A special panel appointed by Congress to examine the U.S.nuclear weapons complex reported in December that it is too big and too old, and recommended reorganizing the Department of Energy to give its weapons modernization work a larger political profile and a higher fiscal priority.
The panel that produced this recommendation was heavily weighted with experts affiliated with the private contractors that perform much of the country’s nuclear weapons work, and its list of suggestions for dealing with recurrent cost overruns and technical snafus in the complex hewed closely to the views expressed by those contractors for the past decade.
Instead of calling for stricter contract supervision — an idea long urged by the Energy Department’s office of inspector general — the study recommended the Energy Department reduce regulation, cut the number of DOE field office personnel who supervise the contractors and abolish the current system of tying part of the contractors’ pay to their performance.
The advisory panel, created by Congress as part of the Defense Department funding bill in 2013, said in its final report released in December that the management contractors were burdened with “onerous oversight,” muddled accountability and a “dysfunctional” management culture at DOE.
The 12 panelists were selected by the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, and by the Senate and House leadership. The panel’s co-chairman Norman Augustine is the former chief of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, one of the largest defense industry donors to lawmakers.
Lockheed runs Sandia National Laboratories — one of the three U.S. labs that help produce nuclear weapons — and works with the Bechtel Corporation to manage the Y-12 plant in Tennessee and the Pantex plant in Texas, where key nuclear weapons components are made.
Panel co-chairman Richard Mies, a retired admiral and former head of the U.S. Strategic Command, serves on the board of directors of Babcock and Wilcox, a corporation that is part of the consortium that manages the nuclear weapons laboratory in Livermore, Calif. He also sits on the boards of both Los Alamos and Livermore.