Friday, February 20, 2015

NRC Office of Investigations 2014 Annual Report: From Cases to Culture

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Investigations (OI) recently released its FY2014 annual report.*  The OI investigates alleged wrongdoing by entities regulated by the NRC; OI’s focus is on willful and deliberate actions that violate NRC regulations and/or criminal statutes.

The OI report showed a definite downward trend in the number of new cases being opened, overall a 41% drop between FY2010 and FY2014.  Only one of the four categories of cases increased over that time frame, viz., material false statements, which held fairly steady through FY2013 but popped in FY2014 to 67% over FY2010.  We find this disappointing because false statements can often be linked to cultural attributes that prioritize getting a job done over compliance with regulations.

The report includes a chapter on “Significant Investigations.”  There were eight such investigations, four involving nuclear power plants.  We have previously reported on two of these cases, the Indian Point chemistry manager who falsified test results (see our May 12, 2014 post) and the Palisades security manager who assigned a supervisor to an armed responder role for which he was not currently qualified (see our July 24, 2014 post).  The other two, summarized below, occurred at River Bend and Salem.

In the River Bend case, a security officer deliberately falsified training records by taking a plant access authorization test for her son, a contractor employed by a plant supplier.  Similar to the Palisades case, Entergy elected alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and ended up with multiple corrective actions including revising its security procedures, establishing new controls for security-related information (SRI), evaluating SRI storage, developing a document highlighting the special responsibilities of nuclear security personnel, establishing decorum protocols for certain security posts, preparing and delivering a lessons learned presentation, conducting an independent third party safety culture (SC) assessment of the River Bend security organization [emphasis added], and delivering refresher training on 10 CFR 50.5 and 50.9.  Most of these requirements are to be implemented fleet-wide, i.e., at all Entergy nuclear plants, not just River Bend.**

The Salem case involved a senior reactor operator who used an illegal substance then performed duties while under its influence.  The NRC issued a Level III Notice of Violation (NOV) to the operator.  The operator’s NRC license was terminated at PSE&G’s request.***  PSE&G was not cited in this case.

Our Perspective

You probably noticed that three of the “significant” cases involved Entergy plants.  Entergy is no stranger to issues with a possible cultural component including the following:****

In 2013, Arkansas Nuclear One received a NOV after an employee deliberately falsified documents regarding the performance of Emergency Preparedness drills and communication surveillances.

In 2012, Fitzpatrick received a Confirmatory Order (Order) after the NRC discovered violations, the majority of which were willful, related to adherence to site radiation protection procedures.

During 2006-08, Indian Point received two Orders and three NOVs for its failure to install backup power for the plant’s emergency notification system.

In 2012, Palisades received an Order after an operator left the control room without permission and without performing a turnover to another operator.  Entergy went to ADR and ended up with multiple corrective actions, some fleet-wide.  We have posted many times about the long-running SC saga at Palisades—click on the Palisades label to pull up the posts. 

In 2005, Pilgrim received a NOV after an on-duty supervisor was observed sleeping in the control room.  In 2013, Pilgrim received a NOV for submitting false medical documentation on operators.

In 2012, River Bend received a NOV for operators in the control room accessing the internet in violation of an Entergy procedure. 

These cases involve behavior that was (at least in hindsight) obviously wrong.  It’s not a stretch to suggest that a weak SC may have been a contributing factor.  So has Entergy received the message?  You be the judge.

“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” ― George Carlin (1937–2008)

*  NRC Office of Investigations, “2014 OI Annual Report,” NUREG-1830, Vol. 11 (Feb. 2015).  ADAMS ML15034A064.

**  M.L. Dapas (NRC) to E.W. Olson (River Bend), “Confirmatory Order, Notice of Violation, and Civil Penalty – NRC Special Inspection Report 05000458/2014407 and NRC Investigation Report 4-2012-022- River Bend Station” (Dec. 3, 2014).  ADAMS ML14339A167.

***  W.M. Dean (NRC) to G. Meekins (an individual), “Notice of Violation (Investigation Report No. 1-2014-013)” (July 9, 2014).  ADAMS ML14190A471.

****  All Entergy-related NRC enforcement actions were obtained from the NRC website.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Congressional Panel Slices and Dices Culture in Report on DOE/NNSA

A U.S. congressional panel recently released a report* detailing its recommendations for improving the performance of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  NNSA is an agency within the Department of Energy responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, reducing danger from weapons of mass destruction, providing the Navy with nuclear propulsion, and responding to nuclear and radiological emergencies.**

The panel’s report has a host of recommendations and action items for making NNSA more effective, including changing the agency’s management culture to be more mission performance oriented.  The report’s key points would fit on one page but of course they aren’t presented that way; this is a 188 page government report with a 16 page executive summary.

What caught our eye was how many different types of culture were mentioned in the report.  While the report’s focus was putatively on management culture, the authors also referred to DOE, civilian, enterprise, risk management, risk aversion, safety, entitlement, non-inclusion, governance, corporate, compliance, security, professional, organizational, reliability and generic “culture.”  I am not making this up.

With so many types of culture, one might think there must have been a significant effort to define culture.  Well, no.  I saw only one definition of culture: “A common definition of management culture is, “This is how things are done here.”” (p. 39)  Could they have done better?  You be the judge.

Lots of insight into culture?  Not really.  I saw one systemic observation about culture: “In a healthy organization, management practices and culture are mutually reinforcing in creating productive behaviors: management practices shape the culture; the culture shapes behaviors and reinforces the management practices.” (ibid.)  We’ll award E for Effort here because this can be true although not always.

So it’s culture this and culture that but it’s left as an exercise for the reader to determine what exactly culture is and how the various sub-cultures contribute to an understanding of the larger picture.

Our Perspective

Every member of the panel has an opinion of what organizational culture is.  However, without a precise definition and a representation of how culture relates to other organizational factors (including hard ones like practices and soft ones like leadership and trust) there is no shared mental model.  And without that, there is no clear appreciation of how their proposed interventions might leverage (or antagonize) the existing culture or even work at all.  This lack of effort on culture is especially disappointing given that one member of the panel was the NRC Chairman back when that agency was agonizing endlessly over the proper definition of safety culture.

But let’s look at the larger reality here.  Most people (myself included) will never take the time to wade through a report like this and that’s probably the way the serious stakeholders (DOD, DOE and their contractors) want it; they are willing to play along with Congress rearranging the lounge car chairs as long as the money train keeps running.

*  Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, “A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise” (Dec. 2014).  Thanks to Bill Mullins for recommending this report. 

**  National Nuclear Security Administration website.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Corrosion in the Culture of the DNFSB?

We have posted many times on the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s (DNFSB) efforts to get the Department of Defense (DOE) to confront and resolve its safety culture (SC) issues.  Now it appears the DNFSB has management and cultural issues of its own.  In a stinging report* by an outside consultant, DNFSB board members are said to have a “divisive and dysfunctional relationship” and the organizational culture is called “toxic.” (p. iii)  This post highlights the cultural aspects of selected issues and the proposed fixes.

Major issues that can affect culture are the board itself, the negative tone of oral and written communications, and the performance recognition system.

DNFSB is a small agency (100+ people) and most work in the same office.  There is no place to hide from the effects of troubles at the top.  The Board’s basic problem is that the members don’t have a shared mental model of the DNFSB’s mission and strategies.  And, because the members are political appointees representing both major parties, creating some kind of unity is a major challenge.  The report contains many recommendations related to improving board functioning but the reality is it’s mainly a political issue.  Board dysfunctionality is a cultural issue because hydra-headed leadership distracts, confuses and ultimately demoralizes the agency staff.  Most alarming to us, to the extent investigations are driven by board members’ interests rather than by science and safety considerations (a perception reported by some staff), the board’s shortcomings can impinge on the agency’s SC. 

Communications problems start at the board level and permeate the agency. Negative communications, e.g., condescending language and personal attacks, lead to a culture of disrespect.  The recommendations for communications include “Immediately ensure a professional tone in all communications, both among board members and throughout the Agency.  Consider use of an internal communication code of conduct.” (p. 3-2)  In our view, business communications should focus on the issues, be respectful and exhibit a modicum of integrity.

Performance recognition recommendations include “Assess staff sentiment with regard to priorities for nonmonetary incentives, and develop offerings accordingly.” (p. 3-5)  Nonmonetary recognition was mentioned by an employee committee tasked with identifying underlying causes for DNFSB’s declining scores on the periodic federal employee viewpoint survey.  We’re not sure why monetary recognition is off the table, perhaps because of perceived budget problems.  Our feeling is if some type of above-and-beyond behavior is worth recognizing, then an organization should be willing to pay something for it.

There are also a couple of more straightforward management issues: frequent disruptive organizational changes, and the lack of management and leadership competence.  If not addressed, such issues can certainly weaken culture but they are not as important as the ones described previously.

Change management recommendations include “Develop a change management organizational competency . . .  [and] a change management plan, . . .” (p. 3-3)  As an aside, the NRC Inspector General (IG) provides IG services to the DNFSB; an October 2014 IG report** identified change management as a serious challenge facing the agency.

Increasing competence corrective actions include “Institute tailored management and supervisory training for technical staff management and supervisors. . . .” (p. 3-3)  This is not controversial; it simply needs to be accomplished.

Our Perspective 

If the report accurately describes DNFSB’s reality, it looks like a bit of a mess.  The board’s chairman recently retired so the President has an opportunity to nominate someone who is willing and able to clean it up.  Absent competent leadership from the top, the report’s recommendations may make a dent in the problems but will not be a cure-all.

We wish them well.  If the DNFSB’s focus wanes, it bodes ill for efforts to spur DOE to increase its management competence and strengthen its SC.

*  J. O'Hara and P.M. Darmory, “Assessment of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Workforce and Culture,” Report DNF40T1 (Dec. 2014).  Thanks to Bill Mullins for recommending this report.

**H.T. Bell (NRC) to Chairman Winokur (DNFSB), “Inspector General’s Assessment of the Most Serious Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board,” DNFSB-OIG-15-A-01 (Oct. 1, 2014).  ADAMS ML14274A247.