Several Department of Energy agents tasked with transporting nuclear weapons got drunk while on duty, according to the agency's inspector general office.
In a recent memo, Assistant Inspector General Sandra Bruce reported that the office confirmed 16 alcohol-related incidents from 2007 through 2009.
Two of those incidents occurred during "secure transportation missions" while the agents were checked into hotels for the night. In 2007 an agent was arrested for public intoxication, and in 2009 two agents were temporarily detained by police officers after an incident at a local bar.
Though the Office of Secure Transportation was "proactive" in addressing the issue, "further action may be needed," Bruce wrote.
"OST management took what appeared to be appropriate action in these cases," she wrote. "However, in our judgment, alcohol incidents such as these, as infrequent as they may be, indicate a potential vulnerability in OST's critical national security mission."
OST -- which is under the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration -- is responsible for transporting nuclear weapons, weapons components and special nuclear material. The office includes about 597 agents, agent candidates and other personnel, according to Bruce's memo.
In an e-mail, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera emphasized that "appropriate disciplinary action" was taken in the two cases highlighted in Bruce's memo.
"NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation maintains a highly trained, highly professional force that has safely and securely transported nuclear materials more than 100 million miles without a single fatal accident or any release of radiation," LaVera said. "The Inspector General review did not find any evidence of a systemic problem, nor was there any evidence that any of our agents were driving while intoxicated while on duty."
The office has developed an alcohol testing program to ensure agents are not intoxicated while on duty, including subjecting agents to testing every 12 months and sending home any agent with a blood alcohol level above 0.02. Agent candidates are also subject to a few rules while in training, including the prohibition of beer kegs and an eight-hour restriction for consuming alcohol before reporting for duty.
But in the memo, Bruce suggests OST officials determine whether further action is needed, such as instituting a zero-tolerance policy for agents. LaVera said NNSA has already established a new alcohol testing requirement and is considering additional measures after evaluating the IG report.
Bruce's memo also highlights some shortcomings in the office's Human Reliability Program, which ensures agents are physically and mentally suitable. According to the report, officials have sometimes neglected to sign required forms and have allowed a few agents to continue working despite late recertification.
Click here to read Bruce's memo.
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