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Bliley Statement on Site Security at DOE Labs

Washington (October 26) - Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley (R-VA) is scheduled to deliver the following statement at today's Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee hearing on the state of Security at DOE's National Laboratories:

"Mr. Chairman, I know I must speak for many Members, and even more Americans, when I say that the more I learn about the security practices of the Department and its nuclear weapon labs, the more troubled I become. I'm sure it would come as quite a shock to the average American that classified or sensitive nuclear weapon parts were stored in unsecured buildings such as wood sheds, or in some cases just left outside like a child might leave his or her bicycle. Yet that is exactly what independent inspections of our Nation's major nuclear weapon labs found over the past year.

"It also would come as a shock to most Americans to learn that the Department and its nuclear weapon labs would permit foreign nationals from sensitive countries such as China and Russia, and even terrorist states such as Iran, to have unmonitored, dial-up access from their home countries directly to the labs' computer systems -- systems that contain all sorts of highly sensitive information and are, as the inspectors found, riddled with vulnerabilities that could be exploited. Yet that is exactly what these recent inspections found. Indeed, in some cases, these foreign nationals were not even subject to background checks before gaining computer access.

"Of course, we're now being told that all these problems are being fixed, with 50-point 'corrective action plans,' and targets reaching into the next century. We certainly intend to make sure that these commitments to the American people are kept.

"But what remains unanswered is how could the labs and this Administration have permitted security to deteriorate to such a dangerous degree in the first place? Where were the lab security officers? Where were their Federal overseers in the Department of Energy? Why did it take an independent inspection, coupled with congressional oversight and media interest, to uncover these deficiencies and prompt common-sense changes in security practices? And how can we ensure that the labs and the Department won't simply return to their old, reckless ways once again?

"Part of the answer clearly lies with the utter lack of accountability for poor security performance.

Critical findings by inspectors went unaddressed for years without penalty or reprimand. And all the while the labs' senior managers were receiving financial bonuses -- yes, bonuses -- partly based on their 'excellent' performance in security!

"Part of the answer also lies, however, with an Administration that purposefully de-emphasized security at our labs -- cutting security budgets, substantially reducing guards despite increases in the amount of nuclear materials to be protected, limiting background checks on certain foreign national visitors, ending color-coded badges that made it easy to control access to classified information, burying security, counter-intelligence, and oversight functions within the bureaucracy, and mandating the de-classification of millions of pages of sensitive information. The message sent by these actions was clear: the Cold War was over and security simply was no longer a priority.

"Americans rightfully expect their government and our Nation's nuclear weapon labs to put the protection of national security at the top of their priority list. I am pleased that the current Secretary of Energy has begun rolling back many of the program mistakes of former Secretary O'Leary, and has begun to re-emphasize the importance of security. But security at these critical labs should not -- and cannot -- depend on political personalities. This Committee intends to continue its aggressive oversight -- and, if necessary, move forward with legislation -- to ensure that these security problems do not continue to put our Nation's most valuable secrets at risk.

"To this end, it is imperative that this Secretary recognize the legitimate right of this Committee to timely and complete access to information on security policies and practices -- something he has not done on numerous occasions throughout the year. There should be no dispute that the Department is accountable to this Committee for its management of security affairs, and I intend to make sure that the Department is held to the highest standard.

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your diligent efforts to uncover the truth about the real state of security at our nuclear weapon labs."

The Committee on Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-2927

U.S. House of Representatives

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