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NNSA Micromanaging Erodes Science

Robert Heiny

Research Scientist of Learning and Education
Flight Instructor
WASHINGTON 15 February 2012 -- Scientists and engineers at the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) three national security laboratories appear committed to their work and core mission of maintaining the country's nuclear weapons stockpile. At the same time, according to a new National Research Council report, a "broken relationship" between NNSA and the labs threatens to erode the quality of the scientific research and engineering being conducted there.

The committee that wrote the report said that an intrusive degree of oversight stemming from past security and safety concerns at one of the labs has led to a "breakdown of trust." The committee added that the change in management and operations contractors at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore in 2006 and 2007 -- while stressful and adding some $100 million annually to each of those laboratories' overhead -- is not the root cause of this problem.

It said a perception exists among staff and managers that NNSA is micromanaging the labs, and the report cites a case where NNSA headquarters tried to overrule a laboratory's best scientific judgment about how to carry out a scientific task.

It said that an understanding is needed to rebalance the relationship and rebuild trust between NNSA and lab management.

The committee also recommended that NNSA reduce reporting and administrative burdens on the laboratories' leadership and free them to establish strategic science and engineering direction at the laboratories.