November 22, 2022

U1a Complex Enhancements Project

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Stockpile Stewardship Program has the responsibility to assess the effects of aging and manufacturing processes on proposed approaches to stockpile life-extension programs and other issues affecting the certification of the current and future stockpile.  In 2015, the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs determined that the only viable location for the Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments capability was the U1a Complex.  However, as the U1a Complex Enhancements Project design matured, additional requirements that should have been previously considered were included and caused the project to exceed its original cost range.

We initiated this audit to assess the project management of the U1a Complex Enhancements Project.  Our audit found that weaknesses in NNSA’s project management of the U1a Complex Enhancements Project led to significant unanticipated cost increases and schedule overruns.

Project management weaknesses occurred, in part, because of the Nevada National Security Site management and operating contractor’s lack of experienced staff initially assigned to the project, poor project performance, and Earned Value Management System certification issues.  Further, NNSA did not include a defined minimum performance standard or an acceptable level of performance to reward or penalize actions on significant contractor activities and requirements.  Finally, NNSA could improve its efforts to identify the root cause of cost increases when initial estimates are exceeded.

This report contains three recommendations and three suggested actions that, if fully implemented, should help improve project management performance.  Management concurred in principle with two of the recommendations and fully concurred with one, and its proposed actions are consistent with our recommendations.