Contractor Oversight: Information on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Report on Burdensome Regulatory Requirements

What GAO Found

In 2019, the Department of Energy’s (DOE)’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) provided a report to Congress on its findings from its survey of the seven contractors that manage and operate its nuclear security enterprise sites to identify requirements the contractors viewed as burdensome. This survey was congressionally mandated after reports by external groups found that the environment in which NNSA carried out its oversight of such management and operating (M&O) contractors was strained. GAO reviewed information on the following three areas related to NNSA’s report:

Comparison of NNSA’s findings with related reports. GAO found that during the past 10 years, three external groups carried out studies and assessments of the nuclear security enterprise and issued reports citing ways NNSA’s oversight has contributed to burden for M&O contractors. These groups were all directed by Congress to complete their studies, which were published between 2014 and 2020. Their reports also cite ways in which NNSA’s oversight may have contributed to increased costs or reduced mission capabilities. NNSA’s Burdensome Regulatory Requirements report explicitly identifies 91 requirements that M&O contractors found burdensome; these include requirements found in sources such as DOE and NNSA directives, federal regulations, and statutes.

NNSA’s approach to collecting and reporting information on requirements that M&O contractors identified as burdensome. NNSA first collected information on the requirements the contractors viewed as burdensome, and second, asked the contractors to rate these requirements based on the likelihood that the requirement could be changed and the effects such a change would have on cost savings, morale, recruitment and retention, and mission capability. While NNSA did not provide a definition to its contractors of what constituted a “burdensome” requirement, some contractors created their own definitions, while others told us the definition was understood based on the previously published related reports. GAO interviewed M&O contractor representatives and found that their definitions of what constituted a “burdensome requirement” varied. Also, the seven M&O contractors used different approaches to identify and rate requirements they considered burdensome. However, multiple M&O contractors identified the same requirements, or sources of those requirements, as burdensome. For example, one contractor identified the entire DOE Order for Program and Project Management of the Acquisition of Capital Assets (DOE Order 413.3B) as burdensome, while another contractor identified specific requirements within the same order as burdensome.

NNSA actions to address matters that M&O contractors identified as burdensome. In its report, NNSA included a list of 16 matters that it committed to reviewing based on the rating data it collected from M&O contractors and input from members of the Operations and Efficiencies Board, an internal body established to improve coordination and collaboration across NNSA’s sites. According to NNSA officials, 10 matters are under revision or have been changed; two matters were reviewed, but no changes were made; and four matters were reviewed, and M&O contractor input will be considered should the regulation undergo a revision in the future. NNSA’s list of matters included DOE directives, federal requirements, and an M&O contract change. According to agency officials, NNSA chose to prioritize its review of certain matters because the agency did not have the resources to review all 91 requirements that M&O contractors identified as burdensome.

NNSA provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which were incorporated as appropriate.

Why GAO Did This Study

NNSA is responsible for maintaining a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear stockpile and relies on and oversees contractors who manage and operate its laboratory and production sites. NNSA’s M&O contracts include requirements for contractors to adhere to laws, regulations, and DOE and NNSA directives. NNSA also has processes to hold contractors accountable for meeting these requirements. Senate Report 115-262, accompanying the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, directed NNSA to collect information from its M&O contractors on specific requirements they deemed particularly burdensome and to publish this information in a report.

Senate Report 115-262 also included a provision for GAO to review NNSA’s report. GAO’s report provides information on (1) a comparison of NNSA’s findings with findings reported by external groups, (2) NNSA’s approach to collecting and reporting information on requirements the M&O contractors identified as burdensome, and (3) NNSA’s actions to address the requirements that the M&O contractors identified.

GAO reviewed NNSA’s 2019 report and supplemental documents and interviewed NNSA officials and M&O contractor representatives.

For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.

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    What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has long sought to reform its enterprise business operations—such as its processes to manage contracts, finances, and supply chain— but faces challenges in improving department-wide management. DOD has taken some actions to improve its business operations data, but remains limited by the lack of reliable cost data, affecting its ability to monitor and inform its reform efforts. Having reliable data to identify baseline costs of the department's business and management functions and to measure progress has been a key challenge facing DOD, but one the department is trying to address. As GAO reported in November 2020, DOD has made progress in setting baseline costs of certain activities, such as logistics and real estate management. Further, DOD has ongoing efforts to develop baselines for all of the department's enterprise business operations that should enable it to better monitor reform progress. However, DOD needs better data about how it performs its business functions. For example, in September 2018, GAO reported that DOD's efforts to reduce inefficiencies in human resources services were hampered by inconsistent performance data across the six organizations that provide these services. DOD has ongoing efforts to address GAO's recommendations. DOD still needs clear roles, responsibilities, authorities and dedicated resources to support reform. GAO has found that demonstrating sustained leadership commitment—including through ensuring that those responsible for leading change have clearly defined and documented roles, responsibilities, and authorities—is imperative for successful business transformation. GAO has assessed many of DOD's organizational structures over the decades, including the recently eliminated Chief Management Officer (CMO) position. GAO found that, while Congress had given the CMO both significant responsibilities and authorities, DOD had not resolved unanswered questions about how those authorities would be carried out, nor communicated the CMO's roles and responsibilities department-wide. GAO also identified instances where CMO reforms were hampered by a lack of resources. As DOD moves to an organization without the CMO position, which was eliminated in 2021, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of those tasked with managing business reform remains important. DOD could also improve its efforts to reliably demonstrate progress toward meaningful reform. DOD has reported achievements from some of its department-wide efforts, such as its reported $37 billion in savings from fiscal years 2017 to 2021. However, GAO reported in November 2020 that while DOD's reported savings were largely reflected in its budget materials, the underlying analyses were not always well documented and the savings were not always consistent with the department's definitions of reform. For example, one reform initiative was based on delaying military construction projects that, according to DOD officials, allowed DOD to fund higher priorities. If a delayed project is still planned, however, the costs will likely be realized in a future year and are not a reflection of business process reform. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations to establish a process to standardize development and documentation of such cost savings, and ensure that reported savings are consistent with the department's definitions of reform. Why GAO Did This Study DOD spends billions of dollars each year to maintain key business operations and defense-wide agencies and programs intended to support the warfighter, including systems and processes related to the management of contracts, finances, the supply chain, support infrastructure, and weapon systems acquisition. The department's approach to transforming these business operations is linked to its ability to perform its overall mission, directly affecting the readiness and capabilities of U.S. military forces. This testimony summarizes GAO's past work related to DOD's efforts to improve the management of its business operations. Specifically, this testimony discusses DOD's efforts to (1) improve data and baselines to monitor and inform reform efforts; (2) establish clear roles, responsibilities, and authorities for leading reform efforts, and dedicate resources to these efforts; and (3) reliably demonstrate progress in its reform efforts. This statement is based on GAO's body of work issued from 2017 through 2020 on DOD management and business reform issues.
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  • Priority Open Recommendation: Securities and Exchange Commission
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified two priority recommendations for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Since then, SEC has implemented one of these recommendations, and the other remains open. The open priority recommendation relates to performance management for SEC employees. Specifically, it would help enhance the credibility of SEC's performance management system among its staff, including the ratings, recognition, or feedback that they receive as a result. SEC's continued attention to this issue could lead to significant improvements in government operations. We are not adding any additional priority recommendations this year.  Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Michael Clements at (202) 512-8678 or clementsm@gao.gov.
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  • F-35 Sustainment: Enhanced Attention to and Oversight of F-35 Affordability Are Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found F-35 mission capable rates—a measure of the readiness of an aircraft fleet—have recently improved, but still fall short of warfighter requirements, as discussed in our draft report. Specifically, from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020, the U.S. F-35 fleet's average annual (1) mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can fly and perform one of its tasked missions—improved from 59 to 69 percent; and (2) full mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can perform all of its tasked missions—improved from 32 to 39 percent. Both metrics fall below the services' objectives. For example, in fiscal year 2020 the Air Force F-35A full mission capable rate was 54 percent, versus a 72 percent objective. Since 2012, F-35 estimated sustainment costs over its 66-year life cycle have increased steadily, from $1.11 trillion to $1.27 trillion, despite efforts to reduce costs. The services face a substantial and growing gap between estimated sustainment costs and affordability constraints—i.e., costs per tail (aircraft) per year that the services project they can afford—totaling about $6 billion in 2036 alone (see fig.). The services will collectively be confronted with tens of billions of dollars in sustainment costs that they project as unaffordable during the program. Gap between F-35 Affordability Constraints and Estimated Sustainment Costs in 2036 Note: Costs are in constant year 2012 dollars as that was the year when the F-35 program was most recently re-baselined. aSteady state years for the F-35 program are defined in each respective service's affordability analysis as: US Air Force/F-35A – 2036-2041; US Marine Corps/F-35B – 2033-2037; US Navy/F-35C – 2036-2043. Steady state refers to the program's peak operating point. The Air Force needs to reduce estimated costs per tail per year by $3.7 million (or 47 percent) by 2036 or it will incur $4.4 billion in costs beyond what it currently projects it could afford in that year alone. Cost reductions become increasingly difficult as the program grows and matures. However, GAO found there is no agreed upon approach to achieve the constraints. Without an assessment of cost-reduction efforts and program requirements (such as number of planned aircraft), along with a plan, the Department of Defense (DOD) may continue to invest resources in a program it ultimately cannot afford. Congress requiring DOD to report on its progress in achieving affordability constraints and making F-35 procurements contingent on DOD's demonstrated progress would enhance DOD's accountability for taking the necessary and appropriate actions to afford sustaining the F-35 fleet. Why GAO Did This Study The F-35 aircraft with its advanced capabilities represents a growing portion of DOD's tactical aviation fleet—with the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy currently flying about 400 of the aircraft. It is also DOD's most ambitious and costly weapon system in history, with estimated life-of-program costs exceeding $1.7 trillion. DOD plans to procure nearly 2,500 F-35s at an estimated total acquisition cost of just under $400 billion. The remaining $1.3 trillion in life cycle costs is associated with operating and sustaining the aircraft. This statement, among other things, assesses the extent to which (1) the F-35 has met warfighter-required mission capable rates; and (2) DOD has reduced the F-35's estimated life cycle sustainment costs and made progress in meeting its affordability constraints. This statement is largely based on GAO's draft report, which was provided to DOD in March for review and comment. For that report and this statement, GAO reviewed program documentation, analyzed performance and cost data, collected data from F-35 locations, and interviewed officials.
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  • Cybersecurity: DHS and Selected Agencies Need to Address Shortcomings in Implementation of Network Monitoring Program
    In U.S GAO News
    Selected agencies—the Federal Aviation Administration, Indian Health Services, and Small Business Administration—had generally deployed tools intended to provide cybersecurity data to support the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program. As depicted in the figure, the program relies on automated tools to identify hardware and software residing on agency networks. This information is aggregated and compared to expected outcomes, such as whether actual device configuration settings meet federal benchmarks. The information is then displayed on an agency dashboard and federal dashboard. Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program Data Flow from Agencies to the Federal Dashboard However, while agencies reported that the program improved their network awareness, none of the three agencies had effectively implemented all key CDM program requirements. For example, the three agencies had not fully implemented requirements for managing their hardware. This was due in part to contractors, who install and troubleshoot the tools, not always providing unique identifying information. Accordingly, CDM tools did not provide an accurate count of the hardware on their networks. In addition, although most agencies implemented requirements for managing software, they were not consistently comparing configuration settings on their networks to federal core benchmarks intended to maintain a standard level of security. The agencies identified various challenges to implementing the program, including overcoming resource limitations and not being able to resolve problems directly with contractors. DHS had taken numerous steps to help manage these challenges, including tracking risks of insufficient resources, providing forums for agencies to raise concerns, and allowing agencies to provide feedback to DHS on contractor performance. In 2013, DHS established the CDM program to strengthen the cybersecurity of government networks and systems by providing tools to agencies to continuously monitor their networks. The program, with estimated costs of about $10.9 billion, intends to provide capabilities for agencies to identify, prioritize, and mitigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities. GAO was asked to review agencies' continuous monitoring practices. This report (1) examines the extent to which selected agencies have effectively implemented key CDM program requirements and (2) describes challenges agencies identified in implementing the requirements and steps DHS has taken to address these challenges. GAO selected three agencies based on reported acquisition of CDM tools. GAO evaluated the agencies' implementation of CDM asset management capabilities, conducted semi-structured interviews with agency officials, and examined DHS actions. GAO is making six recommendations to DHS, including to ensure that contractors provide unique hardware identifiers; and nine recommendations to the three selected agencies, including to compare configurations to benchmarks. DHS and the selected agencies concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Vijay A. D'Souza at (202) 512-6240 or dsouzav@gao.gov.
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