The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) aims to continue shoring up its workforce by adding the equivalent of 38 full-time employees in fiscal year 2023, according to newly released details of its 2023 budget request.
The semiautonomous Department of Energy nuclear-weapons agency seeks about $496 million, a roughly a 7% year-over-year increase, for its federal salaries and expenses account. If granted by Congress, the request would cover pay raises for existing employees and bring the agency’s civil-servant headcount to 1,958 from 1,920 last year, according to the latest published details from the fiscal year 2023 budget request
NNSA has sought for years to bring on more federal employees to assist with the restoration of the agency’s nuclear-weapons production complex and with the modernization of nuclear weapons themselves. The agency has five weapon refurbs on the slate for the 2020s — a decade in which it is also scheduled to build, or finish building, factories to produce nuclear weapon primary and secondary stages: respectively, plutonium pit factories at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
The latest federal salaries request of $496 million is about $20 million more than the NNSA predicted, in its most recent five-year budget outlook, it would need for that account in the coming fiscal year. In 2020, as part of its future-years nuclear security program, NNSA pegged the fiscal year 2023 federal salaries and expenses request at about $474 million.
Congress has been conditionally supportive of the federal hiring drive at the NNSA, writing in a report appended to the 2022 omnibus budget passed in March of “the importance of recruiting and retaining the highly skilled personnel needed to meet NNSA ‘s important mission.”
However, lawmakers directed said NNSA may “only hire within authorized personnel numbers provided for a given fiscal year, and if NNSA exceeds this authorized amount, then the Administrator must submit to the Committees within 30 days of the exceedance a report justifying the excess. The NNSA is directed to continue providing monthly updates on the status of hiring and retention.”
Most of the NNSA’s hands-on work is done at contractor operated sites, where special-purpose limited liability corporations handle the day-to-day management of thousands of employees working under contract to the agency.
Federal employees help coordinate the increasingly busy and interwoven activities across the NNSA’s eight big sites: the nuclear-weapons laboratories in California and New Mexico, manufacturing plants and production sites in Missouri, South Carolina and Texas and the Nevada National Security Site — still the hub for nuclear-weapon tests, though now of the zero-yield, subcritical variety.