Jim McConnell is the Associate Administrator for Safety, Infrastructure and Operations.

Robert Raines, NNSA Associate Administrator for Acquisition and Project Management

Bob Raines serves as the Associate Administrator for Acquisition and Project Management.

As outlined in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) , the United States is facing an international security situation that is more complex and demanding than any since the end of the Cold War. To address this threatening scenario, adequate resources and capabilities are needed, including a robust and capable Nuclear Security Enterprise (NSE).

The U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent the NSE is responsible for consists of nuclear weapons, nuclear delivery systems, and the capability to sustain and modernize those systems. “An effective, responsive, and resilient nuclear weapons infrastructure is essential to the U.S. capacity to adapt flexibly to shifting requirements,” as noted in the NPR. But in recent past, the necessary resources to maintain the NSE’s infrastructure have not kept pace with its mission requirements and as the NPR declares, “There is now no margin for further delay in recapitalizing the physical infrastructure needed…for U.S. nuclear weapons.”

The Enterprise’s 50,000 strong workforce requires modern infrastructure that is safe, reliable, and resilient to meet the Nation’s immediate and long-term national security needs – and it is rising to the challenge. This three-part Infrastructure Interview Series takes an in-depth look at the state of the NSE’s infrastructure through the lens of NNSA senior leaders Jim McConnell and Bob Raines. Responsible for overall NNSA safety activities, operations, infrastructure, capital planning, packaging and transportation, nuclear materials integration, and sustainment and environmental programs for the NSE, McConnell is the Associate Administrator for Safety, Infrastructure, and Operations (NA-50). Raines is Associate Administrator for Acquisition and Project Management (NA-APM). He oversees the acquisition of all products and services for NNSA, whose total is upward of $15 billion per year, and delivers all capital line item projects, typically budgeted at $30 million and above.

Question: Why must the United States invest in modernizing the NNSA Enterprise’s infrastructure?

Investments to restore and modernize NNSA’s infrastructure will allow the agency to deliver on its promise of a safe and reliable nuclear weapons stockpile.

Jim McConnell
NNSA Associate Administrator for Safety, Infrastructure and Operations.

McConnell: NNSA’s infrastructure is extensive, complex, and, in many critical areas, more than half a century old. NNSA manages approximately 36 million square feet of active facility space – an area more than six times the size of the Pentagon – and owns roughly 2,100 square miles of land area, which is nearly the size of Delaware.

More than half – 60 percent, of NNSA facilities are beyond their 40-year life expectancy and nearly 40 percent are in poor condition. It is no secret that much of the NSE’s critical infrastructure, from production facilities to utilities, is in dire need of recapitalization.

So understandably, addressing this legacy while building for the future requires significant, sustained, and timely funding; it also needs robust planning and efficient execution along with close collaboration with the U.S. Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD).

Investments to restore and modernize NNSA’s infrastructure will allow the agency to deliver on its promise of a safe and reliable nuclear weapons stockpile. Equally important, it will provide the foundation to achieve the nuclear nonproliferation mission to prevent, counter, and respond to nuclear and radiological emergencies.

Question: Historically, there have been concerns with NNSA’s record of delivering on infrastructure and construction. What, if anything, has changed?

APM started breaking down large projects into subprojects, allowing nuclear design work to continue while supporting infrastructure is constructed, improving schedule and cost performance.

Bob Raines
Associate Administrator for Acquisition and Project Management

Raines: It is true that in years past, much was said about NNSA’s poor record in delivering major construction projects. Frankly, at the time, those reports were an accurate representation of poor outcomes whose root causes were embedded in inadequate policies, processes, and organizational alignments. But, NNSA took these challenges seriously and, across three Administrators, committed to solutions to address those root causes. Today, the NNSA has made vast improvements in delivering large construction and equipment projects.

One of those solutions included the creation of my office, Acquisition and Project Management (APM), in 2011, to improve the delivery of high value, complex construction projects and get them delivered on budget and on schedule.

The vision was to create an acquisition and project management organization modeled after DOD and other successful public and private sector project delivery and contracting models. At its core, the APM delivery model codified that project requirements and budget responsibilities were program office responsibilities and aligned project estimating, contracting, design, and construction management in one office. This ensured that program requirements were sufficiently articulated to develop clearly defined scopes of work, and made one office responsible for delivering that capability safely, on time and on budget.

For example, before committing to a cost and schedule baseline, designs are now completed for estimating with a high degree of certainty. In the event new technologies are being considered, it is ensured they are proven early enough in the schedule to incorporate into the design before committing to a price for the work.

Over the past decade, NNSA has changed its processes and polices. Some outcomes of those changes have been:

  • Hiring experienced construction professionals;
  • Critically evaluating project requirements;
  • Completing independent cost estimates;
  • Ensuring design and technical maturity before committing to price and schedule;
  • Selecting the best acquisition method based on the work; and
  • Utilizing outcome-based contracts with risk sharing for appropriate incentives and accountability.

APM started breaking down large projects into subprojects, allowing nuclear design work to continue while supporting infrastructure is constructed, improving schedule and cost performance. This project delivery strategy allows us to maintain schedule without baselining complex nuclear work before designs are complete, which has invariably led to significant cost and schedule growth – a critical lesson learned.

Question: How have these improvements been received by Congress and others?

Now, seven years later, NNSA can report that it has completed 23 projects, valued at over $2.2 billion, on schedule and under budget using its rigorous approach to project management.

Bob Raines
NNSA Associate Administrator for Acquisition and Project Management

Raines: In 2013, the GAO removed NNSA from its “ High Risk List” of contract and project management for all work up to $750 million, where it has remained for the last three cycles. For context, the list is issued every two years and prior to 2013, NNSA had been on the High Risk List since its inception in 2000.

In 2014, I had the opportunity to testify for the House Energy and Water Subcommittee to lay out APM’s goals, the changes already implemented, and some of the progress NNSA as a whole had made.

During that testimony, then-ranking member, now subcommittee chair, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur said I like the rigor of the way that sounds. I hope in the implementation phase it works out that way.”

Now, seven years later, NNSA can report that it has completed 23 projects, valued at over $2.2 billion, on schedule and under budget using its rigorous approach to project management.

The improvements are evident in projects delivered and have been validated by outside reviewers. The 2014 Augustine-Mies Report to Congress highlighted that NNSA was bringing much needed discipline to project management. A 2019 GAO report strongly affirmed that “NNSA has enhanced its capability to estimate costs and schedules and to assess alternatives for programs and projects… and has implemented best practices in capital asset acquisitions.”

Perhaps most significantly, in 2019 the GAO supported NNSA’s argument to increase the statutory full time equivalent (FTE) cap specifically recommending that Congress re-examine their ceiling on staffing to support an increased workload. This support by GAO was no small feat and is a testament to NNSA’s improvements.

Most recently, the 2020 National Academy of Science-National Academy of Public Administration (NAS-NAPA) Report referred to APM as one of NNSA’s organizational improvements that should be sustained and continually improved, indicating the rigor it has brought to capital project management has saved billions of tax dollars, and improved progress on projects like the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 in Tennessee, and the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Question: Given the progress NNSA has made on its capital projects, how is it modernizing other parts of its infrastructure across the Enterprise?

My office has started piloting several new initiatives to streamline processes, increase NNSA’s buying power, and accelerate delivery of low-risk, commercial-like construction projects.

Jim McConnell
NNSA Associate Administrator for Safety, Infrastructure and Operations

McConnell: Recognizing the Enterprise’s significant infrastructure modernization needs, in 2018, Congress gave NNSA new authorities to increase the minor construction limit to $20 million and to dispose of small excess facilities that are contaminated with radioactive and/or chemical materials. These new authorities from Congress greatly improved NNSA’s ability to meet modernization needs. In addition to these new authorities, NNSA has:

  • Developed and implemented science-based infrastructure stewardship tools to better pinpoint and maximize benefits of investments that reduce risks;
  • More than doubled the agency’s annual maintenance investment since FY 2015; and
  • Completed the demolition of 16 old facilities, with 24 more underway.

Additionally, my office has started piloting several new initiatives to streamline processes, increase NNSA’s buying power, and accelerate delivery of low-risk, commercial-like construction projects.

Using science-based infrastructure stewardship tools, lifecycle management principles, and comprehensive and advanced planning, NNSA is reducing risks, building increased capacity, and improving the condition of the Enterprise’s overall infrastructure.

Funding increases have been, and will continue to be essential to modernizing the Enterprises’ infrastructure, increasing productivity, improving safety, eliminating costly compensatory measures, and shrinking the NNSA footprint through the disposition of unneeded facilities.

Through informed investment decisions to modernize and sustain the NSE in support of NNSA’s current and future missions, the risk posed by aging infrastructure to NNSA’s workforce, the environment, and its mission can be significantly reduced.

Next time on The Infrastructure Interviews, we will look at some of the current major and minor projects NNSA is undertaking, including near-term milestones.

Learn more about the Office of Acquisition and Project Management and the Office of Safety, Infrastructure, and Operations.