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Presented at the 2009 DOE Project Management Conference

April 01, 2009

Presented at the 2009 DOE Project Management ConferencePresented by Thomas D'Agostino, Administrator, NNSA

Good afternoon.  While I have been the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, for the past two and one half years, I have served in several capacities within our agency.  I served as the deputy administrator of our office of defense programs, which has the primary responsibility to maintain the safety, security and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  And before that, I was the director of the program integration office.

Having come from that world, I am very excited to be here today to talk about what I think is a very important part of our national security mission – project management.

About two weeks ago, I appeared before the House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee to discuss my vision for a smaller, safer, more secure and less expensive nuclear security enterprise, known as Complex Transformation.  As the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile numbers go down, and our buildings throughout the enterprise age, it is important to make changes to improve efficiency.

As NNSA leverages the scientific and technical capabilities of our workforce to meet our nation’s evolving national security requirements for the future, this effort becomes even more important.

Part of Complex Transformation involves physically transforming our plutonium and highly enriched uranium capabilities and making the decisions and investments to most effectively sustain our nuclear security enterprise for the future.  This includes key projects such as the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 and the Chemistry Metallurgy and Research Replacement project at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Many of our research, surveillance, and manufacturing capabilities are carried out in facilities that are 50 to 60 years old and well beyond their economic lifetime.  The new facilities I mentioned will ensure that the United States will continue to maintain critical uranium and plutonium capabilities necessary to support our nation's stockpile, while enhancing our nation’s nuclear security by supporting the nuclear nonproliferation, counterterrorism, and emergency response work that we do so well here at NNSA. 

These are just two examples of the types of projects we need to do throughout our nuclear security enterprise in order to perform our important national security mission.

And frankly we need to integrate project management best practices on each of these projects if we are going to succeed.  When I make my case to the Hill about our plan, they need to know that I will be able to deliver what I say on time, and within budget – not always an easy task when you are talking about building the unique facilities that we need.

So first, let me thank you.  You oversee some of the most challenging construction and environmental cleanup projects.  These are tough assignments and your full engagement and oversight is truly recognized and appreciated by me and others.

In fact, our work has even been officially recognized and appreciated.  NNSA won the General Services Administration Achievement Award for Real Property Innovation.  We streamlined the management of our roofs by implementing its first multi-site construction activity – a program that in the past would have required multiple projects.  Doing so saved an estimated $7 million in construction costs while replacing 1.9 million square feet of roof with more energy efficient sustainable roofs.

We have had many important successes here at NNSA, including major scientific and engineering accomplishments.  And I am equally as proud of the recognition we received from GSA.  That roof program is an excellent example of the type of work we do to keep our nation safe, and to save taxpayer dollars.

And we continue to improve.  As I said before, when I am proposing our budget to Congress, they need to know that I can follow through on what I say.  We have had some challenges in the past, but one of my priorities is to demonstrate to the Hill and others that NNSA successfully executes projects.

Currently, we have 38 active construction projects around our nuclear security enterprise with a total cost of $18 billion over about ten years.  These projects need the support of Congress, the GAO, the Office of Management and Budget, and other stakeholders in order to succeed.  And there are those out there who would like to find any fault in something we do and exploit it to try and put a halt to our mission.

This week I announced the completion of a highly visible project at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – the National Ignition Facility, or NIF.  About ten years ago we said we could do this for $3.5 billion.  Monday night I was on the phone with a reporter and was able to tell him we completed the project on time, even a little ahead of schedule, and within budget.  Believe me, I know that it is no easy feat to do that with something as complicated as firing 192 lasers at a target the size of a pencil eraser where the lasers all get there at the same time.

Secretary Chu shares my belief that solid project management should be recognized.  He recently presented an award for the team that was behind the Nevada Test Site’s B-3 Building.  This 78,000 square foot renovation project was completed under budget – 12 percent – and on time.

Sandia National Laboratories completed the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Application, or MESA, facility, and Y-12 now has a new Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.  These kinds of successes give Congress and the public the confidence to support the projects we need to do in support of Complex Transformation and the future of NNSA. 

Moving forward, we need to continue to improve our project execution.  This will demonstrate our commitment to maintaining project baselines and completing critical projects.  Our path forward includes root cause analysis and corrective action plans.  And as I mentioned, one area of focus for me is to reinforce our project management commitment.  I want to integrate project management best practices throughout NNSA and further enhance our credibility on our construction projects.

I need your full support and commitment as we move forward and implement the corrective measures resulting from the root cause analysis.  This effort has received significant attention within the agency, and these measures which will result in stronger project management implementation and in the end, better projects.

I thought I’d take some time to talk about some of the actions we have begun to take:

Our goal is to execute and deliver projects within the original cost baseline, and meet all mission requirements.  Meeting this goal frees up scarce resources for other mission-critical activities within each program.  This of course can’t happen without our contractor and laboratory employees’ expertise to make this happen.

We are continuing to improve up-front planning before we commit to a performance baseline.  To do this we need to identify our requirements, include technology readiness assessments and resolve technical issues early on in the process.

We need to make sure we have the right personnel, both in number and skill set, on the right projects with clear roles and responsibilities.  We need to have solid cost estimating, risk management and contract formulation and execution.  And most importantly, we need to communicate by being timely, open and transparent.

I, and the respective programs’ management, will be engaged throughout the process, and we will hold each other and contractors accountable – for successes as well as missteps – and we will commit to funding stability as well.

I began to announce decisions related to Complex Transformation in December.  As we continue to move forward on this important effort, we will no doubt face challenges.  I am proud to work with the men and women who are working on these projects throughout the enterprise, and I know you will continue to rise up to the meet the challenges.  Again, I want to thank you for joining me in this historic effort to transform the nuclear weapons complex into a 21st century nuclear security enterprise.

Alexandria, VA