WASHINGTON — The National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) is pushing back at a news report that the transition team for President-elect Donald Trump plans to remove the heads of the agency when he takes office.
On Monday, Gizmodo reported that the Trump team has asked NNSA director Frank Klotz and his deputy, Madelyn Creedon, to step down on Jan 20. Because those positions require senate confirmation, those spots would likely be open for several weeks, if not months — at a time when the agency would need to be advocating the new Congress for funding.
However, an NNSA official, speaking on background, denied such discussions have occurred.
"The story is not accurate," the official said. "There have been no discussions between the president-elect's transition team and any of NNSA's political appointees on extending their public service past Jan. 20."
The NNSA is a semi-autonomous department within the Department of Energy. While the Defense Department manages the delivery systems of the nuclear force — ships, planes and missiles — NNSA has oversight over the development, maintenance and disposal of nuclear warheads.
The agency is perusing a modernization plan known as the "3+2 Strategy," under which the NNSA is consolidating the American arsenal of warheads into five variants. Five bomb and cruise missile warhead types are being consolidated into two replacement warhead designs, the W80-4 and the B61-12. Meanwhile, the five ballistic missile warheads now in service are being consolidated into three new interoperable warheads known as the IW-1, IW-2, and IW-3.
Klotz is the fourth NNSA head in the agency’s 16 year existence, and in that limited precedent, the nuclear head has been kept on by the incoming administrations. John Gordon, the first NNSA head, was appointed by Bill Clinton but served for two years under George W. Bush, while Tom D'Agostino was appointed by Bush but continued to serve for the first six years of the Obama administration.
A retired Lt. Gen. Klotz has drawn positive reviews both from the Hill and the non-proliferation community for his management of the agency. The latter reacted negatively to the Gizmodo story on Twitter, with the sentiment summed up nicelyby Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association, who called removing Klotz and Creedon an "unusual and unforced error if they were willing to stay."
In a series of tweets, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said, "It took Obama a long time to replace D'Agostino. Grateful @FrankKlotzNNSA and @mrc5920 were willing to serve. Klotz and Creedon were unicorns -- sane and competent people willing to take the worst gig in DC."
The report comes three weeks after Trump tweeted he was in favor of an expansion of America’s nuclear capability, a statement that rattled the non-proliferation community.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.