As contractor and Pentagon program officials try to navigate their way to success in the current budget-freezing climate paralyzing Washington, they can find some mapping hints from Adm. Kirkland Donald, the director of U.S. Naval Reactors, which is regarded as one of the most solid and consistent divisions within the Defense Department.

Essentially, Donald says, those responsible for programs must go beyond what is simply required to get the job done.

Reactors are vital for the Navy force, providing the power for its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines. Nuclear reactor expenses ranked 15th in the Navy budget between 1998 and 2009 with $6 billion in contracts and modifications, according to an exclusive Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) analysis of contracting information aggregated by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.

Developing and executing the reactor programs takes a great deal of planning and, Donald says, the ability to adapt.

“As a program, we must guard against the ‘compliance equals safety’ mind-set by fully evaluating all of the potential hazards associated with our work — including those not addressed by existing requirements — and ensure that systems and processes critical to safety are identified and prioritized,” Donald said Oct. 19 during an address at the 2011 Naval Submarine League Symposium.

Donald stresses the importance of carefully assessing and managing the risk-versus-reward associated with new technologies.

“The implementation of novel methods in design work and new technology bring inherent risks with their benefits,” he says.

“The basis for deviating from proven technology solutions must always be justified, intended benefits should honestly be weighed against intrinsic risks, and accumulated risk — particularly associated with hazards not covered by existing requirements — should be monitored. For new technologies with long development cycles, engineers must be willing to periodically evaluate the basis for implementing new technology to determine whether it still makes sense.”

Program officials also need to be on the lookout for technological breakthroughs wherever they can find them.

“The importance of managing new technologies is not just limited to internal developments,” Donald says. New external technologies, he says, may provide the ability to revalidate or update internal designs. One of the keys, he says, is the ability to “manage emergent change.

We must continue to reinforce formal concurrence and technical approval processes and not allow cost-and-schedule pressures to dictate the consideration of technical compromises and other mitigation actions in order to meet or recover schedules.”

As operators and maintainers of “high consequence technology,” Donald says, “We must be ever-vigilant in our search for learning opportunities. Actively sharing lessons learned and documenting them for future references is a cornerstone of our success. Strong technical competency is essential for effective regulatory oversight.”

He also says, “Accessible policy documentation enables continuity, formality, and consistency in work execution and emergency response.”