In December 2013, the commander of the nuclear missile forces was fired. Then in early 2014, an Air Force cheating scandal was uncovered among Nuclear Officers and was discovered during an illegal drug use investigation. In 2014, the Secretary of Defense directed two reviews of DoD’s nuclear enterprise. These reports led to hundreds of recommendations to improve leadership, morale, and more. Then in 2015, DoD conducted a review focused on nuclear command, control, and communications systems, resulting in additional recommendations for change.
GAO Reviews DoD Nuclear Enterprise
The reviews led to over 175 recommendations, and DoD identified 247 action items. Then in 2017, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included provisions for U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review DoD’s process for addressing the recommendations from 2014 and 2015. The GAO recently released their report (Defense Nuclear Enterprise: DOD Can Improve Processes for Monitoring Long-Standing Issues) with their findings and providing four recommendations to help track the changes being implemented.
GAO’s report found that DoD has made headway in implementing recommended changes, but its measure of progress needs reassessment. In 2018, GAO discovered that even though DoD created new nuclear oversight organizations, it has still yet to define specific roles and responsibilities for it or how it will communicate with key organizations.
It was not until January 2021 that the DoD created a new entity, the Secretary of Defense Nuclear Transition Review, to take over responsibilities for oversight of the Defense Nuclear Enterprise. The Defense Nuclear enterprise is now made up of four groups. The Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint DoD, and Department of Energy council established by statues that are responsible for managing aspects of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and programs. The Security Incident Response Council, an interagency group that has oversight of plans for responding to potential security incidents involving nuclear weapons. The Council on Oversight of the National Leadership Command, Control, and Communications Systems, a DoD council established by statute responsible for overseeing the command, control, and communication systems used by U.S. leadership.
And the newest organization the Secretary of Defense Nuclear Transition Review was created to access risk associated with the DoD nuclear enterprise program transitions and monitor the overall health of the defense nuclear enterprise. A sub-group of the Secretary of Defense Nuclear Transition Review is the Nuclear Deterrent Enterprise Review Group. Which is an organization established to ensure the long-term health of the nuclear enterprise.
Some Issues Still Remain
And while these roles have been created, GAO found that they still lack the specific responsibilities and requirements along with how it will communicate internally and with other organizations.
GAO also discovered that even though military services have made some progress in identifying areas for monitoring the health of the nuclear enterprise. DoD has still not identified the means by which it will monitor long-standing issues related to the long-term health of the enterprise.
GAO’s new report has four recommendations, which the DoD concurred with. The four recommendations fall into two main categories defining roles, metrics, and responsibilities for the new oversight group. The second category the recommendations fall into is creating a way to monitor long-standing nuclear enterprise issues. GAO is tracking all four recommendations and will provide updates when they confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to each recommendation.