The No. 2 official at the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on Wednesday briefed members of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board on the “staggering goal” of swelling the nuclear-weapon steward’s workforce by about 20,000 heads over the next six years.

Those hirings would be spread across the NNSA complex, including its national laboratories and other sites.

“[W]e’re going to have to go through a major infrastructure modernization process,” William Bookless, NNSA principal deputy administrator, told the 16-member board in a webcast presentation from Chicago. “For many of the things we do, there is no industrial base. We are the industrial base.”

In round numbers, Bookless said the semiautonomous Department of Energy agency has about 41,000 employees and contractors “working on the NNSA mission today.” As with the rest of the government, only a small fraction of those are federal employees.

“On the federal side, we only have about 1,800 federal employees that do oversight on this whole program,” Bookless said. “We’re going to have to add 400 more by 2025 to that federal workforce. Currently, 20% of our workforce is eligible to retire, and by 2025 40% will be eligible to retire.”

Bookless’ overall hiring headcount includes short-term contract employees, such as those needed for current and planned construction projects across the to-be-rebooted nuclear enterprise. Over the next 30 years, these will include upgrades and additions to NNSA facilities that process uranium, plutonium, tritium, and lithium.

Within that window, in the mid-2040s, the NNSA also expects to need more unobligated low-enriched uranium — the sort that doesn’t carry peaceful-use restrictions as spot-market uranium does — to create tritium in nuclear reactors. That could mean construction a new domestic enrichment facility.

Bookless offered his comments about the NNSA’s “industrial base” only a week after Charles Verdon, head of the Defense Programs Office at NNSA headquarters in Washington, D.C., told lawmakers the agency is considering whether to reduce its reliance on outside vendors and manufacture more nuclear-weapon components in-house, as its parent and predecessor agencies did during the Cold War.

Verdon was testifying before a House Armed Services Committee panel about costly delays to a pair of weapon life-extension programs, the cause of which are commercial electrical components deemed not durable enough for decades of service in the deployed arsenal.

Bookless also told the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board on Wednesday that the NNSA is doing something different as it prepares its budget request for the 2021 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2020.

“One thing that we’ve done this year that is a market change from past practices is that we’ve included our our labs, plants, and sites in the development of our 2021 budget submission,” Bookless said. “So we are explicitly including their understanding of what is executable and what is needed.”

The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The White House typically publishes its budget request for the next fiscal year in February, though the latest version arrived in March. After publication, agencies begin planning the budget request for the fiscal year after that.

Usually, an agency hands over the first draft of its budget request to the White House Office of Management and Budget around Labor Day, so the 2021 budget Bookless discussed might already have left Department of Energy headquarters.

Last week, Energy Secretary Rick Perry added eight new members to the Secretary of Energy advisory panel, including a former executive with the online matchmaking service Tinder [IAC], a former whiskey distiller executive, and the president of the California Institute of Technology. The board provides independent advice to the energy secretary.

The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board met days after a White House deadline for agencies including DoE to close at least a third of their federal advisory committees. That indicates the DoE-chartered group evidently survived the purge. A DoE spokesperson did not reply this week to a request for comment about which committees got cut.