Project Aim Project Descriptions

On June 8, 2015, the Commission approved many of the recommendations presented in the Project Aim report, "Achieving Exemplary Nuclear Regulation in the 21st Century." The staff is implementing the approved recommendations as 19 discrete tasks with completion dates ranging from August 25, 2015 to March 16, 2018. A description of each of the 19 tasks are below:

The 19 Tasks in Project Aim

The Overall Implementation Plan provided a structured approach to implementing the tasks recommended in the Project Aim Report and Recommendations, as modified and approved by the Commission. The staff has completed all of the 19 discrete tasks in February 2016.

The Commission directed that the EDO and CFO be responsible for Project Aim. The EDO established a Steering Committee and team to ensure successful implementation of the recommendations. The committee and team provide leadership, coordination, and communication. The majority of the strategies approved by the Commission have been carried out by individual offices within the agency. The Commission holds regular public meetings to review progress, receives quarterly status updates, and engages in on-going communication with the EDO and CFO on status and issues.

The Overall Implementation Plan is a living document. The milestones, timelines, and metrics evolved as the project teams performed the work. Updates to the Overall Implementation Plan are provided in the monthly Project Aim status reports to the Commission (see Project Aim Task #2).

Other related material:

Each month, the team has been reporting progress on each of the 19 tasks and updates the implementation plan. The status reports communicate actual progress and potential challenges for each of the Commission-approved recommendations, including milestones, timelines, and metrics. All but two of the tasks have been addressed and completed. Based on the decreased number of active tasks the status reports are now done quarterly. Monthly status reports are available here.

The NRC recovers about 90 percent of its budget through user fees. These fees are set every year through a rulemaking process, which includes an opportunity for public input. During the past several fee rulemakings, the NRC received comments from stakeholders, licensees, and applicants indicating they are surprised by increases in fees, and find the license fee-setting process opaque and difficult to understand. As a result, the NRC is working to explain more clearly how it calculates and accounts for fees, and improve the transparency and timeliness of the process.

The NRC contracted with Ernst & Young, to compare how the NRC calculates fees against other Federal agencies and develop recommendations for improvement. In addition, the NRC analyzed the current process to identify improvements in how it develops the annual Fee Rule and communicates changes to stakeholders. These improvements include clarifying working papers presented publicly to justify fees, identifying the specific reasons for changes, evaluating how better to communicate fee changes to the industry, and publishing the annual Fee Rule sooner. In addition, the NRC will assess alternative methods of calculating fees, including whether flat fees should be expanded to other types of regulatory activities to provide a simple and predictable billing process. The NRC will also identify opportunities to further automate the fee-setting process to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

The Project Aim recommendation sets the FY 2017 Fee Rule as the target to begin implementing an improved process. However, we aim to provide continuous improvement around fee calculations, transparency, and timing. The OCFO held several public meetings in 2015 and 2016 to share information on fee calculations and improvements in the billing process to provide additional clarity and transparency. On August 15, 2016, the staff submitted proposals to the Commission for improving the fees process in FY 2017 and beyond (SECY-16-0097). On October 19, 2016, the Commission directed the staff to begin improving the fees process and to conduct a pilot initiative to explore whether a flat-fee structure could be established for routine licensing matters in the area of uranium recovery (SRM-SECY-16-0097).

Over the last decade and a half, the agency grew significantly to enhance security and incident response (post 9/11) and to prepare for projected growth in the use of nuclear power in the United States. The forecasted growth did not occur because of changes in the nuclear industry that resulted in fewer nuclear facilities and the early closure of existing plants. Today, the NRC is smaller than it was at its peak.

We are cognizant of our changing environment and are committed to focusing on using resources more effectively and efficiently. The NRC is evolving into a more appropriately-sized organization with the right personnel to achieve its mission and be an effective regulator while still being accountable to the American people and prudent in our expenditure of resources.

Staffing is measured in FTEs�full-time equivalents, or the amount of work a full-time employee does in a year. For fiscal year 2016, the agency set a goal of reducing staffing to 3,600 FTE. The agency used several strategies to meet this target. These include position management (a systematic process used to determine how many positions are needed and the type of organizational structure required), hiring externally only to meet critical skill needs and fill key entry-level positions, and offering early out and buyout opportunities, primarily targeted at supervisors and overhead positions.

These efforts were successful: By the end of FY 2016, the agency had reduced to 3,481 FTE.

In approving the Project Aim recommendations, the Commission directed the staff to develop a prioritization process with a procedure for adding or shedding work across the agency. The Commission also directed the staff to perform a one-time re-baselining assessment to identify work that should be shed, performed with fewer resources, or performed with a different priority.

We sought input from NRC employees and external stakeholders. We received well over 400 suggestions, including about 100 from external stakeholders. The most common suggestions addressed rulemaking, changes to the Reactor Oversight Process, and digital correspondence to save money, time, and resources.

Then offices and business lines systematically evaluated the agency's work and considered ideas from staff subject matter experts as well as external stakeholders. Based on the NRC's mission, principles of good regulation, and organizational values, we ranked the relative benefit and importance of specific activities. This prioritized list will play a key role as the agency evaluates whether and how to fund work that emerges after the budget is set for the fiscal year.

The staff completed the prioritized list and revised add/shed process in December 2015. The one-time re-baselining assessment was provided to the Commission at the end of January 2016. Staff provided the Commission a list of longer-term efficiencies and known workload trends in early March. Portions of the assessment may not be publically available if they contain pre-decisional budget data.

The Commission approved the re-baselining proposal in early April, and the staff immediately began implementing the 150 recommendations, with the goal of completing 141 by October 13, 2016. As of that date, 135 of the recommendations had been successfully completed, six are currently in process and one was completed at the end of October. The nine long-term activities are expected to be completed by April 2017 and by October 2017.

Other related material:

  1. SECY-15-0015 – Plan for Integrated Prioritization and Re-baselining of Agency Activities
  2. Public Meeting and Teleconference to Discuss Integrated Prioritization and Re-baselining of NRC Activities (Project Aim Initiative) – September 1
  3. Public Meeting and Teleconference to Provide an Update on Common Prioritization and Re-baselining of NRC Activities (Project Aim Initiative) – January 14, 2016
  4. SECY-16-0009 – Recommendations Resulting from the Integrated Prioritization and Re-Baselining of Agency Activities (and the SRM)
  5. SECY-16-0035 – Additional Re-Baselining Products: Long-term Efficiencies and Projected Significant Changes

In December 2014, Congress directed the Commission to engage an outside entity with expertise in Federal agency management to recommend ways we could reduce overhead and improve the efficiency of our internal processes. The NRC contracted with Ernst & Young (EY) to conduct a high-level benchmarking of the agency's overhead functions against similar processes and functions used by other Federal agencies. EY was also asked to make recommendations for reducing costs of NRC support functions in line with the Federal Government Chief Financial Officer best practices, without impacting the ability to meet the mission.

EY developed eight recommendations for reducing overhead costs and recommended a number of changes to the NRC budget structure. Ernst & Young found that the NRC has already implemented several best practices for cost reduction identified by the peer agency assessment.

Based on the EY assessment, the NRC is realigning its overhead budget structure. The realignment of certain resources currently classified as overhead into the mission areas they support will present a budget more comparable with other Federal agencies. The NRC will implement EY recommendations in the coming years as it works to improve the efficiency of its internal processes. These recommendations include moving our accounts payable and receivable processes to a shared service provider; further centralizing financial management, human resources, and information technology (IT); consolidating the data center and improving IT cost management practices; and reviewing our spending on IT and physical security.

Other related material:

  1. SECY-15-0109 – Assessment of the Recommendations in the April 30, 2015, Ernst and Young Overhead Assessment Report
  2. SECY-15-0109 – Enclosure 1 – Overhead Assessment Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Final Report – April 30, 2015
  3. SECY-15-0109 – Enclosure 2 – Assessment of Cost Recommendations, EY Report for Project Aim

The NRC re-examined the processes and practices associated with the risks to its information technology (IT) systems in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act. Working with other Federal agencies, the staff researched and reported on cybersecurity strategies, policies and processes to improve the cybersecurity program, including process improvements and cost-efficiency. Given the sensitivity of the material, the report and recommendations will not be made publically available. The agency is taking action on accepted recommendations.

The purpose of Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP) is to ensure that the right people with the right skills are in the right place at the right time. SWP takes a long-term view of the organization's staffing needs and how those needs may change based on internal and external factors. It allows management to plan for current and future staffing decisions based on organizational mission, strategic direction and objectives, budgetary resources, and a set of desired workforce skills and competencies. This process is simple in outline but depends on a rigorous and comprehensive analysis of the organization's work, workforce and strategic direction to be successful.

The Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer has assembled an SWP working group to:

  • Define and implement a workforce planning process across the agency
  • Identify and define the functional work and occupations of the current agency workforce (e.g., materials inspections, reactor inspections, rulemaking) and the occupations and positions that support the work (e.g., reactor systems engineers, security specialists)
  • Develop a future-state agency workforce and staffing plan (e.g., percent of technical vs. corporate staff, diversity, staff to supervisor ratios, grade structure, entry-level, recruitment plans)
  • Compare the current to future agency workforce to identify staff overages and gaps
  • Develop strategies to alleviate staff overages and gaps.

The final report was completed in early February of 2016. Based on the agency priorities identified in the SWP, the NRC will develop a plan to assess needs for critical and/or safety-related positions to determine skill gaps and surpluses (this is Project Aim Task #16). Based on this plan, the agency will develop competency models for other agency occupations and functions.

The NRC has created an "NRC Service Catalog," to serve as a centralized location on the Intranet where staff can request services that include audio-video support, relocation, repairs, computer support, etc. Prior to this new catalog, requests for these services were made through various systems, email requests, phone calls or on hard copy forms. The NRC Service Catalog provides a one-stop-shop for making these requests and is expected to reduce agency costs, improve efficiency, eliminate multiple ticket systems and paper forms, and reduce staff time. The NRC Service Catalog was available to the staff in April 2016.

A Center of Expertise (COE) is an organization that provides centralized services, leadership, best practices, processes, support, mentoring, training and knowledge management for a specific focus area. A COE is intended to improve agility by relying on organizational structures that promote a more efficient response to unexpected changes. Potential benefits include improvements in the ability to shift resources or work assignments to meet the demands of a changing environment, take on additional work without increases in resources, and maintain critical skill sets more effectively. Effective COEs also streamline decision-making, provide standardization across offices, and allow employees to do more sharing of knowledge and experience.

The staff proposed COEs in four specific areas with potential benefits: rulemaking, allegations, external hazards evaluations, and technical specifications for new and operating reactors. The Commission approved the staff's proposal on February 22, 2016. The COEs for allegations and external hazards evaluations have been formed, and the COE for technical specifications is expected to be complete by the end of 2016. The rulemaking COE will be fully implemented by the end of 2017.

Other related material:

The Contracting Officer's Representative (COR) Process Standardization Initiative aims to standardize the COR role and responsibilities related to contract and financial management. It began with an evaluation of the acquisition process to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the COR and improve quality and process time.

The Office of Administration (ADM) partnered with the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) to jointly sponsor this initiative. ADM engaged Ernst & Young to provide contractor support and ensure that best practices, particularly among comparably-sized agencies, were considered and incorporated. An integrated project team with broad agency participation, including a representative of the National Treasury Employees Union who has experience as a COR, carried out the assessment.

The team conducted a high-level review of the processes and business needs related to acquisition and financial management for each program office. Based on this information, the team defined a standard approach for COR tasks and developed recommendations. The implemented recommendations addressed: defining roles and responsibilities for CORs across the agency; developing requirements for COR training; standardizing the acquisition and financial management activities the CORs perform directly; and efficiencies that may be gained by using available systems and authoritative data and reports; training requirements for the CORs.

ADM, OCFO, and the Office of the Executive Director of Operations led the effort to implement these recommendations by working with individual offices and the Regions. The offices have been tasked to align their CORs to the established NRC COR standard role and responsibilities.

The NRC implemented changes to mobile information technology to provide better capacity at a lower cost. To optimize very limited resources, the agency has discontinued BlackBerry services and now provides devices with better capabilities to a limited number of employees, and expanded services that allow NRC employees to voluntarily set up a secure section of their personal smart phones for business use.

The NRC's materials program, in conjunction with the Agreement States, regulates medical, industrial and academic uses of nuclear materials. This program oversees more than 21,000 materials licenses. The NRC's materials program currently operates out of the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards (NMSS) with implementation provided by Regions I, III, and IV. The regional offices carry out licensing, inspection, event response, enforcement and allegations activities, in addition to providing support to programmatic changes such as guidance and rulemaking. Region II's materials program was moved into Region I in 2003. Under this task, NMSS evaluated whether further consolidation of the regional materials program would be more efficient.

NMSS assembled a project team including management and staff from headquarters and the three regions. The evaluation looked not only at the Nuclear Materials Users Business Line, but also at Decommissioning and Uranium Recovery. The team sought input from internal and external stakeholders. It collected and evaluated data through surveys, interviews, assessments, trend analysis, etc. to gain an understanding of the past, current, and potential future states of the materials program. The collected input was evaluated to develop options and a specific recommendation to the Commission for review in SECY-16-0083, issued in June 2016. The Commission approved the staff's recommendation to implement process enhancements and re-baselining initiatives in SRM-SECY-16-0083, dated September 19, 2016.

The NRC is assessing the corporate support functions in the regions to identify whether any may be standardized and/or centralized to reduce overhead costs and deliver more consistent products and services. The team will begin by interviewing headquarters corporate support staff about their experience with previous streamlining and centralization, followed by discussions with staff in the regional corporate support offices. Then the team will review regional corporate support activities to identify best practices and areas of possible cost savings. The working group will consider cost reduction recommendations and information gathered from benchmarked agencies in the Ernst & Young overhead assessment report.

The team coordinated its recommendations with the staff in the appropriate corporate support functions to ensure potential implementation issues were identified. The results of the review/evaluation was documented in an Informational paper and submitted to the Commission on June 6, 2016.

In late 2006, the NRC created the Office of New Reactors (NRO) to prepare for work related to the licensing and construction of new reactors and ensure that the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) could continue its focus on the safety of the operating fleet. Since that time, the new reactor licensing and oversight workload has been reduced from the original projections and significant work has been completed. In addition, new reactor processes have matured and the focus has shifted from program development to execution.

To address these changes, the Commission directed the staff to develop a plan to merge NRO and NRR at the appropriate time. A working group developed a business case for a merger, which included a description of projected efficiencies and challenges, and plans for the staff to address those challenges. The assessment also included an evaluation of leading resource drivers and proposed timing for a merger. A reorganization plan, including a business case for a merger of these two offices was provided in SECY-16-0075 on June 8, 2016. Subsequently, the Commission approved the merger of NRR and NRO in SRM-SECY-16-0075 and directed the staff to complete the consolidation of the two offices by September 30, 2020.

The NRC completed an assessment of the critical positions supporting the agency's mission- and safety-related work. The staff will continue to pilot competency modeling development for several including some of those positions identified in the assessment and some newly identified by offices through FY 2018. Following completion of the pilot, the staff will provide a business case for the use of competency modeling. Resources needed and potential savings associated with future modeling work will be provided in the final long-term competency plan.

The NRC re-examined the value of an explicit leadership model that complements the agency's organizational values and principles of good regulation with the goal of creating a culture of empowerment, creative thinking, innovation, and informed risk-taking-all of which are critical to creating an agile organization. The staff evaluated data from existing survey channels, such as the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and the triennial Safety Culture Climate Survey, thorough literature review of organizational culture and leadership, in addition to soliciting input from Office Directors and Regional Administrators, to gain insights and assess the value-added from this activity. The staff provided its assessment and final recommendations to the Commission on February 6, 2017 in COMSECY-17-0006.

Task No. 19 implemented Recommendation III-2 in SECY-15-0015, "Project Aim 2020 Report and Recommendations," dated January 30, 2015, which was to "[i]mprove licensing by conducting a business process improvement [BPI] review of the operating reactor licensing process and make associated improvements to enhance the predictability, timeliness, and efficiency of the reviews, while ensuring and measuring the effectiveness and quality of the reviews." This recommendation was approved by the Commission in a staff requirements memorandum (SRM) dated June 8, 2015. The Commission also approved the staff proposal to delegate decision-making about this activity (its timing, its scope, and the application of its results) to the Director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) and indicated that the review should incorporate available lessons learned about how the backlog of licensing actions that existed at the time originated and how it was resolved. The staff conclusions and recommendations were provided to the Commission on January 24, 2017, in COMSECY-17-0004.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, July 22, 2020