Lawmakers weigh cutting nuclear security agency

Lawmakers on Tuesday proposed eliminating the agency created seven years ago to oversee the country's nuclear weapons stockpile, citing continued security failures at the Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations said at a hearing that the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous agency within the Energy Department, has not performed adequately. They cited an October incident at Los Alamos, N.M., in which local police responding to a domestic disturbance call discovered that a laboratory employee had classified data on nuclear weapons stored on small, portable hard drives.

The incident was the latest in a string of breaches that have prompted lawmakers to reconsider NNSA. The oversight agency was created in 2000 as part of Congress' response to the mishandling of classified information - again at Los Alamos - by Wen Ho Lee.

"NNSA was a management experiment gone wrong," said ranking member Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.

Lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday they said will give Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman more authority over energy security. They also discussed the possibility of closing the Los Alamos laboratory entirely.

The Energy Department's inspector general testified at the hearing that mismanagement and security gaps -- some of which department officials say have been repaired -- caused the most recent Los Alamos incident. IG Gregory Friedman criticized management for "a lack of follow-through" on policy guidelines and a failure to conduct frequent enough oversight.

The IG said policies to improve the physical security of classified files need immediate implementation to prevent data theft. Policies for cybersecurity must be implemented universally throughout the Energy Department, he said.

Linda Wilbanks, NNSA's information chief, testified that all data ports, which are what the Los Alamos employee is believed to have used to download classified data in the October incident, have been sealed.

Energy Department Deputy Secretary Clay Sell told lawmakers that, following the security breach, the department took steps to secure its data quickly. Reviews of security are ongoing, Sell said, but will be completed for Bodman in February. Subcommittee members said they will seek Bodman's testimony after the reports are finished.

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