GAO finds management problems with stockpile maintenance

Congressional auditors have found budgeting, cost accounting and management problems associated with a National Nuclear Security Administration program to extend the operational life of U.S. nuclear weapons, according to a General Accounting Office report released last Friday. In 1996, the Energy Department created the Stockpile Life Extension Program, which is now conducted by the NNSA's Office of Defense Programs. The purpose of the program is to use a standardized approach to refurbish nuclear weapons to extend their operational life.

As of May, three types of nuclear weapons were undergoing research activities in advance of their refurbishment-the W-80 warhead, the B-61 bomb and the W-76 warhead, according to the report (GA0-03-583). The W-80 is intended for use on a cruise missile launched from an attack submarine or B-52 bomber and is scheduled to begin refurbishment in February 2006. The B-61 bomb is designed to be carried on the B-52 and B-2 bombers and is expected to begin refurbishment in June 2006. The W-76 warhead is designed to be used on the Trident 2 submarine-launched ballistic missile and is scheduled to begin refurbishment in September 2007.

In its report, the GAO said there are opportunities to improve the budgeting, accounting and management of the stockpile extension program. The report also says that NNSA officials agreed with the need to improve the management of the program.

The GAO found the NNSA budget for the stockpile extension program to be neither comprehensive nor reliable, the report says. For example, the NNSA fiscal 2003 budget for the program was developed by broad function, such as research and development activities, instead of by an individual weapon system or program, such as the stockpile extension program, it says.

The report did find, however, that the NNSA has begun to create a more comprehensive picture of the stockpile extension program for fiscal 2004. In its fiscal 2004 budget, the NNSA attributed a larger portion, but not all, of life-extension work to the stockpile extension program, the report says. It recommends that the NNSA further improve budgeting procedures associated with the stockpile extension program by including it as a formal section in the overall NNSA budget submission.

The NNSA also lacks a system for tracking refurbishment costs, according to the report. It says that the NNSA has yet to create a cost accounting system that provides full costs of refurbishment activities. Instead, the NNSA has several systems to track various portions of refurbishment costs, but these are used for various purposes and cannot be reconciled with each other, the report says, adding that the NNSA administrator should improve cost accounting procedures associated with the stockpile extension program.

In addition, there are other management concerns related to the planning, organization and oversight of cost and schedule factors for the stockpile extension program, the report says. For example, the NSSA has yet to prioritize the stockpile extension program among other Office of Defense Program activities or to prioritize the various refurbishment activities, it says. The report also says that the NNSA lacks an adequate process to report cost and schedule changes against established baselines. The GAO has recommended that the NNSA begin improving specific management-related activities associated with the program.

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