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Lesson Learned: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) – How Project Management Improves the Stockpiling and Management of Nuclear Material

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Andrew Vaz
November 20, 2017

The United States is one of the world’s leading nuclear powers. In fact, it is the only world power to use the atomic bomb in war. Since the aftermath of World War II, the U.S.  has been charged with the dismantling of nuclear warheads; especially since the U.S. has built more than 70,000 warheads since the Cold War. However, more than 128,000 nuclear warheads have been built since 1945. All but close to three percent were built by the United States alone. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and the other nuclear powers of the world have moved an increasing percentage of their warheads from operational status to various reserve, inactive or contingency categories, as arms control agreements traditionally have not required the destruction of warheads. The goal of these proliferation movements is to prevent the onslaught of nuclear destruction. Despite what many would view as improbable, nuclear war is still a possibility in our world. There has been progress made on the elimination of nuclear weapons:

  • Of the more than 70,000 warheads produced by the United States since 1945, more than 60,000 have been disassembled by mid-2006.
  • The Pentagon has custody of approximately 10,000 stockpiled warheads, of which about 5,735 are considered active or operational. The remaining are categorized as reserve or inactive.
  • Some 4,000 warheads will eventually be retired, returned to Department of Energy’s custody.

While efforts are being made to stop the use of nuclear material to harm citizens, there is an agency which advocates for the use of nuclear science to advance society’s interest without detonation. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is a national security agency which seeks to use nuclear energy through military application. From developing grids to power cities, to ensuring national security, the NNSA is an anti-proliferation organization. The NNSA is interested in maintaining the warhead stockpile with a project management system that allows the agency to maintain its self and its mission.

The NNSA project management system includes:

Recently, the NNSA completed the Radiological Laboratory/Utility/Office Building (RLUOB) project, which was the first facility to be constructed by the Chemistry & Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Program. The project was projected to deliver $8 million over budget and several months late. NNSA has delivered a $725 million project portfolio approximately $50 million—or seven percent—under budget. NNSA has been recognized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Congress for progress made in these areas, and as a result has been removed from GAO’s high-risk list for projects less than $750 million.

With this accomplishment, the NNSA was recently presented with the Secretary’s Award for Project Management Excellence for delivering the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement (CMRR) Radiological Laboratory/Utility/Office Building (RLUOB) Equipment Installation (REI) Project $2 million under budget and ahead of schedule.

NNSA’s commitment to change via effective project management strategies is a testament to how public administration works. The NNSA and the RLUOB/REI Project team demonstrated that final metrics of cost and schedule can be achieved when clear expectations of the project are set. For those who believe that this agency is working against the efforts of proliferation, we must remember that all of the major nations that have nuclear weapons have not fully renounced their weapons.

Going forward, I anticipate the NNSA to continue their efforts to secure nuclear energy to study and refine that into new innovations for the public. However, proliferation efforts will continue, and it will be a challenge for the agency. One thing is for certain, the NNSA will adapt along with their under-budget, one-time delivery of their projects. Project management will be the cornerstone of the agency; it’s why their ongoing stockpile modernization efforts will work against proliferation. Agencies should work towards developing projects that allow for on-time delivery and under-budgeting.

Up until now, not many knew of this agency and its successes. It’s great to discuss the achievements of public agencies, especially within the context of project management. I personally like to see a world free of nuclear weapons for myself and my children; however, I respect the efforts of the NNSA to advance technology through nuclear science.


Author: Andrew R Vaz, M.Sc., M.P.A. is a doctoral student in the public policy and administration program at Walden University. He is a graduate of the Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Master of Public Administration double master’s program at Florida International University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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