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Guarding the Energy Department

April 20th 2013

Nuclear Bomb MK17

Last year, the Energy Department disclosed that guard forces at two key nuclear facilities had cheated on tests meant to assess their capability to respond to terrorist threats. One facility, located in Tennessee and known as Y-12, is the principal storage location for highly-enriched uranium used in nuclear warheads, and the other, located in Texas and known as Pantex, is the main storage site where the warheads themselves are assembled and taken apart.

Now it appears that the culture of fudging test results extends to the guard force protecting the department’s top officials in Washington. A new report by the department’s inspector general claims the small unit assigned to keep the Energy Secretary and his top deputies out of harms’ way scored well on tests of their response times and tactical skills partly because examiners gave them advance notice of exams and drilled them on the correct answers, and partly because they automatically got passing grades on sections they did not complete.

Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman called the 2011 and 2012 performance tests for the unit “compromised” and said that as a result the department does not know its capability for responding to emergencies.

His report calls the unit a “relatively small, core professional staff” with low morale that works with other security agents to protect top DOE officials when they are at headquarters or traveling. One section of the report indicates that the unit has slightly over a dozen members. The probe was evidently initiated after a series of internal complaints that it had been mismanaged.

A unnamed test evaluator in DOE’s troubled office of health, safety and security – which is responsible for overseeing guard forces at all nuclear weapons-related sites – falsely reported that the guards had passed sections of the tests they failed or did not take, the report said. “We could not determine the evaluator’s rationale” for supplying that misinformation, Friedman wrote. The evaluator said the agents “were not coached but were provided guidance.” As a result, they did not know evacuation plans, did not fully understand the security alarm system, and did not demonstrate knowledge of “cover and concealment” in DOE offices.

Glenn S. Padonsky, who directs the health and security office, said in an official response to the report that DOE is creating a new performance evaluation system that should be in place by June and that testing would occur twice yearly. “We acknowledge the issue with morale,”Padonsky said. “However, protection operations are not at risk.”

R. Jeffrey Smith writes for the Center for Public Integrity, from where this article is reprinted.


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