Giving Tuesday

Your gift today will be doubled!

Policy Letter

POGO Letter to NNSA Chief, Defense Nuclear Security William Desmond advocating federalizing the nuclear weapons facilities security force

Mr. William Desmond

Chief, Defense Nuclear Security

National Nuclear Security Administration

Department of Energy

Washington, DC 20585

Via Email

Dear Mr. Desmond:

Thank you for inviting the Project On Government Oversight’s (POGO) thoughts on examining the option of federalizing the security forces at U.S. nuclear weapons facilities. We hope this inquiry will lead to improvements at the non-NNSA sites as well. Over the last six years POGO has had discussions about this important issue with former Secretary Abraham, former Deputy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow, former NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks , Health Safety & Security Director Glenn Podonsky, as well as others in the department. Since 1996 there have been a number of studies similar to your current review including ones by the GAO, former Deputy Secretary Charlie Curtis, Linton Brooks/Glenn Podonsky. A number of these studies recommended federalization–but nothing has happened. Now the Senate Armed Services Committee has also asked the GAO to again study this issue.

As you know, security officers are expected to secure the most sensitive and dangerous material in the United States–SNM, (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) nuclear warheads, test devices, and other nuclear assets that are potential terrorist targets. As you know, the security officers protecting DOE’s truck convoys, the Office of Secure Transportation, are federal agents and that has apparently worked well. It is shocking that some of our most sensitive nuclear weapons facilities are guarded by private security forces, and even more shocking that one of those companies is owned by a foreign corporation.

As far back as 2001, in POGO’s report, “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Security at Risk,” one of the recommended solutions was to consider either federalizing or even using military forces to secure Category I and II nuclear materials:

SOLUTION: Improve Effectiveness of Protective Forces. Until disparate sites are consolidated, DOE should increase the size of its protective force and improve weaponry, tactics, and command, control, and communication to defend against both theft and radiological sabotage. Federalizing protective forces or exploring use of the military are two options.

As time has passed, it has become even clearer that federalizing the guard forces at nuclear weapons facilities is necessary. In a May 10, 2007 letter I wrote to Secretary Bodman during the Pantex strike, I noted:

The occurrence of a strike and the resulting over-tasked guard force is not a new phenomenon for DOE, yet DOE has never implemented any of the possible remedies that have already been proposed. In 1997, the security officers at Rocky Flats went on strike in the hopes of gaining retirement benefits. Although that strike was resolved fairly quickly, DOE wanted to avoid future strikes and to be prepared in case they could not be avoided. As a result, in 1998, then-DOE Deputy Secretary Charlie Curtis developed a rational retirement system for the security officers. However, Defense Programs (the predecessor agency to NNSA) never implemented the system. Also in 1998, the Office of Safeguards and Security entered into discussions with a unit of the Marine Corps that is trained to protect nuclear weapons, to arrange for a back-up force in case the unionized guard forces ever went on strike again. As with the retirement system, there was no follow-through and the contingency plan was never implemented.

For the long term, DOE needs to address the disparity between the retirement system for security officers at sensitive nuclear weapons labs and production plants and that of federal law enforcement officers. Protecting nuclear assets is a young man’s game: It is only reasonable that the government provide some form of retirement system for those who have served for 20 years or more. Either federalize these security officers, or require that the contractor provide a reasonable retirement plan and have an effective contingency security plan in case the private force does strike.

POGO’s position is summed up by the Brooks/Podonsky October 22, 2004 memorandum “Review Options for the Protective Force: Phase II,” which concludes that: “In the final analysis, the fundamental argument for federalization is that being asked to die or to kill for one’s country should mean having the unmistakable full measure of government involvement and support. Protective force members deserve nothing less.”

I firmly believe that the role of these officers is clearly an inherently governmental function. Until federalization of the guard force can be accomplished, DOE should have a complex wide security force contract that provides for a retirement system similar to those enjoyed by Federal Law Enforcement officers. It is past time to finally take action on this important issue. Thank you again for inviting our comments.


Danielle Brian

Executive Director

Project On Government Oversight