WASHINGTON — National Nuclear Security Administration head Frank Klotz will be staying for the foreseeable future, but deputy director Madelyn Creedon is no longer with the agency.
The decision to keep Klotz in place followed two weeks of concerns from the nuclear community that he might be forced out by the Trump administration with no replacement in sight.
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.
On January 9, Gizmodo reported that Klotz and Creedon had been told to clean out their desks, something an NNSA official almost immediately denied to Defense News. On January 17, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M, sent the incoming administration a letter warning of the danger of leaving the NNSA spot open, which raised attention to the issue.
But the biggest moment came two days later, when Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Energy, told lawmakers at his Senate confirmation hearing that he hoped to keep Klotz in place.
"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."
Klotz is the fourth NNSA head in the agency’s 17-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.
Analysts in the non-proliferation community, which has been largely positive on Klotz’s tenure, reacted with relief to the news.
Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association said that while there would have been professional staff keeping NNSA going, continuity of leadership at NNSA is important. "Given the slow pace at which the Trump administration has been filling senior, sub cabinet level positions and the fact that Rick Perry is a total neophyte on nuclear issues, continuity was the right and smart choice," he said.
Adds Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, "It was absurd that they waited to the last minute to make such an obvious decision, but better late than never. NNSA is a really tough job. The labs are so important to their states that the Administrator has to do a very careful balancing act in terms of keeping members of Congress happy."
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.