Departing DOE chief describes improvements to nuclear weapons complex

Nearing the end of his tenure as U.S. Energy secretary, Spencer Abraham this week detailed the progress his agency has made in improving the security of U.S. nuclear weapons-related sites.

"My philosophy on security has been quite simple," Abraham told departmental security personnel Tuesday. "When it comes to the security of a department with the responsibilities ours has - of maintaining the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, providing nuclear propulsion for the Navy and coordinating global nonproliferation efforts - there is no room for error."

Among the accomplishments listed by Abraham was an increase in annual spending for security-related activities from less than $1 billion to almost $2 billion. "We have, almost literally, doubled our efforts to make the department's facilities safe and secure," he said.

Abraham also noted the two major revisions to the department's Design Basis Threat (DBT) conducted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - once in May 2003 and again in October 2004. While specific details of the threat assessment are classified, it is generally considered to represent the type of terrorist threat facility guard forces must be able to defend against.

"These adjustments in the DBT represented significant increases in the level of protection afforded to our most sensitive national security assets," he said.

In contrast, Abraham said that the Design Basis Threat in place just prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, which was approved in 1995, "was at its lowest level since its initial inception, and paled in comparison to [threat] levels played out in the 9/11 attacks."

He blamed cost concerns, in part, to the lower assumed threat to nuclear sites prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. "In essence, the lower the threat, the lower the security posture to defeat the threat, thereby the lower the routine operational cost to implement."

The Energy Department has also made "substantial progress" in consolidating the number of sites that possess nuclear materials in order to reduce possible terrorist targets, Abraham said. As part of that effort, the department began moving materials last fall from a site at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to a more secure facility at the Nevada Test Site.

So far, the department has been able to close three sites that formerly housed nuclear materials, and has identified at least another four to be decommissioned, including facilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee, according to Abraham.

In his remarks, Abraham said continued efforts were needed to improve the quality of departmental security forces to become "an elite fighting force." He also said that he has organized a commission on examining new security technologies for possible use by the department.

The Energy Department is also considering whether site security forces should be federalized, managed by one contractor with individual contracts for each site or by one contractor with a single contract for all sites, Abraham said.

Peter Stockton, a senior investigator with the Project on Government Oversight watchdog group, today praised the emphasis Abraham and his retiring deputy, Kyle McSlarrow, have placed on security during their tenure.

"They're as good as I've ever seen," he said.

Stockton called on President George W. Bush's nominee to replace Abraham, Samuel Bodman, to continue once he takes office with many of the efforts launched by his predecessor, including the further consolidation of nuclear materials.

"That'd be a huge plus to the complex," Stockton said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.