Watchdog: U.S. Struggles to Track Nuclear-Arms Design Records

Technicians perform maintenance on W-76 nuclear warhead. Technicians perform maintenance on W-76 nuclear warhead. National Nuclear Security Administration

An Energy Department investigator has lashed nuclear-arms offices for failing to keep a detailed paper trail of how they build and care for each bomb.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has not consistently tracked each of the thousands of nuclear weapons under its charge with a comprehensive file of "drawings, specifications, engineering authorizations, manufacturing records" and other documents from its assembly and maintenance, says a new report by the Energy Department's inspector general.

The missing data exposes the U.S. nuclear arsenal to an array of unnecessary costs and risks, Gregory Friedman said his team had found.

In one case, officials incorrectly approved two components to be added to a variant of the W-76 nuclear warhead. The error, they said, cost between $20 million and $25 million, and held up preparation of new parts by an extra 12 months.

The United States never "treated the maintenance of original nuclear weapons [records] as a priority" during or after the Cold War, according to the March 26 assessment. The auditors argued, though, that "recapturing the department's original nuclear weapons data in a configurable format can potentially save tens of millions of dollars."

The report also warns that lax controls on the nation's nuclear-arms records left an opening for possible saboteurs to tamper with arms designs.

In a possible violation of Energy Department rules, Los Alamos National Laboratory granted about 30 design personnel access to sensitive design information, "regardless of whether they were assigned to a nuclear-weapon project," auditors wrote.

According to the New Mexico facility's administrators, restricting the information further would not help security, and "they believed that their internal processes were more efficient."

Energy Department officials agreed with the investigators' calls for record-keeping updates.

"Upgrade requirements continue to be identified and an acquisition strategy will be determined in [fiscal year] 2015," the report states.

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

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

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

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