Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), said Thursday she would give serious thought to remaining at her post, if President Trump wins a second term in office and wants her on the job.
“If the president so chooses to seek my advice and counsel, I would consider that seriously,” Gordon-Hagerty told reporters here Thursday during a breakfast hosted by the Defense Writers Group.
On whether she would serve as deputy secretary of energy, if Trump asked — Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is resigning in December and his deputy, Dan Brouillette, is in line for a promotion to the cabinet — Gordon-Hagerty demurred.
“I am honored to serve in the position that I have and I am honored to serve this administration and honored to serve the American people,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “I keep telling people, and I honestly believe it, I have the best job ever. And I am perfectly happy in the position that I’m in now.”
It was a rare on-the-record, question-and-answer appearance for the NNSA’s top official, who fielded, and deflected, questions from a small group of defense-industry journalists — and one writer with the Russian news agency, Tass.
Among other things, Gordon-Hagerty said the NNSA is looking at how to triage funding for key agency projects in 2020, if Congress passes yet another continuing resolution that stretches the government’s 2019 budget further into the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
“We are already rebalancing our efforts,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “We’re looking at where we can move funding insofar as CRs [continuing resolutions] will allow us to do so. We’re working very closely with OMB [the White House Office of Management and Budget] and the administration to see what we can do to continue our important programs to modernize the infrastructure as well as the stockpile and our workforce initiatives.”
The NNSA requested $16.5 billion for 2020 but is now dealing with a stopgap bill that keeps the agency funded month-to-month through Nov. 21 at the annualized rate of just over $15 billion. So far this year, partisan disagreement over President Trump’s proposed southern border wall has prevented full-year Defense and Energy spending bills from getting votes on the Senate floor. The House has already passed NNSA’s annual budget bill, though without some of the funding the agency sought for its Plutonium Sustainment account.
That account, key to on-time deployment of the next generation of nuclear-tipped, intercontinental ballistic missiles, is especially needy, under a continuing resolution. The NNSA wanted to nearly double the plutonium budget year-over-year to almost $715 million in 2020, leaving headquarters with a large hat to pass around if budgets are held to 2019 levels.
The requested funds would pay for design work on a new pit-casting plant in South Carolina which, in concert with planned upgrades to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, would allow the NNSA to make annually produce 80 fissile warhead cores called pits by 2030.
The brand new cores, which the NNSA says will be modified for safety but not military performance, will be for W87-1-style warheads: the business end of the planned Ground Based Strategic Deterrent missiles that will replace the 400-strong Minuteman III fleet of silo-based rockets beginning in 2030.
Los Alamos, a historically science-first lab with little history of industrial-scale production, would begin cranking 10 pits annually in 2024, ramping to 30 annually by 2026 and beyond. An NNSA chartered study published in 2018 by Parsons Government Services [PSN] found that Los Alamos probably will not hit 30 pits a year until 2035 or so. Gordon-Hagerty insisted, as she has before, that the NNSA “absolutely” plans to reach 30 pits a year at Los Alamos by 2030.
On Thursday morning, the NNSA chief characterized the agency’s preferred workarounds for the fledgling Los Alamos pit plant in the same general terms that senior nuclear-weapons managers in Washington have used since the Parsons study leaked to the public about a year ago.
“We’re looking at increasing the workforce so we can send, so we can do additional throughput through surge capacity,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “We’re doing everything we possibly can to look at unique ways.”
Still, Gordon-Hagerty said, continuing a summer-long management of expectations into the second half of autumn, “we do have a very tough row to hoe.”