DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
TRANSPORTATION SAFEGUARDS DIVISION
July 13, 1998
This panel was established in large part to examine the claim that the
communication between TSD management and the special agents (SAs) had broken
down. The panel concludes that there is a fundamental, deep, and long-standing
lack of trust and respect between SAs and TSD management. We tested
managements hypothesis that SAs dissatisfaction with management
is limited to the Southeast Courier Section and that even there, it is not
widely shared. Contrary to this hypothesis, the panel discovered that
dissatisfaction is equally widespread and deeply felt across all three sections.
In addition, personal exposure to radiation is not the main concern of the
agents. Instead, the agents primary concern is that management can
trust and respect them. The panel found that many managers do indeed have
a negative view of the agents. In addition, the panel heard numerous instances
of special agents acting in a non-professional manner in their dealings with
In addition to reports by special agents, the panel observed a great deal
of evidence that the agents are correct about how they are viewed. Managers
used language that depicted the special agents figuratively as
children, and at least several managers interviewed explicitly
referred to the special agents as spoiled babies. The panel was
provided with a variety of stories to support these views. Moreover, several
members of support units reported that special agents earn more with overtime
than many managers, implying that they didnt deserve the money.
Not surprisingly, TSD agents believe that many managers do not deserve their
respect. More than half of special agents interviewed by the panel expressed
negative attitudes toward managers. These remarks range from the mundane
("Did you see the bellies on the management guys?") to the serious. In the
latter case, agents cite specific examples of managers lying, cheating on
timing runs, and stealing from TSD. (My team leader got 30 days off
for cheating on his run, got promoted and now hes timing me.)
Perhaps the best illustration of TSD agents dismal view of how they
are treated can be summarized by the sign visibly displayed in a locker room.
It reads: The beatings will stop when morale improves.
TSD has been managing and operating a fleet of specially designed 18-wheel
tractor-Safe and Secure Trailer (SST) road mobile rigs to transport nuclear
weapons and nuclear materials within the continental United States since
1975. Convoys making the shipments include from one to four of these rigs,
a number of convoy support vehicles, and a complement of armed federal special
agents. Typically, several of these convoys are in operation on U.S. highways
every week. There have been thousands of successful convoy operations since
The performance of the fleet has been essentially flawless since its inception,
resulting in safe, secure, and on-schedule transportation of the weapons
and materials. Public scrutiny of the operation, however, has risen over
time, owing to increased media awareness of the operation, heightened public
sensitivity to safety and employee rights issues, and changes in the legal
Our findings on communications difficulties bear primarily on the issue of
lack of trust between TSD management, management staff, and special agents.
Attention to resolution of this issue is a matter of urgency, since the
psychological tension it produces could have unpredictable results if the
matter is not resolved.
Expressions of concern regarding radiation safety are principally a result
of allegations by former Special Agent James Bailey and the Government
Accountability Project (GAP). They alleged that the cause of cancerous brain
tumors found in a new-born daughter of Mr. Bailey's in 1995 were the result
of his occupational exposure to radiation. They also suggested that the cause
of respiratory difficulties experienced by Mr. Bailey and others during a
training exercise at Savannah River, S.C., in 1991 might have been related
to radiation exposure.
We can readily understand how the numerous unexplained and often-denied
operational events cited by Bailey and GAP as evidence of inadequate control
of radiation exposure could lead them to conclude that occupational radiation
of agents was not well controlled. Our investigation suggests that events
such as the confiscation of personal clothing and empty trailers setting
off portal radiation sensors were occasional problems, compounded by lack
of follow-through investigation by management of legitimate agent inquiries
and a similar lack of full and open communication of factual findings. Many,
if not all, of the events that concern agents appear to have occurred, but
upon investigation, none in fact disclosed a major radiation exposure problem.
Despite TSD's near flawless performance of its operational mission, a serious
internal erosion of trust and respect has been steadily developing between
TSD management and the special agents.Uncorrected, this problem could soon
undermine TSD operational performance and damage its impressive record. While
management and SAs do converse with and confront each other periodically,
they do not communicate well or resolve differences quickly and effectively.
As a result, a profound lack of trust and respect pervades the organization
and seriously erodes morale. Effective and meaningful communication, essential
within any organization, is lacking. The stressful and sleep-disturbed
environment induced by the intense safety and security demands of convoy
operations adds to the problem and leads to frustration and occasional outbursts
of inappropriate behavior by the SAs. At other times, civil and reasonable
inquiries by agents result in inadequate, untimely, and disrespectful responses
by management. Low morale, distrust, and poor communications are the ominous
symptoms of progressively worsening structural problems in the static and
outdated career conditions experienced by agents. To give some examples:
Members of this aging workforce have little or no prospect of promotion
within the Department. Facing a career dead-end with their grade and base
pay scales essentially frozen, they rely on massive amounts of overtime,
averaging 60 percent of base pay, to improve their economic condition.
The physical fitness requirement for these agents is inflexible and
threatens discharge at each exam; the physical standards and maintenance
program imposed on these individuals need to be reevaluated.
While other similar careers in security work provide a 20-year retirement
option, the only way for SAs to leave service with honor and retirement pay
is to retire with a disability or to wait until they are eligible for a Federal
Civil Service retirement. In either case, retirement is tied to base salary,
rather than their gross.
Special agents believe that these conditions could be alleviated,
but that management has not been willing to take corrective actions.
Because management practices regarding some safety and personnel issues are
not consistent and effective, agents do not feel supported by their superiors.
Following are some brief examples of these issues (additional analysis and
discussion of each appear in Section IV):
There are perceptions among agents that overtime compensation is withheld
to punish and retaliate against them for questioning various management practices
Unresolved individual safety complaint cases (such as the Bailey case
and Southern Cross) result in loss of public trust and negative public attention.
Leadership quality is underdeveloped at many levels.
The radiation safety program has responded inadequately to concerns
voiced by some regarding TLD dosimeter reports, clothing confiscation, portal
monitors alarming on empty secure trailers, field worker comments about radiation
levels, and questions regarding tritium container integrity.
Support organizations apply federal civilian criteria inappropriate
to the needs of a small, essentially paramilitary unit with a highly unique
Special agent contributions to decisions regarding equipment and armament
selections have been inadequate.
The operational training program is too narrowly focused and is more
of a testing program than a training program.
The tensions within TSD arising from lack of trust and respect between agents
and management are not new, so the decisions and style of current management
are not likely to be the exclusive causes of the situation. It is not possible
for us to determine with certainty the causes that have led to the present
conditions, but it is obvious that the basic situation has existed for some
time, probably dating from the creation of the organizational structure.
TSD is charged with a highly demanding national security responsibility --
the safe and secure movement of weapons of mass destruction. Accordingly,
there is no margin for error in mission accomplishment. For this mission
to succeed, a "paramilitary" force is appropriate. The dilemma, however,
lies in how to integrate a force of this type within an agency that is
predominately non-military in its organization and far more focused on research
and development than on paramilitary operations.
These problems have persisted and grown despite extensive external review
and oversight. TSD has undergone more than its share of scrutiny. There were
five external reviews in 1996, seven in 1997, and seven so far in 1998. The
schedule of reviews, audits, and investigations for the coming 12 months
appears to be every bit as active. The reviews have been quite thorough and
objective. Several have arrived at remarkably similar conclusions to ours,
("low morale and sense of futility," DeVasto, 1994; "communications problem,"
ES&H review, 1997) but the erosion of trust and respect has worsened,
not improved. Initiating a new and definitive approach to reestablishing
trust and respect is now imperative.
The Division maintains an aggressive program to continually assess the capability
of agents to meet their job requirements. Periodic evaluations are conducted
to ensure agents competence in operating equipment and using firearms
and other weapons, as well as in maintaining required standards of physical
fitness. Physical fitness policy presents one of the greatest leadership
challenges. Standards were developed and adopted by the Department in 1981,
following a review by accepted professionals in the field of job-related
physical requirements. As the group of agents ages, their ability to meet
the standards is declining. This decline results in increased injury rates
and inability to perform their primary function: the provision of security
for the transport of nuclear material.
While the Division has a remediation program in place, it requires a minimum
of six weeks and may, depending on the individual, take much longer. During
this time the affected agent does not perform convoy duties and does not
earn overtime. From the agent's perspective, the lost overtime is a significant
loss of income. It should be noted, however, that during the period of
non-travel, the agent's basic compensation and benefits are not affected.
This situation is not likely to improve, and in some ways is creating a "run
to fail" condition in the force. That is, the force naturally becomes less
capable to meet the physical prerequisites of the job as it ages. Attempts
to maintain the standards simply result in an ever-increasing number of
job-related injuries and early disability retirements. Therein lies the
challenge. It seems prudent for the Division to seek solutions to insure
the viability of the organization.
Unfortunately, over time a number of SAs have either experienced first hand
or heard rumors of instances suggesting that their radiation environment
may not have always been as tightly controlled as management would have them
believe. For example, SA personal clothing has been confiscated on one or
more occasions for possible contamination; empty SST trailers have frequently
triggered facility radiation portal alarms; personnel in loading and unloading
facilities have made comments that SST trailers or the tractor sleepers were
"very hot" or that the loads picked up were "leaking.". Convoys have been
required to traverse areas bounded by low level radiation waste storage areas,
and SAs have been required to spend break time in facilities near such areas.
SAs have measured above background radiation levels in and near convoy waiting
areas; SSTs have been said to have been washed down by maintenance
teams to decontaminate them, and SAs personal luggage has been reported to
have been co-mingled with sealed tritium containers on air shipments.
The response of TSD management when questioned about the incidents described
above is that there is no valid record of any of them happening, and that
if they had occurred they were isolated and misinterpreted incidents that
happened long ago. Despite a number of different and parallel procedures
available to SAs to report and inquire about such incidents, they are very
hesitant to use them out of concern that middle level management will label
them "trouble makers," and that they will be shunned by their peers. There
are numerous reports of such reactions by management in the past, so these
fears do not appear to be groundless.
A second SA reported being present on a convoy departing Zone 4 at Pantex
with three empty trailers, having all three trailers trigger the radiation
portal monitors, and being "waved through" by the security forces without
inspection. We validated this claim by asking ALO weapons program management
for details. We were told that empty trailers frequently trigger portal alarms
(as do fire trucks and other large vehicles), and that normally convoys that
trigger the alarms are asked to back up for another try and held for a manual
inspection if they trigger alarms again. In the above incident, the SSTs
were waved through because they were known to have the proper inspection
papers indicating no unauthorized nuclear material on board. This sequence
of events is reported to have occurred on numerous instances at other
installations, as well. An analysis of this situation by a qualified security
system engineer from Sandia National Laboratories found that indeed the systems
in use at most DOE facilities are prone to this kind of false alarm.
A review of annual training plans and schedules, coupled with observation
of an In-Service Training (IST) operation at Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas
[photos above] makes evident the importance that TSD
leadership places on this critical issue. The scenarios developed for each
IST session are generally practical and tied to the organizations mission.
Observed participants exhibited a high degree of enthusiasm in these phases
of training and evaluation. Although some noted dissatisfaction with the
frequency and similarity of operations at the Ft. Chaffee site, it was noted
that the Division has in the past sought other locales (i.e., Ft. Pickett,
VA.) to maximize the learning outcomes of the events. We are aware of Division
plans to train at Ft. Hood, TX in the near future. This training, involving
Division personnel and other federal and local agencies, will offer the
opportunity to address contemporary training needs as identified by current
threat assessments. This nexus between training and threat to include adversarial
capabilities and intent is critical to the continued viability of the force.
The same threat refinements that drive new equipment should be the basis
for training adjustments and innovations.