December 16, 2014

Follow-up on the Los Alamos National Laboratory Hydrodynamic Test Program

A primary mission of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is to ensure the safety, reliability, and performance of the Nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.  NNSA relies on computer models and simulations to achieve this mission.  Data from nonnuclear hydrodynamic tests (hydrotests) is used to validate and refine these computer models for the annual assessment of the stockpile.  Hydrotest data also supports the development of new materials, components, and safety features, evaluations of replacement parts, and materials for vital Life Extension Programs.  Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) performs hydrotests for weapons in the stockpile.  In September 2005, the Office of Inspector General reported that LANL did not complete hydrotests as scheduled because LANL had not fully implemented key project management tools or adopted programmatic changes that could increase its efficiency in conducting such tests.

Our current audit showed that LANL continued to experience delays in executing hydrotests.  According to NNSA's National Plans, LANL scheduled a total of 19 tests during FYs 2010 through 2013.  Of the scheduled tests, 12 (63 percent) experienced delays ranging from 1 to 3 years.  Five of the tests had not been performed as of the end of FY 2013.  Of the five tests, three were delayed 1 year and ultimately were executed in FY 2014.  The remaining two tests will be delayed an additional year and are now scheduled for FY 2015.  Additionally, the testing delays created a backlog in LANL's test schedules for subsequent years.  LANL officials told us that the delays were due to numerous factors, such as complexity of tests, the importance of technical performance, changing program priorities, and budget constraints.  While we recognize these issues, we identified various inefficiencies and project management weaknesses related to delayed hydrotest completion.

Topic: Management & Administration