The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the contractors who operate the national lab sites for NNSA may soon face a workforce shortage of qualified candidates and faces challenges to recruit and retain new workers, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed.
In its report, "Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise: Strategies and Challenges in Sustaining Critical Skills in Federal and Contractor Workforces" the GAO said the NNSA has generally relied on recruiting young workers early in their careers and providing them with training and advancement opportunities. This has worked in the past and led to solid retention, especially since the competitive pay and advancement opportunities have been appealing.
However, NNSA staff are required to work in secure areas that prohibit the use of personal cell phones, e-mail, and social media, which “is a disadvantage in attracting younger skilled candidates.” Another primary problem is that the pool of qualified applicants from top science, technology, and engineering programs are not U.S. citizens and cannot obtain security clearances, says GAO.
The GAO offers numerous suggestions, including streamlining hiring and security clearance processes, building a pipeline of critically skilled employees, and implementing succession planning.
The NNSA has begun to implement the recommendation last year by the GAO to establish a plan for the development of a comprehensive contractor workforce baseline that includes the identification of critical human capital skills, competencies, and levels needed. However, this current GAO process does not provide NNSA with the information needed to make enterprise-wide decisions for hiring.
“Without this information, NNSA’s ability to monitor the effectiveness of its and its M&O contractors’ strategies to recruit, develop, and retain the workforces needed to preserve critical skills may be hindered,” the report’s authors stated.
The GAO recommends that while the NNSA develops a system for tracking federal and contractor human capital performance metrics, it should also standardize definitions.
Currently, NNSA’s workforce includes 34,000 management and operating (M&O) contractor employees and about 2,400 federal employees directly employed by NNSA in its Washington headquarters, at eight enterprise offices and at its Albuquerque, New Mexico, complex.