Press Release

POGO Cites Failing Grade for Los Alamos Oversight and Accountability in Letter to DOE Secretary

Serious security breaches at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) continue to raise important cyber-security concerns. Danielle Brian , Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) released a letter today to Samuel Bodman, Secretary of the US Department of Energy which included a draft National Nuclear Security Administration Act (NNSA) evaluation report on the Los Alamos Site Office (LASO).

The evaluation report, “Headquarters Biennial Review of Site Nuclear Safety Performance Los Alamos Site Office,” found that the office only met expectations for four out of fourteen nuclear safety oversight and assessment processes. The report underscores the need for policy changes and found the office needed “continued improvement in most functional areas,” had “significant gaps in meeting NNSA requirements” in multiple areas, and that there were “significant weaknesses in the LASO capability to accomplish its mission.”

The Los Alamos National Laboratory and its partner, the University of California have been the subjects of POGO investigations for several years. The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is a multi-disciplinary national security laboratory with a core mission to ensure that the nation’s nuclear weapons remain safe, secure, and reliable and prevent the spread and use of weapons of mass destruction worldwide. Two recent incidents involved employees at LANL where classified documents were emailed from unsecured laptops and networks. In a third case, classified documents were found during a drug bust of the home of Jessica Quintana, an employee of a LANL contractor.

In the letter to Secretary Bodman, Ms. Brian said, “They will continue to happen because the punishments meted out usually amount to a slap on the wrist and provide no deterrence to future violations.” In the Quintana case, the University of California has refused to pay the $3 million fine the Department of Energy (DOE) had levied for the incident.

Two fundamental flaws allow these security breaches to continue. The first, the Department of Energy’s new policy implemented at Los Alamos allows the contractor to investigate itself where there is a security breach or safety violation. Clearly this policy needs to be reconsidered. The second flaw is Title 32 of the National Nuclear Security Administration which seriously limits the Office of Independent Oversight’s access to NNSA sites. The NNSA Act mandates that investigators for DOE must wait for an invitation from NNSA before being allowed to investigate. POGO strongly urges Secretary Bodman reinstate the policy of allowing immediate deployment of DOE's Independent Oversight official to investigate security incidents at nuclear weapons facilities.