November 29, 2007 | Mark Paradies

GAO Hits National Labs Over Weak Management of Safety

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The Department of Energy’s Nuclear Weapons Labs do important and sometimes dangerous research on many topics including nuclear weapons. A report released yesterday by the General Accounting Office claims that weak safety management and weak oversight has kept safety at the labs from improving.

Read the report at:

http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0873.pdf

Having experienced a GAO audit, I know the feeling the day after a GAO report is released. The GAO tends to take your external and internal investigations and reports, take the most sensational findings and recommendations, and then use the critiques to make the picture look as bleak as possible. Sometimes the bleak outlook is justified. Seldom does the report mention any positive initiatives and improvements. The reports, requested by congressmen looking for controversy, tend to look at past history (rather than future performance). Managers – even if they are new to the job – must live with the whirlwind of criticism that follows the reports release. Often, the “culture change” programs that follow are similar to nuclear weapons … they destroy everything in their path. Often the massive improvement efforts throw out the baby with the bath water. Since these types of massive improvement programs have been tried since the mid-80s with only limited success, my guess is that the root causes of the problems either aren’t being fixed or … the problems get “unfixed” after a number of years. Certainly these types of problems would be more organizational (which INCLUDES congressional funding issues) rather than just managerial.

Management at Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia National Labs and their oversight (the National Nuclear Security Administration) are, no doubt, scrambling to respond to the GAO critique and develop appropriate improvement initiatives. After living through such difficult times, my comment is … Good Luck!

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