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Head of Nuclear Security agency suddenly resigns

Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty. (National Nuclear Security Agency/Released)
November 10, 2020

Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), resigned her position effective immediately on November 6.

The first woman to lead the NNSA, Gordon-Hagerty sent her letter of resignation to the White House Friday, Defense News reported. A statement released by the NNSA said Dr. William Bookless, who served as NNSA Principal Deputy Administrator for the last year-and-a-half, became Acting NNSA Administrator following Gordon-Hagerty’s resignation.

Bringing over 35 years of experience in the agency to the new role, including over 30 years as a senior physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Bookless’ appointment ensures “the continuity of NNSA’s vital mission to sustain the safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent and strengthen our national security.”

Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, blamed Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette for Gordon-Hagerty’s seemingly abrupt departure.

“That the Secretary of Energy effectively demanded her resignation during this time of uncertainty demonstrates he doesn’t know what he’s doing in national security matters and shows a complete lack of respect for the semi-autonomous nature of NNSA,” Inhofe said.

According to Defense News, Gordon-Hagerty’s resignation was prompted by nearly a year of issues between her office and Brouillette. The first public view into the issues came when Brouillette requested less in funding for NNSA than Gordon-Hagerty sought. Eventually, defense officials went to the White House and resolved the issue in NNSA’s favor.

Inhofe said Gordon-Hagerty was “an exemplary public servant and remarkable leader” of the NNSA.

“What bothers me is that people who should be doing all they can to support the critical work of the NNSA are instead trying to undermine it,” Inhofe said. “As chairman of this committee, I won’t stand idly by and allow this to happen. This work is too important.”

The NNSA is a semi-autonomous office within the Department of Energy. The NNSA watches over the development, maintenance and disposal of nuclear warheads. Much of the agency’s budget is determined by the Nuclear Weapons Council.

During fiscal year 2021 budget discussions, the Department of Energy Organization and Management Improvement Act, passed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, adjusted key language making the NNSA a quasi-independent agency, basically forcing the agency to be almost completely under the DOE’s control.

The move was viewed negatively by NNSA officials in what Defense News described as “an attempt by Brouillette to outright destroy the agency.”

Inhofe held a hearing in late September responding to the change and accused officials from the Energy Department of behaving as “rogue actors” who seek to “undermine” America’s nuclear weaponry.

As head of the NNSA, Gordon-Hagerty led the modernization of NNSA’s infrastructure and the strengthening of its workforce. She also accomplished “significant strides in improving NNSA governance and management and demonstrated a sincere dedication to the 50,000 men and women serving in the national security workforce,” the statement read.