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Tracking and Assessing Governance and Management Reform in the Nuclear Security Enterprise

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (the Act) directs the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration to develop and carry out an implementation plan to reform the governance and management of the nuclear security enterprise. The plan will address recommendations—except those requiring legislation—from the November 2014 report of the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, entitled “A New Foundation for the Nuclear Security Enterprise,” as well as recommendations from an October 2015 study by the Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories and a June 2015 report of the Secretary of Energy Task Force on DOE National Laboratories.

View Study Reportssss

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Final Report

Click the button below to view the Interim Report 1.

Interim Report 1

Click the button below to view the Interim Report 2.

Interim Report 2

Click the button below to view the Interim Report 3.

Interim Report 3

Click the button below to view the Interim Report 4.

Interim Report 4

Project Description

The Act directs NNSA’s Administrator to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the National Academy of Public Administration to create an Implementation Assessment Panel to:

  1. Provide guidance to the Secretary and Administrator on the implementation plan content;
  2. Track implementation plan progress; and
  3. Assess implementation plan effectiveness.

NAPA and NAS have formed a joint Implementation Assessment Panel. The Panel will oversee the work of the joint NAPA/NAS study team, providing strategic guidance on study approach and focus, and issuing key findings and recommendations. The 14 Panel members bring a wealth of experience from DOE Science Laboratories, Federally Funded Research & Development Centers, the Intelligence Community, Academia, and the Office of Management and Budget.


Final Report Recommendations


Recommendation 2.1: The statutory relationship between the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should not be restructured. The Secretary of Energy’s ownership of DOE’s nuclear deterrence mission should be reemphasized through the Senate confirmation process and annual administration and congressional reporting and oversight activities. Both DOE and NNSA should diligently enforce assigned roles and responsibilities throughout both organizations in order to maintain a healthy and effective enterprise.

Recommendation 2.2: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator, in collaboration with the Undersecretary of Defense (Acquisition and Sustainment), should continue to implement and institutionalize practices that promote the transparent exchange of information and a strong, collaborative working relationship between the Department of Defense (DoD) and NNSA. The Administrator and Undersecretary should particularly emphasize coordination of the agencies’ budgets for the stockpile and weapons delivery systems.

Recommendation 2.3: Congress should amend the National Nuclear Security Act to modify the position of National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator so that it has a fixed term but is still filled by presidential appointment subject to Senate confirmation. To eliminate leadership gaps, the Administrator should be authorized to stay in office until a replacement is confirmed by the Senate, even beyond the formal completion of his or her term.

Recommendation 2.4: To reduce gaps in other key leadership positions, the requirement for Senate confirmation of the Principal Deputy Administrator, Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs, and Deputy Administrator for Defense Nonproliferation should be removed. These positions should continue to be filled with political appointees to provide appropriate stature.


Recommendation 3.1: National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) leadership should build on progress made on clarifying roles, responsibilities, authorities, and accountability by improving its communications about and enforcement of the relevant policies.

  • To clarify the roles of functional support offices vis-à-vis mission execution, NNSA leadership should promulgate policies that engage support-office personnel early in mission-related planning in order to smooth the process of “getting to yes,” thereby enabling mission accomplishment.
  • To increase the shared understanding of roles and responsibilities throughout the enterprise, NNSA leadership should expand programs for rotation of personnel between federal and nonfederal positions, as well as between headquarters and field offices. This expansion should take the form of making such opportunities more widely available and of longer duration. Consideration should be given to requiring rotational assignments prior to promotion to senior NNSA positions.

Recommendation 3.2: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should gain a better understanding of attitudes and engagement of the entire enterprise workforce. It should require all of its management and operating (M&O) partners to conduct regular employee surveys, preferably including some questions that are found on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). NNSA should require the M&O partners to provide it with the responses, properly anonymized, to at least those latter questions.

Recommendation 3.3: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should enforce its policies for estimating and controlling budget, cost, and schedule for major programs and capital projects. To enhance the credibility of program plans and budget estimates, NNSA should improve its process for addressing differences in cost estimates from Cost Estimating and Program Evaluation (CEPE) and program offices to include providing accessible documentation that reconciles the differences and makes clear the provenance of the estimate used in the budget.

Recommendation 3.4: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should ensure that the management structures for its major programs provide a high level of authorities and capabilities to one strong program manager so that program managers can serve as the focal point for anticipating and resolving issues in the execution of the program. As an example, the manager of the pit production program should be transitioned to have even stronger authorities and capabilities in order to maximize the program’s chances of success.

Recommendation 3.5: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator should promptly designate a career senior executive service member as the accountable change management leader to provide intensive and sustained attention to the challenges of institutionalizing governance and management reform. This leader should support the Administrator in developing continuous improvement strategies and implementation plans, leading continuous improvement processes, and ensuring that management metrics are developed and employed.


Recommendation 4.1: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and management and operating (M&O) management should expand their existing processes to identify and mitigate burdensome processes and requirements, instituting a process of continuous improvement. Those in a position to develop and promulgate improvements, and those affected by the improvements, should work collaboratively on these efforts. At least five elements are needed:

  • The burdens identified in the 2019 survey and analysis carried out by NNSA’s Operations and Efficiencies Board should be addressed to the extent that they are within the control of NNSA or the Department of Energy (DOE).
  • Surveillance and mitigation analogous to the 2019 survey should be conducted annually, with results made available throughout the enterprise.  NNSA should consider expanding the site governance peer reviews to contribute to revealing and removing burdensome practices and sharing improvements.
  • NNSA and laboratory management should improve their monitoring of administrative inefficiencies that hinder the technical staff at the NNSA laboratories, and develop a simple process whereby significant inefficiencies can be identified, analyzed, and prioritized for possible mitigation.
  • NNSA should proactively work with the labs, plants, and sites to identify where the M&O processes might be more risk averse than appropriate.

Recommendation 4.2: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should establish management practices that derive the maximum value from the established principles for Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). To achieve this, the Administrator should convene a working group whose members are knowledgeable about successful FFRDC relationships and some of whom are outside the current nuclear security enterprise to assist NNSA in developing a conceptual model for the relationship it seeks to have with its FFRDCs. NNSA should then take the necessary steps to put the model in place for all three FFRDCs so that their ability to act as trusted, independent, expert contributors is maximized.

Recommendation 4.3: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should identify a more effective contract model for its Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). The Administrator should convene a working group to develop an FFRDC contract model to better enable the desired FFRDC relationships, which are to be closer than normal contractual relationships. The working group should include staff within NNSA and its laboratories as well as experts from other agencies with a large number of FFRDCs, such as DoD.

Recommendation 4.4: In addition to the elements included in Recommendation 4.1, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and management at its laboratories should take steps to improve the environment for science and engineering (S&E) research and development (R&D) to include the following:

  • A clear articulation of how the S&E core capabilities will be supported at the laboratories, perhaps including funding lines that would complement laboratory directed research and development (LDRD);
  • Enhanced onboarding processes to help new scientists and engineers become highly productive by emphasizing the laboratories’ strengths, expertise, organization, past accomplishments of service in the national interest, and roles and responsibilities as Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs).


Recommendation 5.1: National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) leadership themes such as “one NNSA” and “getting to yes” have established the tone for needed management improvements. These themes need to be reinforced through systematic efforts to instill these desired behaviors and values throughout the enterprise.

Recommendation 5.2: National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) next steps to steer governance and management reform should specify the actions to be taken—by whom and when, with associated budget and metrics—to a degree that allows progress to be tracked and changes made as necessary. Metrics should be specific enough to support data-driven, continuous management improvement and be suitable for informing periodic external reviews into the effectiveness of governance and management of the nuclear security enterprise.

Recommendation 5.3: The panel encourages the relevant committees of Congress, especially the Armed Services Committees and the Appropriations Subcommittees, to follow up on the recommendations in this report. The panel recommends that Congress convene a small group of knowledgeable experts, perhaps three to five, approximately every 3 years, to conduct a brief review of the status of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) governance and management.