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Hearing of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee - Y-12 Intrusion: Investigation, Response, and Accountability

Hearing

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

The Strategic Forces Subcommittee met today for a hearing on Y-12 Intrusion: Investigation, Response, and Accountability. Chairman Michael Turner (R-OH) made the following statement available as prepared for delivery:

"Good afternoon and welcome to today's hearing on the recent security breach at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

"As we all know from the press accounts, in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, July 28, three nuclear disarmament activists trespassed onto the grounds of the Y-12 complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The activists, including an 82-year old Catholic nun, cut through several fences and entered the high-security "Protected Area" surrounding the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF). The activists defaced an exterior side of the building with spray paint, human blood, posters, crime scene tape, and other items before eventually being stopped and detained by members of the protective force. Reportedly, even once on the scene the initial protective force member apparently did not respond with appropriate urgency.

"This level of intrusion into the perimeter of a highly secure nuclear weapons facility is unprecedented--and it is completely unacceptable. It is outrageous to think that the greatest threat to the American public from weapons of mass destruction may be the incompetence of DOE security.

"Let me be clear: I rank this failure alongside the Air Force's unauthorized shipments of nuclear weapons to Barksdale Air Force Base in 2007 and nuclear weapons components to Taiwan, which was reported in 2008.
From our oversight of those incidents, this subcommittee is intimately familiar with how systemic failures--coupled with a lack of leadership attention--can lead to massive failures in a business with room for none.
The 2007 Air Force incident revealed deep and systemic flaws throughout the Air Force enterprise that allowed that incident to occur. It also revealed that both on-the-ground personnel and senior leaders in the Air Force had taken their eyes off the ball when it came to nuclear weapons. Tellingly, we saw Secretary of Defense Gates take strong action to hold these people accountable and fix the system.

"As the Y-12 investigations proceed, I expect to see similarly strong action with regards to the July 28 incident and the leadership, management, and oversight failures that enabled it to occur.

"I have had deep reservations regarding NNSA's nuclear weapons security posture going back many years. Some of my first direct encounters with nuclear weapons security in the early-2000s--a visit to Y-12's old nuclear facilities and a ride-along with NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation--left me deeply concerned that we were not paying sufficient attention to the security of our nuclear weapons.

"And let's remember: it was because of massive security problems and mismanagement at DOE that led this committee to create NNSA in 1999. This Y-12 incident is just one more indicator that creation of NNSA hasn't fixed the problems--12 years later and the entire nuclear weapons enterprise, from the budget process to facilities construction and now basic security, is fundamentally broken.

"Ranking Member Sanchez and I spoke earlier, and we agreed that the system is broken. The Ranking Member and I have pledged to conduct a subcommittee investigation and ensure we get to the root causes of these failures.

"We both want strong and effective federal oversight of the nuclear enterprise, and we both want the responsible federal and contractor officials to be held accountable. This must never happen again. We must make it clear that these failures cannot be repeated and those responsible are held accountable. Ms. Sanchez and I will demand it.

"Perhaps most troubling to me is that we have heard that there were many indicators of problems with Y-12's security prior to July 28. These include:

* Sky-high false- and nuisance-alarm rates;
* Cameras that were broken for six months; and
* Huge maintenance back-logs of security critical equipment.

"Some of those indicators go back several years, and many of them were reported to NNSA's Y-12 site office on a daily or weekly basis. But no one reacted. No one at the contractors, NNSA, or DOE followed up on these indicators and forced corrective action. I am simply shocked by the failure to recognize a near meltdown of critical security lapses that were known well before this incident occurred.

"It appears that the federal overseers were focused on the wrong things. There was plenty of paperwork but no recognition of--or action on--these problems. This is mind-boggling, and may be the new textbook definition of "missing the forest for the trees."

"Here are some basic questions:
* Who knew that these cameras were out for so long?
* Who knew that the false alarm rates were so high?
* Who knew about the huge backlog of security maintenance and the overreliance on compensatory measures?
* Who should have known these things?
* Did they do anything to get it fixed?
* Have they been fired?

"As far as I can tell, the only individual that has been fired is the Y-12 protective force officer who initially--if belatedly and incompetently--responded to the alarms. And he may get rehired thanks to his union's protest.
Others at both contractors and NNSA have been "reassigned" or allowed to retire. This does not fit my definition of accountability, and certainly does not follow the example set four years ago by Secretary Gates.
Some more complex but equally important problems involve the bifurcation of responsibility and accountability for security at Y-12. Shortly after the July 28 incident, NNSA decided the dual prime contracts at Y-12--one for the protective force and one for the broader management of Y-12--resulted in less effective security. Two contractors were responsible for security, and they didn't communicate or coordinate like they needed to. NNSA fixed this problem immediately after the incident by making one a subcontract to the other.

"However, this bifurcation of responsibility and accountability for security also exists on the federal side: both DOE and NNSA have security offices responsible for setting security policies, conducting oversight, and ensuring effective security is in place. So far, we have yet to see NNSA or DOE recognize this problem in their own house--even though they immediately recognized it in their contractors.

"Instead, I'm seeing a lot of bureaucratic finger-pointing between NNSA, DOE, and the two contractors at Y-12. This bureaucratic backstabbing is also now playing out in the Washington Post, with details of supposedly classified reports leaked to the press. That leaking alone is deeply troubling and I expect our witnesses will tell us what they are doing to track that down and put an end to it. All of this is just another indication that the system itself is broken.

"There is something deeply and fundamentally wrong with the culture in the Forrestal building. If this type of bureaucratic warfare had erupted at DOD after the Minot and Taiwan incidents, Secretary Gates would have had those involved terminated immediately.

"Continuing with the status quo--doing more of the same--isn't going to resolve the root causes of NNSA and DOE's long history of security failures. Dozens of reports and other indicators show the system itself is broken, in addition to leadership, management, and personnel failures.

"As one example, an independent study of NNSA security conducted by Admiral Rich Mies back in 2005 found that many of the problems their study identified, "are not new; many continue to exist because of a lack of clear accountability, excessive bureaucracy, organizational stovepipes, lack of collaboration, and unwieldy, cumbersome processes."

"As the sole authorizing committee with jurisdiction for the nation's nuclear security activities, we take this incident very seriously. We must understand the details of what actually happened during this incident and the failures that allowed it to happen. We must also understand what corrective actions are being taken, who is being held accountable, and the ongoing investigations. And, as I mentioned, the Ranking Member and I are in lock-step about this. There are no politics here.

"To enable this in-depth discussion, we must get beyond the press accounts and discuss sensitive details. Therefore, with agreement of the Ranking Member, after opening statements from the witnesses we are going to immediately transition into a classified session. We want a full and vigorous discussion--and this can only take place in a closed session. The subcommittee will continue to conduct rigorous oversight of this matter in the months ahead, and we anticipate further subcommittee oversight activities in the future.

"Today, we have two of the senior officials responsible for ensuring nuclear security at DOE facilities. They are:

The Honorable Daniel B. Poneman
Deputy Secretary of Energy
U.S. Department of Energy

The Honorable Neile L. Miller
Principal Deputy Administrator
National Nuclear Security Administration

"Thank you to our witnesses for appearing today--we look forward to your testimony and the detailed discussion during the subsequent briefing. I know we all want to make sure this doesn't happen again--because next time it may not be an 82-year old nun.

"I'd like to note that during a recent office visit with Deputy Secretary Poneman, he agreed that DOE, NNSA, and its contractors would fully cooperate with the subcommittee's investigation. I thank him for that commitment and look forward to our continuing discussion.


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