Statement of Dr. Victor H. Reis
Thank you Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to speak to you on the possible reorganization of the Department of Energy’s national security programs. These are my personal views and not those of the Department. While much of the discussion of such a reorganization has revolved around security and counterintelligence at the nuclear weapons laboratories, my testimony today is focused on how the structure of national security within DOE can be reformed, not only for security, but to better accomplish the primary mission of the nuclear weapons laboratories - Stockpile Stewardship. I believe such a reorganization is essential if we are to fulfil our responsibility to maintain our nuclear deterrent; what President Clinton has called "the supreme national interest."
I support the concept of a semi-autonomous agency within the DOE as proposed by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) report, as proposed in the Kyl, Domenici, Murkowski amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Bill, and as proposed in the Thornberry amendment to the House National Defense Authorization Bill.
During my confirmation hearings to be Assistant Secretary of Energy for Defense Programs on July 30, 1993 Senator Warner stated:
Senator Warner then asked me to commit that if for any reason I felt that the nation must return to nuclear explosive testing, I would inform the President and the Congress without hesitation. I committed to do so, and I believe I have fulfilled that pledge faithfully. It is in the spirit of that pledge that I testify to you today.
The thrust of my testimony today is not "what did Notra tell Betsy, and when did he tell her," or even specific details of how to manage security at the DOE. I will testify on what I believe the debate should be about: how will our nation maintain our strategic posture, nuclear deterrence, arms control; the underpinning of much of our national security efforts for the twenty first century.
It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of this effort. Indeed, one good thing to come out of the Chinese espionage affair is that there are few people, regardless of political party who do not recognize the importance of our nuclear weapons and the institutions that must maintain them. How these institutions are to operate is the underlying issue that the Administration and Congress must come to grips with.
To frame this debate on the best path for the future, I’ll summarize the history of Stockpile Stewardship.
On July 4, 1993, President Clinton extended the moratorium on nuclear explosive testing as the Administration sought a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He subsequently directed the Department of Energy to begin a Stockpile Stewardship program to ensure the reliability, safety and security of the nuclear weapons stockpile, indefinitely, but to be able to return to testing and production if so required.
This was, and is, an extraordinary challenge, especially considering the state of the weapons complex at that time. Rocky Flats, the only facility capable of producing plutonium pits was permanently closed. Oak Ridge Y-12, the nation’s uranium factory, was soon to shut down for safety concerns, and there was no source of tritium and no money in the budget to develop a new source. And to top it off, the weapons laboratories were being strongly encouraged by the DOE to turn their attention to non-defense missions and they were doing so.
Frankly, it was not a pretty picture and few gave the program much chance for success. On August 6, 1993, I was confirmed to my current position by the U.S. Senate, and on August 9, I was sworn in. Since that time I have served under four Secretaries (one acting), four Deputy Secretaries and three Under Secretaries, but my job has remained constant: Stockpile Stewardship.
Stockpile Stewardship consists of two interlocking parts, restoring and modernizing the production capability of the complex, and being able to perpetually certify the reliability, safety and security of the nuclear weapons in the stockpile. Together they represent what is now probably the largest scientific - technical program in the world, and is generally recognized as among the finest. President Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in September 1996, though it has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Senate. For three years running we have been able to certify to the President and the Congress that the stockpile is safe and reliable. We have been able to modify and deploy a version of the B61 bomb to replace the very old, and very large B53. We have started deliveries of a refurbished W-87 to the Air Force; Y-12 is up and running. We have re-established neutron generator manufacturing at Sandia, tritium gas bottles at Kansas City, and are on schedule to produce tritium with the TVA and Savannah River, and plutonium pits at Los Alamos. Savannah River is operating the new tritium refill facility, and since 1990 we have safely dismantled over 10,000 weapons at the Pantex Plant.
But restoring the systems production capability and certifying the current stockpile is just part of the stewardship effort. The really hard part comes in maintaining the ability to refurbish and certify in the future, when the designers, engineers and technicians who were involved in the original designs, production processes, and most important, the underground nuclear tests are no longer available. Our approach to this continuing problem is to understand how nuclear weapons work in exquisite detail; understand how aging affects their performance, how and when to refurbish, and how well the refurbished weapon will perform. Without testing, the only way to do this is with simulation, and the simulation must be validated with data from new experiments and archived nuclear tests. This requires a whole new set of tools and the Stockpile Stewardship program is building them, from the world’s most powerful supercomputers to a new group of advanced experimental facilities such as the National Ignition Facility and the subcritical experiments at the Nevada Test Site.
Looking to the future, we must train a whole new set of designers, engineers and production folks. This ability to attract and train the next generation of stockpile stewards who must have the competence, integrity and judgement to maintain and certify the stockpile was pointed out by the Congressionally mandated Chiles Commission as the major long term vulnerability of the Stockpile Stewardship program. I agree wholeheartedly with their assessment. Indeed, as we think about reorganizing the DOE, I believe we must keep this specific long term people vulnerability foremost in our minds. This is the primary reason, not just improved security, why I believe that the semi-autonomous agency within the DOE provides the nation the best method of accomplishing this truly awesome task.
The advantages of a semi-autonomous agency within DOE have been discussed in the various Congressional debates, so I won’t repeat them, but let me summarize what I wrote to Secretary Richardson on May 10.
The root cause of the difficulties at DOE is simply that DOE has too many disparate missions to be managed effectively as a coherent organization. The price of gasoline, refrigerator standards, Quarks, nuclear cleanup and nuclear weapons just don’t come together naturally. Secretary after Secretary has tried to pull the Energy Department together into a coherent organization, inevitably using a variety of "cross cutting" organizations: environment, safety, health, field management, security, information management, policy, quality, etc. and then since this is too much for any Secretary to handle, he/she adds his/her own set of advisors, and an elaborate staff structure to handle the whole kit and caboodle, to say nothing of a Deputy and Under Secretary and their respective staffs and advisors. And on top of this is sits a multilayered, geographically diverse field structure, which at each level mirrors the headquarters organization!
Because of all this multilayered cross cutting, there is no one accountable for the operation of any part of the organization but the Secretary, and no Secretary has the time to lead the whole thing effectively. By setting up a semi-autonomous agency, many of these problems go away. If the agency screws up, the agency director is directly accountable and if heads must roll, his/hers is the head. An important benefit is the semi-autonomous agency could clearly recruit top talent, since leading such an agency would be among the best technical management jobs in the nation. DARPA, NOAA and the NSA are successful organizations that fit this mold.
The PFIAB report, and other witnesses have raised the issue of a lax security culture at the laboratories; the adjective arrogant is frequently mentioned. I won’t deny that brilliant scientists can be egotistical and arrogant - it sometimes comes with the brilliance, and we need every bit of that brilliance if we are to succeed in Stockpile Stewardship and maintain our nuclear deterrent. Scientific inquiry by its very nature is curious, probing, and sharing, in many ways antithetical to the secrecy imbedded at the heart of many national security programs. This inherent tension between secrecy and open science is real and must be managed as part of an integrated enterprise. The practice of good security, like the practice of good safety must be built into the way people work. They must understand the "why" of security and they must believe that it is an essential part of their job. This is best done by imbedding the security apparatus within the organization that has the responsibility of getting the job done. Security, like safety, then becomes part of the team that is focused on the mission, not entrusted to an external group that is looking to play "gotcha." Indeed, if we look at what is now, and what will continue to be the most severe threat to security - cybersecurity - it will require all the brilliance and creativeness of our best and brightest if we are to meet this particular challenge.
So, Mr. Chairman it all comes down to this. The mission of the nuclear weapons complex is national security at its most profound and long lasting. The task of maintaining the nuclear weapons stockpile indefinitely, without underground nuclear explosive testing, Stockpile Stewardship, is extraordinarily difficult and inherently risky. We have placed the responsibility for fulfilling this task on a small number of very special people. We must trust them to do the job well, and we must give them the tools to do the job. Those tools include not only the best computers and scientific apparatus, but the best management system. It has been my experience, and the experience of many others that organizations perform best when there is a clear, compelling mission, where resources fit expectations and where responsibility and authority are aligned. A semi-autonomous agency within the DOE will provide that alignment and focus. On the other hand, removing security operations out of the line, blurring lines of authority and responsibility, will not. That is the dominant lesson of the Chinese espionage affair, and the message from the myriad of reports on DOE management throughout the years.
Let me conclude on a personal note. I have been in the national security business for almost forty years and during that time I have been truly privileged to have participated in many of the Nation’s most important programs. None, however, have been as important, or as challenging as helping to develop the Stockpile Stewardship program over the past six years. The people on the Defense Programs team - all 25,000 of them - serve their country with exemplary skill and dedication. We owe them much. Lastly I would like to express my gratitude and admiration to the many members of the Senate and House of Representatives who have been full and active partners in creating this remarkable enterprise. This committee, its members and its staff, has been particularly helpful.
I thank you, I shall miss working with you, and I am prepared to answer any of your questions
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