Federal lawmakers grilled a group of federal managers in Washington D.C. on Wednesday over the July 28 break-in at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.
The purpose of this morning's hearing was to take a close look at what's needed to maintain the highest levels of performance, safety, and security at the nation's seven nuclear sites. But it's clear that lawmakers are using the security breach at Y-12 as an example of a "best-case" scenario that resulted from catastrophic failings among the highest levels of management.
"That was the perception is it had to be Fort Knox type of security," said House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL).
"This is, in my nearly 40 years in the Department of Energy, Y-12 was the Fort Knox of the department," replied Department of Energy Inspector General Gregory Friedman.
Friedman was one of five witnesses who provide oversight to the nation's nuclear sites that was invited to speak before the sub-committee.
Other witnesses included: Daniel Poneman, Deputy Secretary, Department of Energy; Thomas D'Agostino, Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration; Glenn Podonsky, Chief Health, Safety and Security Officer, Department of Energy; and Mark Gaffigan, Managing Director, Natural Resources and Environment Team, Government Accountability Office.
Y-12's status as the "Fort Knox of the department" turned in to the topic of debate at the hearing because three protestors broke in to the Oak Ridge nuclear facility six weeks ago. All of them face federal charges and could serve prison time. "We recognize that it is difficult to strike precisely the right balance between the contractors desire to operate without undue oversight and the government's need to ensure the tax payer's interests," said Friedman.
The DOE created the NNSA in 1999 as a semi-autonomous office after a series of security breaches across the complex. Since then much debate has occurred over the amount of federal oversight the DOE exercises over the NNSA and how involved the NNSA is with its monitoring its contractors, like B&W. The breach at Y-12 is the latest incident to raise a red flag among lawmakers.
In May 2012, the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act. That bill allows the NNSA to operate with "nominal DOE oversight," a view shared by nuclear weapons laboratories. Several members of the sub-committee questioned the provisions laid out in the Act.
An Inspector General's report revealed in August that the trespassers cut through four fences at Y-12. Much of Wednesday's discussion centered on the boundary of those fences, sensors that are supposed to go off if they are penetrated, and security cameras that provide surveillance. That report confirmed that some of the cameras had been not working for six months or more. The NNSA confirmed that the cameras were repaired the day after the break-in.
Leadership has also changed at B&W since the security breach. On Monday, the company announced that Joe Henry has been named as Chief Operating Officer, a new management position. Darrell Kohlhorst retired as president shortly after the July incident; Chuck Spencer was named as his replacement. Bill Klem was reassigned away from his General Manager position to another role in the company but outside of Y-12. That position has not yet been filled. Security Head Butch Clemen also retired; General Rod Johnson was named as his replacement.
During the hearing, D'Agostino and Poneman said that some of the broken cameras were repaired by flipping a switch. Others required more detailed, yet minor, repairs that took little time to fix. Both men, along with Podonsky and Friedman, admitted that managers at the federal level are equally as responsible for the security lapses at Y-12 as the site's contractor, B&W, and the site's security contractor, WSI.
"I believe it can be fixed. It's inexcusable. It's appalling. The language the committee has used here, I would agree with," D'Agostino told the committee.
Tennessee Congresswoman, Marsha Blackburn (R), did not hold back her anger about the break-in. She said it was beyond a security breach, and that the lack of oversight "breached the public trust."
"You are charged with keeping the facility safe. You are charged with keeping employees of that facility safe. And, it is, the ineptness and the negligence is mid boggling," said Blackburn.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) questioned why B&W's contract is still intact given the gravity of the breach. She noted that B&W is now owned by the same company that recently apologized before the British Parliament for not providing enough security guards at the 2012 London Olympics. A B&W spokesperson confirmed to 10News that WSI was purchased by G4S earlier this year.
The mood among the sub-committee was primarily one of disgust that such a security breach could happen. However, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) praised Sister Megan Rice, 82, a Catholic nun who was one of the protestors. Rice was in the audience at Wednesday's hearing.
"It's important that we have nuns on the bus, not under the bus, which a lot of people would like for you, sister. They think you should be punished, not praised, but what you've done is show lackness about security at the nuclear weapons facilities," Markey said.
Although NNSA officials said security has improved since the break-in, the majority of the committee said that's not enough and they want to see change at the highest levels of management..
Wednesday's hearing comes two days after the NNSA deadline for Y-12 contractor, B&W, to submit their response to a "show cause" notice. The committee noted that this is considered a first step in terminating B&W's contract. The NNSA confirms B&W did submit its response on Monday and it is now under review. They will make a decision sometime soon about B & W's future as a government contractor. It's current contract expires September 30, 2012; it has not yet been renewed.
In a statement to 10News, B&W Spencer said, "The July 28 event brought to light gaps in our maintenance and security operations, and we are using it as a catalyst for a comprehensive and objective examination of all our operations. As a result, a series of extent-of-condition reviews are ongoing throughout Y-12. Specific to our show cause response, we believe we have demonstrated a compelling case for NNSA to continue our contract."