Opening Statement by Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.

Committee on Science

Hearing on

Security at the Department of Energy: Who’s Protecting the Nation’s Secrets?


Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson

May 20, 1990

I would like to thank my friend and former colleague, Secretary of Energy Richardson, for testifying before the Science Committee on the security problems and related reform efforts at the Department on Energy (DOE) and its laboratories. This is not only Secretary Richardson’s first appearance before the Science Committee, but it is also, I believe, the first time he has testified in an open congressional hearing on this subject since the startling revelations of the FBI’s "Kindred Spirit" investigation of alleged Chinese espionage by a scientist employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

DOE’s laboratories comprise the largest laboratory system of its kind in the world and have been a target of espionage and other threats since the days of the Manhattan Project. These laboratories are of particular interest to the Committee, since it has sole jurisdiction over the DOE civilian laboratories under the Rules of the House, and authorizes over $250 million of civilian energy and science research, development and demonstration programs annually at DOE’s three weapons laboratories—Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. In addition, many of the DOE civilian laboratories conduct classified activities, and over $250 million annually in DOE Defense Program funds flow to them. Therefore, any security reforms directly impact the laboratories and programs under the Science Committee’s jurisdiction.

The recent revelations about the nature and scope of the security breaches at DOE are more than a little troubling. I am not going to go into great detail about those incidents as they have been well-covered in the press. These revelations of ongoing espionage fundamentally call into question the ability of DOE to handle any information. If our nuclear secrets are not safe, how can any DOE information be deemed secure?

Security at DOE is not a new problem. There have now been four public cases of Chinese espionage at Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories spanning two decades. Coincidentally, over roughly the same time interval, the General Accounting Office (GAO) has issued more than 30 highly-critical reports urging the Department to remedy numerous security problems at its facilities. In response, the Department has continually agreed to fix the problems and has unveiled several reforms, but as GAO has recently reported, implementation has often been unsuccessful and the problems have been reoccurring.


Now, we have had yet another major security breach that appears to have once again provided the Chinese with nuclear weapons technology—and indeed may have even provided them with access to the Nation’s nuclear legacy codes—that threatens our national security and again, the Department and Secretary Richardson have unveiled a reform package. Clearly, DOE security needs to be reformed.

I do not question Secretary Richardson’s good intentions. But, given DOE’s abysmal track record that has been well-documented by the GAO and others, I do question whether the Department will implement the proposals or address the core security problems. The GAO found that DOE’s security problems stem from the Department’s failure to hold its contractors accountable for meeting their important responsibilities and its program managers accountable for making sure contractors do their jobs. For your Security Reform Package to work, Mr. Secretary, it must thoroughly address this issue.

Finally, I am concerned about the impact of the Security Reform Package on the DOE civilian laboratories—particularly those single-purpose world-class high-energy and nuclear physics laboratories, such Fermilab, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Laboratory, and others—that thrive in an atmosphere of openness and engage the best minds throughout the world in the free exchange of ideas, as well as personnel. The special character of these institutions must be recognized and preserved.

Security has been a major problem at DOE for decades and the many previous reform efforts have failed miserably. The last thing we need is another DOE band-aid on what is clearly a full-blown security hemorrhage. I hope today that you will be able to allay my concerns.