WASHINGTON — Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz on Thursday told a Senate panel he would focus on maintaining “security and safety” at the embattled National Nuclear Security Administration if confirmed as its director.
President Obama in August nominated Klotz, the previous head of the Air Force Global Strike Command, to lead the Energy Department agency that oversees U.S. atomic weapons and nuclear-nonproliferation efforts. In recent years, NNSA has experienced problems with its oversight of the contractors it employs to manage and protect key U.S. nuclear weapon facilities, as well as with cost overruns and delays for construction projects aimed at replacing aging facilities that deal with fissile materials.
Klotz told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing that “security and safety are going to be my top priorities if confirmed.”
Committee member Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) had asked Klotz whether he had any concerns about NNSA reliance on contractors, given the recent Washington Navy Yard shooting allegedly by a contractor Aaron Alexis and the massive intelligence leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The former lieutenant general said, “We need to take a very close look, given the events of the past few months, whether it’s a failure in terms of security of individuals or failures in terms of … securing facilities.”
A 2012 break-in by a trio of elderly peace activists at a bomb-grade uranium storage area of the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee brought congressional scrutiny of the quality of NNSA contractors. The site at the time was managed by private operator B&W Y-12.
At the same time, there are concerns there is too much government oversight of the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities. A September National Academies of Science report concluded that NNSA oversight of contractors was contributing to the escalating cost of the atomic experiments that are a core function of the enterprise’s national laboratories.
Klotz on Thursday told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he would use the lessons he learned leading the Air Force’s Global Strike Command to improve the performance of the semiautonomous Energy Department agency.
In his written responses to advance-policy questions from the Senate committee, Klotz said he would work to reform the NNSA by clarifying lines of authority and accountability throughout the agency’s bureaucracy. He also promised to “identify steps to streamline business processes and eliminate needlessly burdensome, non-value added activities.”
“I will likewise focus with intensity on adopting measures to dramatically improve NNSA’s capabilities for cost estimation, program management, and oversight of capital construction projects,” he wrote.
Klotz led Global Strike Command from 2009 to 2011. It was created in response to numerous lapses in the Air Force’s management of its nuclear weapons mission such as the 2007 accidental flight of four nuclear-armed cruise missiles across several U.S. States. Under Klotz, responsibility over the Air Force’s ICBMs and nuclear bombers was merged into a single chain-of-command.
“When we established the command in 2009, our task was to establish clear lines of authority, responsibility and accountability,” said Klotz.
“We also placed strong emphasis on strengthening the safety and security culture, while at the same time, streamlining processes and eliminating needlessly burdensome, non-value-added activities that stood in the way of our people and their incentive to innovate,” Klotz said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) emphasized his concerns with NNSA in his prepared opening statement for Thursday’s hearing.
“Congress has serious concerns about [NNSA] management, especially with respect to cost growth, schedule slippage, security and planning,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
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