By DANA LIEBELSON
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has just released the Performance Evaluation Reports (PER) for its eight nuclear weapons sites. But that's only thanks to the activist group Nuclear Watch New Mexico, who filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a FY2009 PER for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and then sued the agency for the report's release after its request was denied. The NNSA went ahead and gave Nuke Watch the FY2011 PERs that the group had also asked for through FOIA. These kinds of oversight reports are invaluable to the public, and we shouldn’t have to endure years of litigation to get them.
Unfortunately, in October 2009, the NNSA decided to withhold the reports from public view until three years after completion of contract award periods. POGO strongly denounced the decision, noting that it directly contradicted President Obama’s Open Government Directive. POGO sent a letter to Obama urging him to instruct the NNSA to reverse the decision. In the letter, we underscored just how valuable these reports are:
[Performance Evaluation Plans and Performance Evaluation Reports] are perhaps the single most important unclassified information from NNSA, as [they] assess the performance of the contractors who manage the laboratories and production facilities that comprise the national weapons complex. Additionally, this information demonstrates how effectively (or not) the government uses the power of the purse to hold the contractors accountable for their performance.
We should note that these reports aren't the end all be all of government oversight—according to POGO Senior Investigator Peter Stockton and Institute for Policy Studies Senior Scholar Bob Alvarez, they are largely based on contractor self-reporting, and therefore aren't exactly the most hard-hitting evaluations under the sun.
Still, that only goes to show just how non-controversial it should be to release these reports. The NNSA should proactively make contractor performance data (i.e. Performance Evaluation Reports and documents called Performance Evaluation Plans, or PEPs) public without delay.
One of the reports that Nuke Watch pried loose covers the contractor’s management of LANL over the period of October 1, 2010, to September 30, 2011. The contractor is Los Alamos National Security LLC, a limited liability corporation created by four organizations: the University of California, Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, and URS Energy and Construction.
LANS LLC is behind the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), behemoth of overspending so disastrous that POGO devoted a full report to it earlier this year.
As the Albuquerque Journal’s John Fleck put it, the report found that “the lab’s management failed to ‘effectively manage CMRR NF/SFE progress in support of NNSA strategic objectives.’”
That’s all the report has to say on CMRR-NF—even though it’s been overrun with massive problems and cost hikes. If the NNSA won’t even proactively make this report public without a FOIA request, what else should taxpayers be worried about?
Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch NM, said in a press release:
We are of course pleased these reports have been released, but they never should been withheld to begin with. We are still reviewing them, and have some initial concerns that they may not be full and complete. If that’s the case, we will continue to fight for the full information that American taxpayers are entitled to. We need far greater contractor accountability for the millions of taxpayers’ dollars that corporations receive in profits from nuclear weapons research and production.
NNSA’s FY 2001 Performance Evaluation Reports are available at http://www.nukewatch.org/
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow