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Jenny Smith of NNSA's Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation.
Jenny Smith of NNSA's Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation.

Can you summarize what your position entails at CTCP?

I’m a Senior Advisor in NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation (CTCP, or NA-80). The position resides in the NA-80 Front Office, and directly supports Associate Administrator Jay Tilden and his deputy, David Hoagland. I spend much of my time thinking about how to prevent adversaries from acquiring and/or using nuclear weapons against Americans at home or overseas.

Former President Obama, Jennifer Smith, and former Sen. Lugar.
Former President Obama, Jennifer Smith, and former Sen. Lugar.

Can you tell us about your background and roles you’ve held in previous positions?

I entered federal government through the Presidential Management Fellows program, and upon graduation from law school in 2004, I accepted a position as an International Affairs Specialist in the Biological Weapons Proliferation Prevention Program at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

After several years there, I was promoted to serve as the Chief of the Defense Threat Reduction Office in U.S. Embassy Baku, Azerbaijan from 2007-2009. During this assignment I began my engagement with nuclear efforts – part of my job was to work with the Azerbaijani military to build capacity to interdict nuclear materials in transit from Russia to Iran through the Caspian Sea.

After a stint in The Hague as the Department of Defense Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from 2009-2011, I returned stateside to serve at the Pentagon. My work there – including major global initiatives on nuclear, chemical, and biological threats – led to an invitation for a position with the National Security Council (NSC) for what was supposed to be a one-year term. One year turned into five.

I partnered with nearly a dozen NNSA detailees while at the NSC, as well as NNSA staff at Headquarters, and at the embassies in policy coordination meetings. Each and every time, I found the same high standard of professional conduct. Clearly, this was a team I wanted to be on.

Jenny Smith
Senior Advisor in NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation

My time in the White House, from March 2015 through May 2020, culminated in a position as Senior Director for Policy, Planning, and Operations in the Office of the National Security Advisor. In addition to supporting five National Security Advisors, I led the planning for, and the execution of, the President’s foreign engagements and provided policy and operational support to the Special Representative for International Telecommunications Policy on 5G-related matters.

What interested you in working at NNSA?

The caliber of the professionals here. Simply put – the people.

While in the South Asian Affairs Directorate in the NSC, my portfolio included regional nuclear issues ranging from escalation dynamics to nuclear security and safety, and nonproliferation efforts. In this capacity, I worked very closely with subject matter experts from the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, which included staff detailed from the NNSA. I was supremely impressed by their expertise, professionalism, and creativity. I partnered with nearly a dozen NNSA detailees while at the NSC, as well as NNSA staff at Headquarters, and at the embassies in policy coordination meetings. Each and every time, I found the same high standard of professional conduct. Clearly, this was a team I wanted to be on.

What challenges are you facing in your new position? Anything unexpected?

The biggest challenge was transitioning to a new organization in the midst of a global pandemic. Although I was familiar with many aspects of NNSA and knew a good amount of professionals here, it is a big organization – finding my footing and settling in has been not been easy. The demands of the workplace and the constraints (safety, health, childcare) related to the pandemic have been challenging, but this is not unique to me by any means, and I feel very fortunate to be here.

Do you have any advice for anyone seeking to follow your career path?

I find that many junior employees I mentor or have supervised have a specific plan and believe they are “putting in time” on an assignment that they expect will set them up for their preferred post. I don’t support that approach. I think if you are so fixated and focused on the course you set for yourself, you are likely to miss out on experiences that could better prepare you for that destination, or that could open up pathways to bigger and better options than you could have imagined. I really believe that. During each assignment I’ve had, I would never have been able to accurately guess what my next assignment might be and I am grateful for the opportunities and experiences I’ve had so far.