After weeks of silence and uncertainty, the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of our nuclear arsenal finally has an answer to the question of who exactly is in charge under President Trump. Last night, just hours before Trump was to be sworn in, his transition team finally asked Under Secretary for Nuclear Security Frank Klotz to stay on as chief of the National Nuclear Security Administration until his eventual replacement could be named and confirmed by the Senate.
As is customary for political appointees in outgoing administrations, Klotz had submitted his resignation effective today at noon. But it’s also been customary for new presidents to invite leaders in key positions—like, say, the ones ensuring the safety of our nukes—to stick around until the new president is able to install his own people. The Trump transition, as Gizmodo previously reported, had offered Klotz nothing but silence on that question for weeks, leading him to prepare for departure and spreading anxiety in the nuclear community that a key agency would be left leaderless due to Trump’s inattention.
The issue came to a head on Tuesday, when Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) sent Trump a letter warning him that “our country will lack high-ranking officials in charge of critical responsibilities such as overseeing our nation’s nuclear stockpile.”
On Wednesday, according to an official within the Department of Energy, which houses the NNSA, Trump’s energy secretary nominee Rick Perry stopped by the office to meet with Klotz. “Perry was very pointed,” the official told us. “He said something along the lines of ‘I can’t tell you to stay because I’m not confirmed, but that’s my intent.’” Then, at some point late yesterday—less than 24 hours before he was to be sworn in—Trump seems to have finally asked Klotz to stay on in his role as NNSA administrator in the interim. An email from Klotz to his colleagues, obtained by Gizmodo, confirms that “to help ensure continuity in our critical nuclear security work, I’ve been asked to remain as the NNSA Administrator for a period of time.”
According to the Department of Energy official, Klotz had been preparing for retirement, going so far as to pack up his belongings. Even though the invitation was extended at the last moment, the source told Gizmodo, Klotz agreed to stay on out of a sense of duty. “At the end of the day, he’s a person who spent 40 years serving his country,” the official said. “I don’t think that he would ever want to just leave us empty-handed.”
As for the rest of the NNSA, Klotz’s note to colleagues announced the departure of his deputy, Madelyn Creedon, and seven other senior staffers. The Department of Energy official says the NNSA has received no guidance on how many staff will be coming in to replace them, or when.
When asked for confirmation that Klotz was still in command, an NNSA spokesperson told us, “All I can do right now is refer you to what Gov. Perry said in his confirmation hearing yesterday” (Perry, when asked about the NNSA leadership, said only that “we’re quite confident that our process is working.”)
The Trump team did not return our requests for comment.
The memo from Klotz, and the goodbye email from his deputy Creedon, are below.
In the meantime, if you work in the bowels of the Trump administration and hear anything interesting, please do let us know.
From: NNSACAST HQ
Sent: Thursday, January 19 2017 5:47 p.m.
Subject: A Thank you to Great Americans
We’ve been fortunate at NNSA to have exception non-career appointees in recent years who have made a lasting impact on the organization. Their leadership will be missed and I wish them all the best in their future endeavors. They include:
- Madelyn Creedon, Principal Deputy Administrator
- Anne M. Harrington, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation
- Clarence Bishop, Associate Administrator for External Affairs
- Jed D’Ercole, Deputy Director of External Affairs and Director of Congressional Affairs
- Thom Metzger, Director of Public Affairs
- Orfa Torres-Jaen, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs
- Francie Israeli, Press Secretary
- Clayton Allen, Congressional Affairs Specialist
Furthermore, I want to express my whole-hearted gratitude to NNSA’s career workforce for your dedicated service to enhance America’s security, reduce nuclear dangers, and advance scientific discovery. Your professionalism and expertise is unparalleled and each one of you plays a vital role in accomplishing our enduring missions as we transition to a new administration. Be proud of yoru contributions to make the world a safer place. I certainly am.
To help ensure continuity in our critical nuclear security work, I’ve been asked to remain as the NNSA Administrator for a period of time. I’m truly honored to do so, and eagerly look forward to working with the incoming Secretary of Energy.
Thank you again for everything you do on behalf of the American people. Without your commitment, the national security of the United States would not be as strong as it is today.
“Mission First, People Always”
From: Madelyn Creedon
Sent: Thursday, January 19 2017 4:55 p.m.
Subject: Farewell Message
It is my honor to have returned to NNSA to serve and support the mission, which is so important to our national security. I wish that it were possible to say a personal farewell to each and every one of you. Not being the kind for long goodbyes, I will simply say thank you for all your energy, drive, creative spirit, intelligence and commitment to our Nation. It has been a privilege, and I will miss you all.
I retire from public service effective tomorrow, proud of my 36 years of service as a Federal employee.
“Mission First, People Always”