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NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty spoke virtually to the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Project on Nuclear Issues Summer Conference last month, and encouraged attendees to join the Nuclear Security Enterprise.
NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty spoke virtually to the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Project on Nuclear Issues Summer Conference last month, and encouraged attendees to join the Nuclear Security Enterprise.

Addresses NextGen nuclear security experts

NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty recently took the opportunity to speak to a very important audience. Was it a foreign delegation, or a meeting of Cabinet members? No – it was the next generation of nuclear security experts, and likely the future of NNSA’s workforce.

Many in Washington, D.C., are familiar with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a bipartisan, nonprofit think tank. In 2003, CSIS established the Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI). Through outreach, research, mentorship , and respectful debate, PONI seeks to prepare future leaders to tackle the challenges of nuclear security.

With Director Rebecca Hersman at the helm of its 2020 Summer Conference , CSIS graciously invited NNSA’s Administrator to be its keynote speaker. The conference kicked off June 22 and was coordinated in partnership with NNSA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Instead of Livermore, California, it took place in a virtual setting due to the limitations posed by COVID-19. The Conference provides a forum to present and discuss research on nuclear weapons infrastructure, strategy , and policy. Naturally, Administrator Gordon-Hagerty was the perfect choice for opening speaker; however, this event provided a critical opportunity for NNSA’s leader as well.

I urge you to consider a commitment to public service. Now, more than ever, our country needs your talents and your leadership.

Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty
NNSA Administrator and Department of Energy Under Secretary for Nuclear Security

In her keynote remarks, Administrator Gordon-Hagerty walked listeners through NNSA’s mission and priorities. She explained how today’s global threat environment is the context for NNSA’s work on a safe, secure , and effective deterrent, and reaffirmed the Administration’s commitment to robust arms control measures. The real scoop for the PONI audience was likely the Administrator’s thoughtful discussion on the challenges facing the Nuclear Security Enterprise, both now and in the years ahead.

On the frequent topic of facility modernization, Gordon-Hagerty quipped, “Although I take great pride in the fact that NNSA is the inheritor of the Manhattan Project’s legacy, crumbling infrastructure is not exactly what I have in mind!” Despite these hurdles, the Administrator said that strong bipartisan support for nuclear security has helped the mission immensely in recent years.

Noting that NNSA is facing its heaviest workload in decades, the Administrator remarked how the enterprise was atrophied in the years following the Cold War. Who shoulders that workload? The world-class NNSA workforce of scientists, engineers, chemists, managers, technicians , and support staff. The bad news? About one-third of them are up for retirement in the next five years, as NNSA’s work continues to ramp up.

This is where PONI comes in.

“For those who are not already part of the Nuclear Security Enterprise,” she implored, “I urge you to consider a commitment to public service. Now, more than ever, our country needs your talents and your leadership.”

PONI provides an ideal pipeline for future leaders in nuclear security, and the Gordon-Hagerty said that NNSA had a job fair scheduled for the very same week. “I can honestly say we would be lucky to have you,” she remarked.

The Administrator closed with a reminder that modernization of the Nuclear Security Enterprise is not a mission you complete in three to five years. It’s an enduring mission, for the next 50 years and beyond. So who better to speak to than the next generation?

The PONI partnership with NNSA doesn’t stop here. In the fall, Sandia National Laboratories will release an online platform for negotiation simulations, which will be an excellent tool for the next class of nuclear scholars.