Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Weathering the Witch-Hunt

Letting an 82 year-old nun break in to your weapons-grade uranium storage facility is not without its consequences...

If there was an Academy Award for thoughtful, incisive writing on security leadership I'd nominate Nick Catrantzos for his two-part essay on the recent Oak Ridge Y-12 fiasco.

Now if you let three geriatric peaceniks roam around inside the wire at the national defense complex where the DoE keeps all the country's spare atomic bomb parts you should expect a drubbing.  You may expect your industry's regulator, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), to send you a tersely worded memo saying things like:

"...our preliminary fact-findings reveal that contributing and direct causes of the security event include an inappropriate Y-12 cultural mind set, as well as a lapse of discipline and performance..."


At first the lesson seemed to be simple.   If any part of your security system is broken fix it, or ask that it be fixed - in writing - until it is fixed or until you are granted an exception - in writing - releasing you from pursuit of the deliverable for which the tool was provided.  In this case that lesson would be a little too simple.

In Part One of his pointed and pithy essay Catrantzos let's us in on a bit of a shocker.  The NNSA itself held the contract with G4S and was responsible for operational oversight until after the failure, which is when they transferred the contract to the engineering company operating the site - Babcock and Wilcox, and only then sent them the letter blaming them for the security breach.  With clients like these...

Part Two is even better.  If you have ever failed an audit, watched helplessly as a program slid inexorably out of control, or been woken up by news of some catastrophic screw up by a member of your team, you will recognize the wisdom of Catrantzos' advice. If none of these things have ever happened to you then you must read his essay so that you are ready for the day when they do.

Image credit: Adam Brimer http://m.knoxnews.com/photos/2012/aug/03/245458/