More security problems at DOE

Security concerns in one of the Department of Energy’s most sensitive operations — the Office of Secure Transportation, which transports nuclear weapons, bomb parts and special nuclear materials around the country — have been further fleshed out in a story by Greenwire, a subscription trade publication that covers energy and environmental issues.

Late last year, DOE’s Office of Inspector General released a brief summary of an inspection report that checked out allegations of “unsuitable behaviors” among agents and a supervisor involved in the high-security transport of nuclear weapons. The IG, however, refused to release the entire report, citing its classification as “official use only.”

Greenwire obtained a partially redacted version of the full report via a Freedom Of Information Act request and published a story today by Kevin Bogardus that provides more details about the concerns. Greenwire reported that much of the investigation apparently focused on the OST’s Eastern Command based in Oak Ridge, which has 128 federal agents.

According to the Greenwire report, a number of the allegations involve a squad commander who has been “temporarily removed” from the Human Reliability Program and placed on paid leave while the allegations are reviewed further.

Some of the allegations identified in the Inspector General’s report took place years ago, with some details still in dispute.

In a redacted report made available by Greenwire, the IG said:

“Specifically through extensive interviews with numerous OST agents, we found that Squad Commander (name redacted), along with other agents, engaged in unsuitable, reportable behavior such as uncontrolled anger, hostility or aggression toward fellow workers and authority figures. These incidents were not reported as required.

“While one of the incidents was relatively recent, many were dated, including one that occurred as much as 10 years prior to our inspection. Each of the seven incidents reported to us involved physical or verbal altercations, some of which occurred off-duty. Senior OST officials told us that none of the incidents were reported to them, thus they were unable to take disciplinary or other action.”

The most recent allegation investigated by the IG was that the squad commander threatened to kill another agent. The squad commander reportedly denied making the threat, and the IG could only confirm that a “heated discussion” took place between the parties.

A number of allegations made against the squad commander were not substantiated, according to the IG report.

The Office of Inspector General indicated that the biggest concern may be the lack of reporting that took place following the incidents.

“We recognize that a number of the reporting issues we identified during the course of our inspection were dated,” the report stated. “However, we are concerned that the failure to report such activity could expose the Department to unnecessary risk.”

The IG report noted that individuals certified for the Human Reliability Program are required to report such incidents and adhere to the program’s requirements.

“Otherwise there is an increased risk that unsuitable individuals could be allowed to protect nuclear weapons, weapon components and special nuclear material, raising possible national security concerns,” the IG report stated.

More on these issues later.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.