Kim Budil will become the 13th director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California on March 2, the younger of the two U.S. nuclear-weapons design laboratories announced Thursday.
Budil was mostly recently Livermore’s director of weapons complex and integration, responsible for the lab’s major weapon refurbishments, including the W80-4 air-launched cruise-missile warhead and the W87-1 intercontinental ballistic missile warhead.
Budil, who will be the first woman to run Livermore in the lab’s nearly 70-year history, will replace William Goldstein, who last year announced he would retire after six years as director and 36 years at the Bay Area lab.
The board of directors for Lawrence Livermore National Security (LLNS), the lab’s management and operations contractor, conducted a roughly six-month, nationwide job search that winnowed a field of 100 or so candidates down to five finalists — one of whom declined to interview for the job — before unanimously settling on Budil, said Charlene Zettel, chair of Lawrence Livermore National Security, and a University of California regent.
“We reached out to a number of diverse organizations as well because we wanted to make a statement about diversity and inclusion and our determination to make sure that we were reaching out to everyone and providing opportunity,” Zettel said during a media availability Thursday. “We spent two full mornings on video conferencing with all elements of the lab, managers and workforce, the scientists, early scientists, late scientists, support personnel, to make sure we had developed a profile of all the requisite characteristics of an excellent director.”
Budil rejoined Livermore in 2019, filling the post vacated by Charles Verdon, who left the lab in 2018 to become deputy administrator for defense programs at National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) headquarters in Washington. Verdon is now the acting NNSA administrator and the sole Donald Trump appointee left at the semi-autonomous DoE nuclear-weapons agency.
Before her most recent stint at Livermore, Budil had been vice president for national laboratories in the University of California’s office of the president since 2014. University of California has run both Livermore and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in some fashion practically since the labs’ inceptions. Before the University of California president’s office, Budil had been program manager of the nuclear counterterrorism program in Livermore’s Global Security Directorate.
Budil’s first stint at the California lab started in 1987 in Laser Programs. She has a Ph.D. in engineering/applied science from the University of California.
Lawrence Livermore National Security, a partnership led by the University of California and Bechtel National, manages the Livermore lab under a roughly $2-billion-a-year contract awarded in 2007. The NNSA has one more option on the pact, which if exercised next year would stretch the deal out through fiscal year 2026, which runs through Sept. 30, 2025.
That’s the same year Livermore is supposed to finish the proof-of-concept first production unit of the W80-4, the warhead for the Long Range Standoff Weapon cruise missile Raytheon [RTX] is building for the Air Force.
With Budil at the tiller and the lab operations contractor a lock at least through that milestone, Livermore finds itself on relatively stable footing at a time when its biggest contributions so far to the 30-year nuclear modernization cycle started by the Barack Obama administration are less than a decade from the NNSA’s production pipeline.
The Long Range Standoff Weapon is supposed to be ready for military use around 2030, as is the next-generation land-based intercontinental ballistic missile, the Northrop Grumman [NOC]-built Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).
Livermore’s W87-0, one of the warheads from the legacy Minuteman III missiles GBSD will replace, “will be the initial operational capability on the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent,” Budil said. That warhead will be adapted for GBSD during flight tests that could begin in 2023 or so, the Air Force has said.
Later GBSD missiles will use the Livermore-designed W87-1, essentially a freshly built copy of the existing W87 design, but with brand new pits and some new components. The W87-1 and pit schedules are tight at the NNSA, which estimates a 2030 first production unit for the warhead. The Los Alamos National Laboratory, meanwhile, expects to start casting pits suitable for the weapon in 2024.
All three of these intimately intertwined programs will want an advocate in Washington, D.C., where after the tumult of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment and the building of President Joe Biden’s cabinet, a united Democratic government will turn its eye to the 2022 budget — which may again include debate about slowing down the modernization of the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile fleet.
Budil will be one of the chief defenders of Livermore’s role in those programs, when and if the debate begins again.
“It’s very important with new people coming in, the new administration, new staff appearing, new folks in the Congress to offer them the opportunity to learn what we do and the kind of capabilities we have and help answer their questions,” Budil said.