Restructuring the independent federal agency charged with health and safety oversight at Department of Energy nuclear-weapon and cleanup sites will not involve layoffs, according to the head of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

“We are not going to have to involuntarily separate anyone,” acting DNFSB Chairman Bruce Hamilton said Thursday in a telephone interview.

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Hamilton spoke a day after the DNFSB announced a major reorganization under which by 2019 the agency could cut staff at its Washington headquarters by roughly half, set up two new field offices near DoE defense-nuclear sites in Nevada and New Mexico, and nearly double the number of inspectors deployed throughout the DoE nuclear weapons complex.

Hamilton estimated the DNFSB employs 80 to 85 people at headquarters. As part of the its restructuring, the board aims to drop that number by 46 percent. 

In the past 12 months or so, the DNFSB has trimmed its headcount to below 100 full-time employees by what Hamilton called “natural attrition”: not filling vacancies created when full-time board staff leave the agency. Sustaining that hiring freeze could further thin the ranks, Hamilton said.

Hamilton said he will also seek eight volunteers to leave headquarters and become resident DNFSB inspectors at DoE nuclear sites. That would bring the board’s total resident-inspector count to 18 from 10, Hamilton said. The board only employed seven resident inspectors at four DoE nuclear sites at deadline Sunday for sister publication Weapons Complex Morning Briefing. Three resident-inspector vacancies will be filled soon, Hamilton said.

Washington-based DNFSB technical staffers already make periodic trips to DoE facilities to conduct inspections that are summarized in the board’s weekly reports. However, Hamilton believes such people could do “more effective” work if they live near the sites.

“It’s my view that having somebody there day-to-day, building relationships, seeing things over and over again, asking various questions over and over again is a far more effective way to provide safety oversight, which is our mission,” Hamilton said.