DOE releases software quality improvement strategy

On a recommendation from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the Energy Department has issued an implementation plan to improve the quality of safety software at defense nuclear facilities.

The department's Office of the Environment, Safety and Health is taking phased steps toward identifying and fixing weaknesses in the system, analysis and design software that runs safety-related functions, as well as in the way people use and manage that software.

The plan was created in answer to the board's contention last September that the department's original software Quality Assurance Improvement Plan 'has not yet produced any substantial results.' The board then offered its Recommendation 2002-1, 'Quality Assurance for Safety-Related Software.'

In November, Energy secretary Spencer Abraham said a new implementation plan would include clear assignments of employee roles and responsibilities, processes that identify safety analyses and design codes, continuous tracking of software improvements and initiatives, and a stronger infrastructure and stricter requirements for software quality.

'We're just standing up and starting to think about how we want to do this,' said Raymond J. Hardwick, acting deputy assistant secretary for Energy's Office of Corporate Safety Assurance, speaking at a department-sponsored software quality forum this week. 'We have a lot of work to do.'

The board, however, will be looking for results. It highlighted 'significant problems' with safety-related software systems at the BWXT Pantex Plant, Energy's nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility in Amarillo, Texas, in a letter it sent on Tuesday to Linton Brooks, acting administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

While the board said BWXT Pantex has begun implementing software quality assurance initiatives that have 'the potential to enhance conduct of operations,' it said those initiatives 'may be jeopardized by observed inadequacies in software engineering practices.'

The board asked for 'urgent action,' including a report from NNSA in the next month detailing how it will improve software quality assurance at Pantex.

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