The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) agreed to share a strategic management plan it is preparing for sustaining microelectronics infrastructure at the Sandia National Laboratories with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which wants the nuclear-weapon agency to appoint a more powerful manager for the program.

The plan will be ready around December 2020, NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty wrote in a letter appended to the office’s latest report about the semiautonomous branch of the Department of Energy, “NNSA Needs to Incorporate Additional Management Controls Over Its Microelectronics Activities


The NNSA believes the plan “will address the underlying questions raised in the audit report,” Gordon-Hagerty wrote.

In the report published Tuesday, the GAO mostly focused on the radiation-hardened microelectronics the NNSA produces for nuclear weapons at the national laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M. Such electronics can function in high-radiation environments, such as the site of a nuclear explosion.

Congress’ investigative arm wrote its latest report at the behest of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which inserted the requirement for a harder look at NNSA microelectronics programs in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The panel’s strategic forces subcommittee counts Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) among its members.

A few months after the 2019 NDAA became law, the NNSA opted to spend about $1 billion over 20 years to maintain the current microelectronics infrastructure at Sandia through 2040, rather than building an entirely new, multibillion-dollar microelectronics production plant at the lab.

“DOE and NNSA require their programs and projects to establish an overarching management plan that describes the procedures to define, execute, and monitor a program or project as well as establishing specific requirements in a variety of areas such as cost estimating and performance management,” according to the summary of the GAO report. “NNSA has not established a similar management plan to oversee and coordinate its microelectronics activities.”

The office recommended Gordon-Hagerty give the agency’s unidentified microelectronics coordinator — appointed in 2019, but apparently without the full support of the NNSA Office of Defense Programs — a budget to manage, and the authority to write a management plan and requirements document for the refurbishments planned at Sandia.

Gordon-Hagerty neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, according to the GAO report.