NNSA employee Jason Burkhardt, shown in uniform during his time in the Navy

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, and how do you support NNSA’s Office of Defense Programs?

I am a proud gay man who has been married to my husband for just about 7 years (together over 11 years). We have a 16 month old son and are expecting another baby via surrogacy in December.

My role at NNSA is to serve as the Program Lead for Savannah River Site Plutonium Pit Production. I provide program oversight for the SRS Plutonium Modernization Program to support the NNSA plutonium pit production mission, which is critical for our Nation’s nuclear stockpile. It’s my job to develop and provide oversight for the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility Project by ensuring project activities are aligned with the needs, expectations, and approved program requirements of the Office of Production Modernization, within Defense Programs.

What was your background before joining DP?

I enlisted in the Navy when I was 17 years old to join their Nuclear Power Propulsion Program (which is currently co-led by DOD and NNSA, through our Office of Naval Reactors). I was eventually accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy, where I majored in electrical engineering.

I served 10 years in the Navy in both the Surface Warfare Officer and Explosive Ordnance Disposal communities. I then went on to earn my Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Michigan.

Prior to joining NNSA, I worked as a Strategy and Operations Management Consultant for Deloitte for three years. I came to NNSA in 2017 supporting Nuclear Incident Response, and in 2019 became a federal employee supporting the plutonium pit production mission.

What is your favorite thing about being a part of NNSA?

I get a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that I am part of a hard-working group of people who band together to further strengthen our national security.

Jason with his husband and son at the beach

How do you feel about NNSA’s diversity, inclusion, equality, and acceptance efforts? What kind of workplace environment does Defense Programs provide?

Coming from a military background, I’ve always been very conservative with how much of my personal life I share in the workplace. In the past, I’ve always been concerned that I would come across a boss or work colleague who disagreed with my lifestyle, which would then become an impediment to getting the job done. Following the George Floyd tragedy, Defense Programs significantly ramped up their DEIA efforts by assessing the workplace environment and then implementing several initiatives, many of which quickly made me feel much more accepted and welcome to bring my whole self to the workplace. I have since participated in focus groups, pop-up engagements, panels, surveys, etc. Defense Programs makes it clear that it will not tolerate anything that would cause harm to or diminish any minority group. I am proud that Defense Programs is a leader at NNSA when it comes to DEIA.

Tell us a little about finding your identity. When/how did you realize you were gay? How do you feel your experience has changed, with time?

Although I have known since high school that I was gay, growing up in a very religious family made it challenging for me to fully accept who I am. I then joined the military during the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell era, which further complicated my sexual identity. As many have before me, I started living two separate lives. Hiding my identity from family, work colleagues, and certain friends was emotionally exhausting. When I left the military, the policy had just dropped and society’s views on the LGBTQ+ community began changing for the better. I made the decision to finally accept myself and not hide who I was from people once I started my MBA at the University of Michigan. There was no more wasted energy tied to hiding my identity. This decision was a huge success for both my personal and professional life.

What does Pride mean to you?

Pride means accepting yourself for who you are and allowing your identity to complement what you can accomplish in life, rather than limit it

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love just hanging out with my husband and son, outdoor activities, and working out.

 

 

Jason with his husband and son at Pride 2022.