Dec 16, 2007
OAK RIDGE - The National Nuclear Security Administration is studying the possibility of federalizing guards at nuclear weapons facilities, including Y-12 in Oak Ridge.
The option has been discussed for many years but never carried out.
In a Nov. 14 memo to guards' unions and other stakeholders, William J. Desmond, chief of defense nuclear security for the NNSA, acknowledged the study and invited comment.
The NNSA, which is a part of the Department of Energy, plans to complete the study by Feb. 1, Desmond said.
He said his office wants to compare the use of contractors versus federal guards "to determine whether federalization of security forces would be a more effective and efficient model to provide tactical-response forces in today's threat environment," Desmond wrote.
Randy Lawson, president of the International Guards Union of America, who also heads IGUA local in Oak Ridge, said he supports the federalization effort.
Lawson said guards at various DOE sites have been working collectively toward that goal.
The National Council of Security Police hired a lobbyist to assist their efforts, he said.
The motivation for guards is to improve retirement benefits, Lawson said. "We've been working through DOE for 20 years by collective bargaining, and it's not been successful," the union chief said.
Physical-fitness requirements have shortened careers and made it more difficult for security police to meet traditional point quotas needed for full retirement benefits, Lawson said.
Courtney Henry, a spokeswoman at Wackenhut Services, the government's Oak Ridge security contractor, said the company had no comment on Desmond's letter or the study.
"Basically, from the Wackenhut side, we're just continuing to work every day to protect Oak Ridge," Henry said. Besides Oak Ridge, Wackenhut is involved in security at the Nevada Test Site and the Savannah River site in South Carolina.
Desmond said the study would look at a number of economic and noneconomic issues. He also said it would assess the impact of strikes in general, as well as the recent 44-day strike by security police at the Pantex warhead-assembly plant in Texas. One of the NNSA incentives for federalizing guards would be to eliminate strikes at the national-security sites.
"That's our sacred cow," Lawson said. "But if they gave a fair retirement. … "
The Project On Government Oversight, a watchdog group often critical of security at NNSA sites, supports the federalization of security guards.
Senior writer Frank Munger may be reached at 342-6329.