A new inspector general’s report bashed the human resources department at the federal Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board as ineffective, inefficient, and incapable of supporting the agency’s oversight of defense-nuclear sites.
The board’s “human resources program is currently not designed and implemented to effectively support the execution of its mission,” reads a report issued this week by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inspector general (IG). The commission’s inspector general also reviews the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB), which does not have its own inspector general.
In particular, the NRC inspector general said, the DNFSB’s hiring process is extremely slow. It took the agency five months in 2019 to bring one new hire aboard, according to the report.
Even if the hiring process was more efficient, the board still has many vacancies it could fill, the inspector general wrote. About half of the DNFSB’s Senior Executive Service positions — something like the federal equivalent of a corporate vice president — are currently vacant. That reflects “a lack of agency consensus and communication regarding DNFSB’s hiring practices,” the report states.
“As a result, the agency remains understaffed, which may negatively impact DNFSB’s ability to accomplish its mission,” the IG wrote. The Office of Personnel Management approved the board for just under a dozen Senior Executive Service positions. According to the IG, some of DNFSB’s vacant Senior Executive Service positions are:
- Three of five associate technical director slots.
- The deputy general manager, although this role is currently filled on an acting basis by one of the board’s associate technical directors.
Even as it recommended the DNFSB fill these vacant roles, the IG warned that might not happen.
“DNFSB’s senior leadership does not believe SES positions are needed,” the inspector general said. The board was advertising only one Senior Executive Service job at deadline Friday for Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor: one of the vacant associate technical director slots.
DNFSB Chairman Bruce Hamilton froze Senior Executive Service hiring in 2019, and said “he only needed three or four SES in the agency,” according to the inspector general. Another board member, who the inspector general did not identify, said the agency “has more [Senior Executive Service spots] than it needs.”
Hamilton, Jessie Hill Roberson, and Joyce Connery were the only three DNFSB members at deadline Friday. The Senate must confirm board members and has not yet held confirmation hearings for the White House nominees intended to fill out DNFSB’s ranks to its legal maximum of five.
The DNFSB has about 100 full-time employees on an annual budget of roughly $30 million. Hamilton, appointed by President Donald Trump, has attempted to reorganize the agency and cut that number to about 80 full-time employees.
Most of Hamilton’s fellow board members — there were four of them until Daniel Santos left the agency in 2019 — approved of the reorganization, but Congress has blocked the board from cutting staff, for now.
The DNFSB does not regulate the Department of Energy, but it may make safety recommendations about active and shuttered nuclear-weapon sites with which the secretary of energy must publicly agree or disagree. The board does not, however, have jurisdiction at Naval Nuclear sites.
A spokesperson for the DNFSB did not reply to a request for comment this week. Board management expressed “general agreement” about the criticisms in the report, according to the IG.