FYI: Science Policy News

DOE Nuclear Security Leadership Falling Into Place

APR 30, 2021
President Biden has nominated former Sandia National Labs Director Jill Hruby and nuclear weapons policy expert Frank Rose to take the top two positions at the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Energy agency responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile.
Andrea Peterson
Senior Data Analyst

Jill Hruby, left, and Frank Rose

Jill Hruby, left, speaking at a Nuclear Threat Initiative event in 2019, and Frank Rose speaking at a 2015 meeting of the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, a nuclear threat reduction initiative launched by the State Department and NTI.

(Image credits – Nuclear Threat Initiative and State Department)

This month, President Biden made his picks for the top positions at the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy. Currently commanding an annual budget of $20 billion, NNSA is responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile and preventing the proliferation of nuclear material. It also oversees a network of nuclear weapons facilities, including Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia National Labs.

On April 14, Biden announced that to lead the agency he is nominating former Sandia Director Jill Hruby, who started her career on the lab’s technical staff almost 40 years ago and rose through the ranks of its management. Then, last week Biden announced he had chosen former State Department official Frank Rose to be Hruby’s principal deputy. An expert in international nuclear weapons and arms control policy, Rose is currently co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology.

Pending their Senate confirmation, Hruby and Rose will take NNSA’s helm as the agency ramps up efforts to modernize the U.S. nuclear stockpile, even as the Biden administration faces major decisions about the nation’s nuclear weapons policies.

To stay up to date on nominations to key science positions, consult FYI’s Federal Science Leadership Tracker .

Hruby worked up through Sandia’s ranks

Trained in mechanical engineering, Jill Hruby earned a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University in 1981 and a master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1983 before joining Sandia that same year. She spent the first 27 years of her career at Sandia’s California location, initially conducting research in thermal and fluid science, solar energy, and nuclear weapons components. She began taking on leadership roles in Sandia’s technical groups in 1989 and later moved into senior management roles within the lab that were focused on weapon components, micro-technologies, and materials processing.

Hruby became director of Sandia’s Materials and Engineering Sciences Center in 2003 and then director of its Homeland Security and Defense Systems Center in 2005. She moved to Sandia’s New Mexico site in 2010 when she was named vice president of the lab’s Energy, Nonproliferation, and High-Consequence Security Division and leader of its International, Homeland, and Nuclear Security Program Management Unit. In this position, she oversaw 1,300 employees and contractors working in areas as diverse as global security, weapon and force protection, the nuclear fuel cycle, energy technologies, geoscience, and climate.

Hruby was selected as director of Sandia in 2015, becoming the first woman to lead any of the three NNSA national labs. She retired from the lab two years later, when NNSA turned its management over to a new contractor , and in recognition of her contributions the lab made her the namesake of a postdoctoral fellowship program.

In 2018, Hruby became the inaugural Sam Nunn distinguished fellow at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an organization focused on addressing risks related to weapons of mass destruction. NTI was co-founded by former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) and businessman and philanthropist Ted Turner, and former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has been serving as its CEO since 2017. During her fellowship, Hruby developed technical analyses to inform nuclear arms control negotiations, including an expansive, open-source analysis of Russia’s new nuclear weapon delivery systems.

In a statement , Nunn, Moniz, and NTI President Joan Rohlfing welcomed Hruby’s nomination, saying, “It’s hard to imagine a better candidate: an experienced leader deeply invested in how the Department of Energy and NNSA contribute to U.S. national security, a proven manager whose thorough understanding of the weapons laboratories will enable her to guide and oversee their work, and a scientist with a deep technical background, who can communicate as easily with engineers and scientists, as with policymakers and the public.”

Currently, Hruby is working as an independent consultant and is a member of NTI’s board of directors. She is also a member of the Defense Science Board, the NNSA Defense Programs Advisory Committee, several national laboratory advisory boards, and the National Academies’ standing Committee for International Security and Arms Control.

She is also chair of an ongoing National Academies study of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation efforts, which recently released an initial report that suggests that NNSA expand its nuclear nonproliferation stewardship program, enhance its testbed infrastructure, and bolster its technology transition activities, among its other recommendations.

Rose brings experience from DOD, State Department, and Congress

Frank Rose has spent his career working in international policy, mostly in government positions. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from American University in 1994 and a master’s degree in war studies from King’s College London in 1999. From 1999 to 2009, he was a staff member, first in the Defense Department working on international security issues, and then in Congress for the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees.

During the Obama administration, Rose was appointed as deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, and in 2013 President Obama nominated him to be assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance. The Senate ultimately confirmed him by voice vote in late 2014.

After leaving the State Department in 2017, Rose served as the principal director and chief of government relations at the Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center focused on space policy and technology systems. He took on his current role at Brookings in 2018.

At Brookings, Rose has focused on issues in nuclear strategy, arms control, space, and emerging security challenges. In an article last December, he outlined policy challenges facing the Biden administration, including integrating China into a future strategic stability framework, responding to threats to U.S. space systems, building up the State Department’s arms control workforce, and reviewing U.S. nuclear modernization and deterrence policy.

In the article, Rose suggested that as the administration seeks to balance its response to changes in the Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals with the costs of modernizing the U.S. arsenal, it might forgo a traditional Nuclear Posture Review in favor of a “Deterrence Posture Review.”

“A DPR process could help the Biden administration determine the right set of military capabilities and policies — nuclear and non-nuclear — it requires to deter current and emerging threats in a fiscally sustainable manner. Indeed, if nuclear weapons are ever used again, it is unlikely to be as a result of ‘a bolt out of the blue’ nuclear attack, but the result of the escalation of a conventional conflict. Therefore, the best way to prevent a nuclear war may be by preventing conventional conflict from occurring in the first place,” he wrote.

Hruby and Rose poised to shape Biden’s nuclear policies

The Biden administration has not yet indicated how it may shift away from the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons policy , which set out an aggressive modernization program. Those plans roiled NNSA last year when agency head Lisa Gordon-Hagerty abruptly resigned in November. The move was reportedly connected to ongoing conflicts with then-Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette over the agency’s budget, which has now grown by more than 50% in five years.

Some of the additional funding is going to a congressionally mandated effort to increase NNSA’s capacity for manufacturing plutonium cores for nuclear weapons, known as “pits,” including by building a new production facility at the agency’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina. An independent assessment has cast serious doubt on the feasibility of Congress’ production goals, and the Biden administration could face politically contentious decisions as it reviews the arsenal’s needs for replacement pits.

Another part of the budget increase is going to capital modernization and capacity expansion at existing facilities, which has already sparked a multi-year hiring spree. At a recent congressional hearing , Los Alamos Director Thom Mason mentioned the lab is currently hiring at a rate of about 1,200 people per year to build out its workforce and replace a wave of retirement-eligible personnel. While offering few details on future plans, Biden’s preliminary budget request does state that the administration prioritizes recapitalizing NNSA’s “physical infrastructure and essential facilities to ensure the deterrent remains viable.”

The administration will reveal further details about its plans for NNSA when it releases its full budget request. However, major changes in direction will await the conclusion of a formal nuclear policy review, in which Hruby and Rose are poised to be key contributors.

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