The problems involve policies, salaries and equipment -- including weapons -- that can vary widely from site to site, in addition to concerns that increasingly rigorous training requirements could make it harder for employees of private companies to work until retirement age.
One option involves "federalization," or replacing the private firms with U.S. military. It was most recently explored in a 2009 study but subsequently rejected.
"Although DOE rejected federalization as an option in 2009 because it believed that the transition would be costly and would yield little, if any, increase in security effectiveness, the department recognized that the current contracting approach could be improved by greater standardization and by addressing personnel system issues," the GAO concluded.
The private work force includes 2,339 unionized officers and 376 supervisors who "are not uniformly managed, organized, staffed, trained, equipped, or compensated across the six DOE sites," the report said.
The SRS contractor, Florida-based Wackenhut Services Inc., has a local work force of 823 and is in the process of downsizing to 756.
Other sites that handle "special nuclear material" are Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M.; the Y-12 National Security Complex, in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; the Pantex Plant, near Amarillo, Texas; the Nevada Test Site; and Idaho National Laboratory, near Idaho Falls. Differences among the sites often result from separate contracts and collective-bargaining agreements between contractors and unions, the report said.
"As a result, the management and compensation -- in terms of pay and benefits -- of protective forces vary."