February 25, 2016

Issues Management at the Los Alamos National Laboratory

Department of Energy (Department) orders and guidance reflect its commitment to operating its nuclear facilities and conducting work activities in a manner that ensures environment, safety, and health concerns are considered and addressed in the performance of its mission.  As such, the Department has policies requiring its management and operating contractors to establish issues management programs.  As noted in Department Order 226.1B, Implementation of Department of Energy Oversight Policy, an effective issues management program is critical to continuous improvement in the safe and efficient operation of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s programs and facilities for which the contractor is responsible.  As such, we initiated an audit to determine whether the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Los Alamos Field Office had effective issues management programs.  This report covers the results of our review of the LANL program.  In December 2015, we issued a separate report on Issues Management at the Los Alamos Field Office (OAI-M-16-02).

Our review disclosed significant weaknesses in LANL’s implementation of an effective issues management program.  In our view, these problems adversely affected the usefulness of the corrective action program and the differing professional opinions (DPO) process.  We noted that the employee concerns program was generally effective; however, due to the complexity of some concerns, LANL did not always meet its internal goal for resolving concerns within 90 days.

Overall, we found LANL’s corrective action program did not always adequately address issues, did not effectively prevent their recurrence, and did not consistently identify systemic problems.  Department Order 226.1B requires contractors to establish a formal issues management program that captures program and performance deficiencies, categorizes the significance of findings based on risk, and maintains documentation of corrective actions taken.

The deficiencies in the corrective action program and the DPO process occurred because LANL had not fully implemented Department requirements.  Specifically, with regard to corrective action management, LANL’s guidance for its Performance Feedback and Improvement System did not fully address requirements, such as effectiveness reviews for high-significance issues, to ensure that the actions implemented prevent recurrence.  In addition, a lack of causal analysis may have contributed to the high rate of ineffective issue resolution that we identified.

Topic: Management & Administration