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Senate Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing on FY2004 Defense Authorization: Energy Department Weapons Programs

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

PRYOR:

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    Secretary Abraham, I'm looking at a press release from the NNSA from late last year, and it talks about the reorganization that's going on there. And as I understand it, you are in the process, mostly through attrition, of reducing the staff there by about 20 percent. Is that right -- about 20 percent, according to the press release.

    I just have a general concern on that I want to ask you about. I'm not opposed to that concept of streamlining and becoming more efficient. I'm always for that. But in the context of the heightened security we live in right now, considering this war on terrorism, and, you know, all of the possible, the potential threats against what you all manage and maintain, I just wonder how that's going right now, and are you seeing any adverse effects in terms of morale or any gaps or transitional issues that are causing you problems?

ABRAHAM:

    Senator, not at this point. I'm not saying there aren't people who will always be unhappy with changes in the status quo, but what we tried to do in this proposal, I know, is to be very careful about how we would make this transition occur. I can assure you and the committee that no actions will be taken in a hasty fashion or in a fashion inconsistent with the actual security of the complex or the capabilities of the complex.

    One of the challenges which basically confronted me when I became secretary was the fact that just shortly before my arrival and, in fact, based on actions I had voted for when I was in the Senate, we had developed the NNSA as a quasi-independent part of the department. One of its first responsibilities -- and that's primarily one for the administrator and now the acting administrator to develop -- was a game plan for trying to set this new agency, if you would, or quasi- independent agency up in a way that minimized the duplication of functions.

    One of the frustrations Congress had that led in part to the development of NNSA, I think, was a sense that there were too many layers of decision making, too many management layers, and what Ambassador Brooks and, before him, General Gordon have tried to do is to wrestle with that issue. I can tell you that most of the hearings I had initially were hearings in which people were asking for us to do this work quickly because it's been expected by the appropriators as one of the first responsibilities in this area.

    So we've tried in this reorganization to address it. We've certainly heard from many members who have had one particular concern or another because of some of the rearrangements, and I know there are certainly going to be people in the system who may prefer the old approaches that we had.

ABRAHAM:

    But we think this represents what Congress asked us to do, which was to do a good faith evaluation of the bureaucracy and try to recommend ways to make it more efficient and streamlined.

PRYOR:

    And I agree completely with those goals. I'm 100 percent on board with that. I guess the committee, I think, would like to hear just an assurance that while we're doing this and going through this transition, we're taking care of our business, and we're taking care of our mission, and that there are no gaps or missteps that could cause a security problem.

ABRAHAM:

    I think we'll be able to do the mission better. I mean, our goal really was to try to eliminate some of the bureaucracy that was, in fact, perceived by upper management of NNSA to be hard to work through, too many chains -- too many layers in the chain of command. And one of the frustrations that I have, and anybody who's served, I think -- as I know most of the previous energy secretaries have had is that there sometimes are problems within the complex, and people ask, "Well, why did that happen?" Well, part of it is because it took such a long time for decisions to move up and down the chain.

    But I can assure you -- and I look forward to working with the committee on this -- that as we effectuate these changes, we are not going to do anything that undermines the quality or the timeliness of the work of the defense programs or nonproliferation. And I think we're pleased with the progress in almost every respect that we've been making on some of the priority items. But it won't be lost on us that as we make these changes, there's always a threat that we could lose effectiveness, and we'll do our best and keep you well informed of how we're addressing those.

PRYOR:

    Thank you.

    Mr. Chairman, that's all I have.

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