DOE Audit: Security Upgrades Lagging at Federal Nuclear Sites

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Security upgrades ordered in 2003 are behind schedule at nuclear weapons installations, including the Nevada Test Site, the Energy Department's inspector general said.

Meanwhile, guards at National Nuclear Security Administration sites are working too much overtime, which can erode security effectiveness, inspector general auditors said in a new report.

The 18-page report made public Wednesday in Washington, D.C., said upgrading security is critical to protecting nuclear weapons and material that could be used to make them.

An official with the NNSA - the Energy Department branch that manages the nuclear weapons complex - said Thursday the agency already was addressing issues in the audit.

"The things that have been identified in the report with respect to the Nevada Test Site are nothing new to us," said Kevin Rhorer, an NNSA spokesman in North Las Vegas. "They have been reported before. We are taking steps to address and correct them."

Auditors found similar conditions between August 2004 and August 2005 at NNSA sites, including Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, the Pantex Plant in Texas and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, as well as the Office of Secure Transportation, which oversees nuclear materials shipping from Albuquerque, N.M.

Due to security concerns, the report did not link findings and sites, Inspector General Gregory Friedman said in his cover letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

The report said about 87 percent of security plans due to be in place by next October have yet to be implemented, including the hiring of additional guards, new building designs and training.

It said systems including thermal imaging, laser detection, ground surveillance, Doppler radar, remote cameras and sensing equipment had not been procured.

Previous reports have described security lapses at the Nevada Test Site, including an inspector general report in February about two employees who brought unauthorized handguns onto the site, and earlier accounts of security guards performing poorly during a mock terrorist attack in August 2004.

The Energy Department is preparing to announce whether it will renew a five-year contract with Wackenhut Services Inc. for security at the vast test site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The current contract expires Dec. 31.

(c) 2005 Associated Press