Nuclear agency seeks to fill hundreds of jobs

The National Nuclear Security Administration has drafted a proposal to fill up to 300 jobs at the agency as part of its plan to recruit and retain more employees, agency officials said Wednesday. NNSA Administrator John Gordon, testifying before a House Armed Services subcommittee, said he circulated the proposal for the hiring campaign and other changes within the agency for final comment last week. The proposed policy includes a pay-for-performance feature and pay banding for 300 scientific, engineering and technical positions. The 300 NNSA jobs are "excepted service" positions, meaning they are excluded from competitive civil service procedures. Under pay banding, General Schedule steps are replaced with simplified three-, four- or five-tier pay systems. Upon hiring or promotion, employee pay may be set at levels in the pay band matching the person's qualifications, education, training and experience. Managers have more control over pay levels for their employees because employees typically progress through the pay band if they get good performance ratings, rather than progressing by steps based on time in the grade. "Our interim policy is designed to provide NNSA managers with sufficient flexibility to attract and retain [the] key personnel we need to meet our demanding mission, while ensuring that NNSA uses this special authority with due regard for the merit systems principles of federal personnel management," said Gordon, who last month announced an agency reorganization. In 1999, Congress created the NNSA in response to allegations that inadequate security at the Energy Department and nuclear weapons laboratories contributed to the theft of nuclear secrets. Congress authorized the agency in the fiscal 2000 Defense Authorization Act to establish up to 300 scientific, engineering, and technical positions and set appropriate pay levels for those jobs. Approximately 1,700 people currently work at NNSA. Gordon said NNSA plans to implement the new personnel policy by the beginning of July. Robert A. Robinson, managing director of natural resources and environment at the General Accounting Office, praised NNSA for its reorganization efforts, but said many challenges remain, including recruitment and retention practices. Robinson said that as many as 800 NNSA positions could qualify as scientific, technical, or engineering jobs, but the law only provides for 300 positions. "If only some NNSA positions are converted to excepted service, with its pay banding, pay-for-performance, and bonus provisions, NNSA federal employees doing the same work could receive significantly different levels of compensation," said Robinson. He also said labor unions generally oppose the use of excepted service flexibilities. Still, Robinson lauded the agency's successes over the past year, including the elimination of "dual-hatting," or filling key positions at NNSA with Energy Department officials. Critics of the process were concerned that having the same officials serve simultaneously in similar positions at Energy and NNSA undermined NNSA's independence. Gordon acknowledged that morale among the NNSA workforce is not as high as it should be. Employees have sharply criticized the use of lie detector tests by the government in the wake of multiple security breaches. Allegations of Chinese espionage at the Los Alamos nuclear labs in 1999 prompted then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to require several lab employees to submit to polygraph examinations. Although random polygraph testing of employees is routine at many federal agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, NNSA employees are still skeptical about the veracity of lie detector tests, according to Gordon. "We have yet to convince the current workforce of the validity of the polygraph test as a screening tool," said Gordon. Gordon said scientists and security personnel must work together and "see themselves on the same team."
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:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • 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.

  • 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.


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