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Project on Government Oversight

POGO asks President Obama to instruct the DOE’s NNSA to reverse its decision to withdraw contractor performance data from public view

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December 14, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20500

Via Facsimile: (202) 456-2461

Dear Mr. President:

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government. We were very encouraged by your recently released Open Government Directive (OGD) requiring agencies in the executive branch to take new initiatives towards a more transparent and collaborative government. However, far from your instruction to expand the amount of information being made public, a recent change at the Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is a move in the opposite direction, towards more secrecy.

As reported in the December 14 edition of the Nuclear Weapons & Materials Monitor, NNSA Director of Acquisition and Supply Management David Boyd wrote a memo on October 19, 2009, to Site Office contracting officers informing them that the public will no longer have immediate access to Performance Evaluation Plans (PEPs) and Performance Evaluation Reports (PERs). This information is perhaps the single most important information available to hold NNSA accountable. These evaluations 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 the government uses the power of the purse to hold the contractors accountable for their performance. Keep in mind that at least 90 percent of DOE's work is performed by contractors. As the GAO, the DOE Inspector General, and independent review teams have all expressed concerns about how effective the Site Offices have been in conducting oversight of the contractors, it is key to continue to make the PEPs and PERs publicly available immediately, not after three years, as Mr. Boyd proposes in his memo.

During our dozen years of serving as a public watchdog of the nuclear weapons complex, POGO has used the PEP and PER as tools in pushing for stronger oversight. For example, in early 2009, POGO obtained an internal memo detailing how the Site Office had discovered that Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) had lost 13 computers in 2008, was missing 67 computers in 2009, and that the magnitude and risk to LANL was "unclear" as LANL had not followed lost property and cyber-security protocols for the missing computers. Despite these failures, POGO was able to ascertain from the FY08 PER that the NNSA Site Office awarded LANL the full amounts possible for security that year. The availability of the PER allowed POGO to alert Congress to the problem, and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX) and House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) instructed NNSA to correct cyber-security and monitoring problems at LANL.

NNSA's stated reason for withholding these documents—"source selection information"—from the public is weak given that the contractors who manage the laboratories are essentially monopolies and do not face real competition. The limited information that will be made available per Mr. Boyd's proposed changes (see attached) will in no way offer adequate information to determine either the reasonableness of award fees or whether the contractor demonstrates significant progress on addressing weaknesses identified by the Site Office, GAO, Inspector General, or public interest groups. 

In light of the evidence that the PEP and PER are valuable oversight tools, and that there is not a strong reason to justify their withholding, we ask that you instruct DOE to reverse the new policy proposed by NNSA, and support your Administration's commitment to transparency and collaboration with the public.

Thank you for your consideration of the matter. Please contact us with any questions or if you need any additional information at (202) 347-1122.

Sincerely,

Danielle Brian
Executive Director

Enclosure

cc:        Secretary of Energy Steven Chu
Senator Carl Levin
Senator John McCain
Representative Bart Stupak
Representative Joe Barton

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