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Y-12 Security: Time to Give Federalized Guard Force a Shot?

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The protective force at the Y-12 nuclear site continues to struggle with the most basic safety and security operations. On July 28, two security officers were injured in the accidental discharge of a firearm.

Local Y-12 journalist, Frank Munger, reported that the incident happened just after midnight, “when a security police officer was ‘repositioning’ his weapon inside a hardened patrol vehicle, which he shared with another security officer.” A single round was discharged, hitting the wall of the patrol vehicle, fragmenting it and injuring the two officers. They were transferred to Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, though reportedly their injuries were minor. This accident raises questions about the safety policies and training at the site. Was a round chambered, and what is the policy on this? Was the safety on, and what is the policy?  Will safety training be adjusted to prevent these kinds of accidents in the future?

Steven Wyatt, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, confirmed that the incident is under investigation and a site-wide “safety configuration check” was performed at the Y-12 site.

This incident occurred on the one-year anniversary of the worst nuclear security breach in recent history. On July 28, 2012, an 82-year-old nun and two other nuclear protestors broke into Y-12 and made it all the way to the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility before they were discovered by the protective force, a full 20 minutes later.

Despite countless efforts to review and improve security at Y-12 since then, including multiple independent assessments, congressional hearings, security tests, and the firing of security contractor, WSI Oak Ridge, the protective force is still struggling to prevent unwanted visits. While this may in part be due to WSI Oak Ridge’s history of cheating on security tests, security remains far from impregnable even with a new protective force in place. Just a month and a half ago, a confused woman looking for affordable housing drove right into the Y-12 complex with morning commuters without being required to show any kind of badge or credentials. She drove the length of the complex, directly past buildings containing uranium operations, before being stopped at the West gate.

These are the kinds of incidents that must not be allowed to happen at a facility that houses most of our country’s highly enriched uranium. The protective force officers are required to be able to defend against very real and serious threats to national security, but these repeated mistakes do nothing to inspire confidence in their ability to do so. How many more chances are we expected to give them before going to a federalized guard force?

Image from 1914 film "In the Clutches of the Gang."

By: Lydia Dennett
Investigator, POGO

lydia dennett Lydia Dennett is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Lydia handles whistleblower intake and works on nuclear safety and security at the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Y-12 /Oak Ridge National Lab

Authors: Lydia Dennett

Submitted by nick at: May 9, 2014
The advantage to federalization is a clear line of authority. These protective forces are taught that they have arrest authority while not even being entrusted to carry thier credentials with them, much less a weapon off site. Then they're told they may have to respond from home with no means of self protection until arming on site. The true authority is obviously zero as well as these contractors trust for their employees. After a while these personnel see it as a low grade guard job with a lot of eye dressing. Most of these officers are prior military and police, they know when there is no real authority. They stop wondering why they havent been federalized and assume it's insulation and plausible deniability to any future mishaps. Then there is the psychological effect of being a non law enforcement force with questionable authority and told to defend SNM with deadly force. Really? Obviously the powers that be are checking the box. These officers are recognized for thier lack of authority as non-law enforcement officers, and they're not recognized as soldiers defending their country. They're not sworn LEOs. They fall under the category of SECURITY in which the contractor delegates minimal authority. They're not deputized under any one of several available competent authorities for fear they might attempt to arrest someone and embarrass DOE. How long does anyone think under those circumstances a person remains proud and ready before he accepts his check for services and gets on board with being complacent in a world where it's never happened and, the conclusion is it never will?. Authority must be believed in by the person required to exercise it before an incident occurs, not after. That is why police officers behave like police and soldiers behave like soldiers. Becuase they believe that they are. A federal force is definately the way to go in my opinion, if for no other reason to let these security police officers realize what they do is important to national security and not just a nessesary exercise in appearances.
Submitted by Yankee at: November 26, 2013
I know of several accidental discharges that were never reported at Y-12. One involved a TRT member discharging a round from an M60 Peacekeeper vehicle into a bldg. One in a hardened Tower. One in a bathroom at the firing range. Nothing unusual for that place. They need military security.
Submitted by RamRod at: September 11, 2013
An M240B Machine gun does not keep a round "chambered". The belt is laid into the feed tray with the feed tray closed. The bolt must be brought to the rear to an "open-bolt" position where the safety can THEN be engaged. Once the safety is taken off the bolt can be allowed to slide forward upon the pulling of the trigger.
Submitted by KheSanh_vet at: August 16, 2013
Well there, @Nuke Hardened Leader: this is in Tennessee so your harping on a union is ridiculous as that is a 'right to work' State. That said, the article does not inform as to the current provider of 'security'. However, the past provider who was ash-canned in early 2013 was WSI who comes down to "Wackenhut" or, under a new iteration, "GS4 Secure Solutions (USA)". By the by, if one is so concerned with foreign terrorists why in the dickens would one retain a foreign concern to handle guarding such critical infrastructure??? Whoever organized this three ring circus rather than utilizing competent, trained individuals from the U.S. military should be taken out and tied to a stake. A Federal Security Farce is the last thing required. It would be just another fiefdom to wrangle over.
Submitted by Nuke Hardened Leader... at: August 14, 2013
They lack a combination of training, disciple and leadership...from the fire team to senior management (leadership) levels. It takes proven, competent nuclear security leadership unburdened by a union focused on minimum effort for maximum pay.
Submitted by Bear at: August 11, 2013
These fools are nothing but low intelligence Keystone Cops, the same quality as TSA low paid child molesters. It's obvious the gun was loaded and ready to fire or it could not have gone off accidentally. This facility needs better protection because you never know when an 82 year old nun is going to commit a terrorist act. Just look at how two nuns sat on a nuclear missile silo now that's a real threat. These sites are military so why are they being guarded by civilians that have no training? These military sites should be guarded by the military and they could be if we were not trying to occupy the world and waste so much money in the patriot act and NSA spying on the public. Wake up people and stop electing these corporate politicians and expecting different results.
Submitted by cyberman at: August 11, 2013
A review of at least three decades of DOE mismanagement of security does not necessarily draw one to the conclusion that a federalized guard force is a solution in itself. That is unless the DOE/NNSA is out of the picture and an independent federalized guard force does not report to or is any way managed or appraised by DOE. It is arguably a demonstrable conflict of interest for the Department of Energy at any level to have operational responsibility for such crucial functions as nuclear weapons, weapons R and D, and stockpile maintenance and also have responsibility for the security and assessments over the protection of those functions. This paradigm has been a failure for at least 30 years. Hopefully terrorists will continue to not exploit this vulnerability. Recent congressional reports indicate DOE is going to reassess their security programs yet again. Deputy Secretary Poneman who has been the Department's security spokesman when it came time to testify before congress on DOE's serious and abject security failures, has thus far refused to give his opinion to citizen outsiders about whether he believes the DOE should consider giving up its security responsibilities to a wholly independent structure - of which there are several alternatives. Over the years, Congress itself seems to accept the numerous mia culpas from DOE and refuses to even consider requiring study of significant organizational changes dictated by these decades of failure. Removing DOE's present security responsibilities for nuclear facilities, weapons and materials does not guarantee perfection. But the unsuccessful competition for prioritization security managers have faced when dealing with NNSA senior management, Assistant Secretaries, Assistant Administrators and Directors of DMA has a solution and it may not be to replay the same old DOE hand once again - a hand that has been shown to be repetitively dangerous to our national security and could be even more so.
Submitted by James at: August 10, 2013
Sounds like a perfect opportunity to put the thousands of veterans who were thrown out onto the street after giving their all to the call of the country then left to wolves in a crashed economy. They would do the job right and with pride. That which is a national security concern should be under government control. The private sector does not have such a good track record in certain areas. In fact, the track record of the private sector is not nearly as good in any area as many constantly profess.
Submitted by Hoosier84 at: August 10, 2013
Because federalizing security worked so well with TSA? Other than that, there is a Federal Protective Force (FPS) already, which is doing about as well as could be expected: "In all the years I’ve been hearing GAO reports, that’s about the broadest indictment of an agency of the federal government that I’ve heard and it’s not pleasant to hear it," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman http://voices.washingtonpost.com/federal-eye/2009/07/gao_releases_report_on_federal.html
Submitted by I'm no contractor but... at: August 9, 2013
I often respect the work done by POGO, but as dave alludes, don't just toss an oft-repeated and just as often dismissed adage out about going to a "federalized guard force." Do some research, ma'am. Let's talk about the performance federal protective forces, talk about fully-burdened costs, etc. How's TSA doing compared to the private solution that existed before Congress knee-jerked that solution? I don't know, but POGO probably has the resources to give us some data, not anecdotes about some human foul-ups by G4S/WSI at y12.
Submitted by Dfens at: August 9, 2013
Not only should the police force be federalized, the whole facility should go back to being staffed by federal employees. What incentive do federal contractors have to do a good job? The contractors try to hire the people that meet only the very lowest standard of qualification so they can pay them the least amount possible and make the most profit possible. Is this how we want our critical nuclear research facilities staffed? Hell no! Get the damn contractors out of there and put the federal employees back in place.
Submitted by Need to fit it now. at: August 8, 2013
Anonymous said... Yes! All DOE LAB site's need Federal Security Police Officer, like the Federal OST. No more committee hearing and meeting in Congress. Each Lab has it own policy and rules if federal the CFR 1047 will be the same under one umbrella under DOE at all site's 1. Do Protective Force Officers (PFO) represent law enforcement for The Department of Energy (DOE). Example: If their is an active shooter in a laboratory building on site, does DOE Protective Force Officers (PFO) with federal credential, badges, emergency response officials, Q Clearance and wearing federal uniforms with Special Response Team (SRT) training have the authority to stop the shooter or do they wait for local police to arrive? 2. If something goes wrong, like the accidental death of a hostage will DOE give their PFOs 100% support or will DOE separate themselves from the incident and not accept responsibility of their officers? 3. An additional area that concerns all, is the disregard for safety and protection of the remaining security police force at the Laboratory. After the reduction in our numbers due to the removal of nuclear material, we are currently being trained to perform active shooter response and interdiction as required by the Department of Energy. We as a work force have no assurances of legal protection should a life threatening situation present itself. We as a much reduced work force have not been offered any safety package that would support our needs should an officer acting for the Department of Energy and National Labs., become maimed, crippled or killed while in the performance of his/her duties. We have no guarantees that protect officers and his/her family financially if they are injured or killed on duty. DOE, NNSA and Congress need to fix this NOW!
Submitted by dave at: August 8, 2013
Lydia, Please don't assert with a straight face that federal employees in comparable jobs have a history of performing better than the private sector, all other things being equal (budgets,strategy,priority, etc). The issue is investment profile in the security mission and then its execution, not pedigree. And, when federal employees fail at performance, it is virtually impossible to remove them.

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