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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 45, April 2000

Overhaul for Troubled NIF Project

On March 24, US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced a set of important changes to the management of the troubled National Ignition Facility (NIF), a laser complex being developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) at the University of California to help America develop and maintain nuclear warheads without underground testing. The changes stem from an internal Energy Department report in January (see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 43 which strongly criticised management culture, practices and competence.

The reforms include the establishment of a new management post, Associate Director for NIF Programs, to be dedicated, in the words of a Department press release, "solely to NIF and the activities necessary for its success"; an increase in the project's resources and staff; and increased supervision by both the University of California and the Energy Department. Announcing the changes, Richardson noted: "I remain deeply disappointed at the manner in which these problems were handled… But I am also convinced that the underlying science of the NIF remains sound. The problems the NIF had were due to how it was managed and we have made significant changes in both personnel and management structure to address them. We must ensure that these changes result in focused management that monitors and reports progress, and where all information, including challenges and problems, are addressed constructively."

As the press release detailing the changes make clear, the overhaul of the project is not yet complete: "The Energy Department is considering options for addressing NIF's cost and schedule issues. Once Secretary Richardson has determined which option he wants to pursue, the Office of the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs, with input from LLNL, will put forward a detailed rebaselining plan which will include a budget and key project milestones. The rebaselining plan is due to Congress by June 1, although Secretary Richardson has said he hopes to have it completed in advance of that deadline."

Report: Energy Department announces major changes to improve National Ignition Facility management and accountability, US Department of Energy Press Release R-00-084, March 24.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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