Saturday, December 26, 2015

NRC IG Reviews DNFSB Organizational Culture and Climate

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Inspector General (IG) provides IG services to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB), an independent government agency.  The DNFSB organizational culture and climate study* reviewed here was performed for the NRC IG by an outside consultant.

Summary of Methods and Results

The study’s methodology is familiar: Review relevant past reports, develop a survey instrument based on employee interviews and focus groups, administer the survey to all employees and interpret the results.

Themes (issues, shortcomings) brought up during the interviews included DNFSB’s handling of change management, communication, personnel development, leadership, internal procedures and performance management (aka personal recognition). (pp. 6-7)

The report compared the DNFSB survey results with three external norms: a cross-section of U.S. industry, U.S. employees working in Research and Development, and industries that have experienced significant changes with widespread employee impact.  The last group consists of organizations under stress because of reorganization, bankruptcy, layoffs, etc. (p. 14)

The report’s summary is not encouraging: “the general trend shows an unfavorable comparison for the DNFSB on all three external benchmarks, . . . Also, many employees feel they do not have the right tools and resources.  Along with that, 38 percent of employees say they plan to leave DNFSB in the next year.” (p. 4)

The employee survey had 14 categories, higher scores mean greater respondent agreement with positive traits.  Analyzing the survey responses in three different dimensions yielded one typical and two unusual results.  In our opinion, they suggest uneven DNFSB management effectiveness across the organization.

Across organizational groups, the General Manager and Admin/ Support groups scored above DNFSB averages on most categories; the Technical Director and Engineering groups scored below DNFSB averages on most categories. (p. 13)  In our experience, this is no surprise; bosses and admin people are usually more satisfied (or less dissatisfied) than the folks who have to get the work done.

Looking at employee tenure, employees with the shortest tenure scored the highest (this is typical) then the scores go downhill.  The longest tenured employees have the lowest scores, which is unusual; most organizations have a U-shaped curve, with newcomers and old timers the most satisfied. (p. 14)

By pay (GS or DN) level, “what is atypical is that the lowest-scoring group is not the lowest-level group, but instead the mid-level group, . . .” (p. 15)

The report identifies Sustainable Engagement (SE)** as a key category.  Using regression analysis, the authors identified five drivers (other survey categories) of SE, two that had acceptable survey scores and three that are candidates for organizational improvement interventions: communication, leadership and performance management. (p.17)  This is as close the report comes to suggesting what the DNFSB might actually do about their problems.

Our Perspective 

This report recognizes that DNFSB has significant challenges but it contains zero surprises.  It’s not even news.  The same or similar ground was covered by a Dec. 2014 organizational study performed for the DNFSB which we reviewed on Feb. 6, 2015.

Problems mentioned in the 2014 report include board dysfunctionality, communications, performance recognition, change management, frequent disruptive organizational changes, and the lack of management and leadership competence.  The 2014 report  included extensive discussion of possible organizational interventions and other corrective actions.

The NRC IG already knew change management was a serious challenge facing the DNFSB; it was mentioned in an Oct. 2014 IG report.***  That report was likely the impetus for this 2015 study.

The DNFSB has been in apparent disarray for over a year.  New members have been appointed to the Board this year, including a new chairman.  It remains to be seen whether they can address the internal challenges and, more importantly, provide meaningful recommendations to their single client, the U.S. Department of Defense.

Bottom line: This NRC IG consultant’s report adds little value to understanding the DNFSB’s organizational issues or developing effective corrective actions. 

*  Towers Watson, “DNFSB 2015 Culture and Climate Survey: Executive Overview of Key Findings” (Aug. 2015).  ADAMS ML15245A515.  Thanks to John Hockert for publicizing this report on the LinkedIn Nuclear Safety Culture forum.

**  Sustainable Engagement is defined as follows: “Assesses the level of DNFSB employees’ connection to the organization, marked by being proud to work at DNFSB, committing effort to achieve the goals (being engaged) having an environment that support productivity (being enabled) and maintaining personal well-being (feeling energized).” (p. 9)

**  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.


  1. When you audit a railroad start with the train wrecks.

    Start with the enormities and audit your way to the nonconformities.

  2. Isn't this a counterattack of DoE against DNFSB? Chairman Winokur was struggling to fight DoE Secretary for the DoE's facility having problem of O.C.

    1. Short answer: No. The NRC does not carry the DOE’s water to stymie the DNFSB’s efforts. DOE thwarts the DNFSB directly by selectively interpreting their Recommendations and delaying DOE responses to DNFSB. Click on the DOE label to see posts related to the department’s sorry history.

      I think the safety culture and climate study reviewed above was simply the NRC IG’s attempt to get an evaluation of DNFSB culture that the IG could compare, apples to apples, with the studies they perform of NRC culture. The same consultant that performed the above study also performed the last (2012) NRC safety culture and climate study and currently has a contract to perform the 2015 NRC study.

  3. How does the DOE procurement system support competency, integrity, compliance, and transparency?

    How did it work at WIPP and WTP??


Thanks for your comment. We read them all. The moderator will publish comments that are related to our content.