WASHINGTON — US Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., is warning the new administration that unless it acts, an agency managing the nation's nuclear stockpile will go leaderless after Friday's inauguration.

Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, sent President-elect Donald Trump a letter Tuesday urging him to keep senior officials in sensitive national security posts — including National Nuclear Security Administration leaders — until their replacements are in place.

Heinrich noted only six of 58 presidentially appointed Pentagon officials are known to have been asked to stay in their positions through the transition process. Also, the NNSA leads, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz and Madelyn Creedon, have not been asked to stay on, he said.

"This will be the first time in NNSA's 16-year history, through four different administrations, in which there will not be any continuity in leadership during a presidential transition," Heinrich said in the letter. He added, "We simply cannot afford to allow national security positions to effectively run on 'auto-pilot.' The responsibilities are too important."

Political appointees of an outgoing presidential administration are typically asked to resign when a new president is elected, but appointees in key positions are often asked to stay until a new president can replace or choose to keep them.

Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Energy, told lawmakers at his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday that the head of the NNSA and his top deputy should remain on the job until their replacements are named.

"I have sat down with the general [Klotz] and had a good conversation with him, and have sent the message that it would certainly be my desire to have that continuity," Perry said. "It is in the president-elect's office now and hopefully we will see that type of continuity in those very important places."

On Thursday, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said at a news briefing that 50 government employees in critical posts have been asked to stay on, including Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work; Brett McGurk, the special envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, and Dab Kern, the deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Military Office.

"The president-elect understands how it is important to ensure the continuity of government," Spicer said.

He did not mention the NNSA, and the transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Email:      jgould@defensenews.com       

Twitter:      @reporterjoe  

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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