Nuke agency told to plan before using hiring flexibility

The Energy Department's fledgling nuclear oversight agency should refrain from using its hiring flexibilities to fill certain jobs until it creates a strategic plan for managing its workforce, the General Accounting Office has recommended.

The National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within Energy, has already allocated about one-third of its 300 excepted service positions, but the absence of a long-term "coherent human capital strategy" threatens to undermine the benefits of the hiring authority, GAO warned.

When Congress created NNSA in 1999, it gave the agency the authority to use excepted service flexibilities for 300 scientific, engineering and technical positions. The authority allows NNSA to hire staff through a noncompetitive selection process and grants it greater leeway in setting salaries.

"While we do not mean to imply that NNSA should not fill specific excepted service positions for which it has a critical need, we continue to maintain that thorough workforce planning would help to ensure effective long-term use of the excepted service authority, particularly given the limited number of positions available and the continuing uncertainty over organizational changes that could affect the structure of NNSA's workforce," GAO officials wrote in a letter (GAO-02-93R) to Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Special Oversight Panel on Energy Department Reorganization.

Currently, NNSA has plans to use only one-third of the 300 positions while Congress weighs the agency's proposal to expand its excepted service authority. But the agency plans to allocate the remaining positions if Congress denies its request, despite the absence of a concrete strategic plan for workforce management, GAO reported.

NNSA, which employs approximately 1,700 people and has identified 800 jobs that should be converted to excepted service, disagreed with GAO's conclusion that the agency needed to develop a long-term strategic plan for workforce management before continuing to use its hiring flexibilities.

"While [NNSA] administrator [John A. Gordon] is attuned to the need for thorough human capital and workforce planning, the NNSA must remain flexible in the use of all personnel authorities, and therefore, will continue to utilize the excepted service positions granted under Title 32 [of the fiscal 2000 National Defense Authorization Act]," said the agency in its comments on GAO's findings.

Congress created NNSA in 1999 in response to allegations of inadequate security at Energy and its nuclear weapons laboratories. But the agency has been plagued by management problems since its inception, including filling jobs with officials who already work at Energy-a practice known as "dual hatting"-and failing to clearly define authority and accountability within NNSA.

Although GAO praised NNSA for its efforts to eliminate dual hatting and for developing a new planning and budgeting program, it criticized the agency for failing to clear up the confusion between headquarters and the field when it comes to managing contractors.

NNSA said several factors, including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a slow fiscal 2002 budget process and delays in the confirmation of presidential appointees contributed to the agency's lack of momentum in tackling these management problems.

While NNSA officials said the agency welcomed GAO's comments, they said the report's findings failed to shed new light on how to resolve the agency's management problems.

"While I appreciate GAO's efforts to assess NNSA's progress in implementing sections of Title 32, I fail to see the value added by this latest effort," said Anthony R. Lane, association administrator for management and administration at NNSA, in a letter to GAO.

Lane said the report did not "acknowledge the significant institutional barriers that we are overcoming in creating" the agency's new planning, budgeting and evaluation system.

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.