Security Administration




              Page 38                           GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
Appendix II: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Appendix II: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  Gene Aloise, (202) 512-3841 or aloisee@gao.gov
GAO Contact
                  In addition to the contact named above, Ned Woodward, Assistant
Staff             Director; Dr. Timothy Persons, Chief Scientist; Don Cowan; Hayley
Acknowledgments   Landes; and Kevin Tarmann made key contributions to this report.
                  Yvonne Jones, Alison O’Neill, Cheryl Peterson, Rebecca Shea, Kiki
                  Theodoropoulos, and Greg Wilmoth provided technical assistance.




(361248)
                  Page 39                              GAO-12-468 Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise
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