DOE accused of undermining autonomy of nuke agency

klunney@govexec.com

Lawmakers sharply criticized the Energy Department's handling of the staffing and oversight of a new semi-autonomous nuclear security agency at a House hearing Tuesday.

Last year, Congress created the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in response to allegations that inadequate security at DOE and nuclear weapons laboratories contributed to the theft of nuclear secrets by China. Tuesday, members of two House Commerce subcommittees expressed concern that DOE was overstepping its authority and denying NNSA autonomy by seeking to control policy-making and personnel management.

"The department appears to be violating the semi-autonomous intent of the law," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.

In his testimony before the subcommittee, Deputy Energy Secretary T.J. Glauthier defended his agency's push to manage personnel within NNSA, stating that the current legislation is not "ideal."

"The President and Congress hold the Secretary of Energy accountable for his or her actions. At the very least the law should allow the Secretary to manage personnel at the NNSA in the fashion he determines necessary."

In a prepared statement, Gary L. Jones, associate director of energy, resources, and science issues at the General Accounting Office, argued that the Energy Department needed to further strengthen security oversight and criticized the agency's penchant for "dual-hatting," or filling key positions at NNSA with DOE officials.

"In our view, officials holding similar positions concurrently in DOE and NNSA is contrary to the legislative intent behind the creation of NNSA as a separate entity within DOE," Jones said.

Under last year's Defense authorization bill, NNSA was to begin operations on March 1. But the Clinton administration waited until this month to nominate Air Force General John A. Gordon, currently the deputy CIA director, to lead the new agency.

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