The Government Accountability Office (GAO) rolled out a letter of open priority recommendations for the Energy Department (DoE), with nuclear modernization and aging legacy IT systems and cybersecurity featured among the seven major areas GAO highlighted.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has been carrying out a long-term effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear security enterprise, and GAO recommended in April 2017 that NNSA assess the affordability of those plans with the hope of creating a better system of prioritization. GAO buckled down on the recommendation in its letter to DoE this year.

“NNSA should take actions to include an assessment of the affordability of NNSA’s modernization programs in its Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan that, for example, prioritizes programs to provide NNSA options for bringing the plans and funding needs for its portfolio of modernization programs into alignment with potential future budget estimates,” GAO said.

GAO also recalled its May 2016 recommendation to DoE and other agencies to modernize or replace their legacy IT systems, “including time frames, activities to be performed, and function to be replaced or enhanced.” GAO suggested in its 2019 letter that DoE establish a modernization implementation plan that addresses the 2016 needs.

GAO also underscored that DoE should work with the sector coordinating council, Department of Homeland Security, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to define methods of determining the level and type of cybersecurity framework that energy entities across their respective sectors would adopt. GAO initially recommended this to DoE in February 2018, and maintained the recommendation in its latest evaluation.

“DOE should have a more comprehensive understanding of the framework’s use by sector entities if DOE, along with other entities, want to ensure that its facilitation efforts are successful and determine whether organizations are realizing positive results by adoption the framework,” GAO said.

Although GAO said DoE has an average recommendation implementation rate of 70 percent, it also said the agency has not implemented any priority recommendations since GAO’s last open priority recommendation letter in April 2018. With the 12 priorities last year and six new ones this year, GAO highlighted 18 priority recommendations total in its letter this year.

In addition to nuclear modernization and work on upgrading legacy system and cybersecurity, GAO highlighted five other major areas that the recommendations fall under, which include: improving project and program management; contract management; financial and cost information; strengthening planning for the future of strategic petroleum reserves; and addressing DoE’s environmental liability.

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