A portrait of Jesse Altum. He is dressed casually and outside with trees and a sunset or sunrise in the background.
Jesse Altum

How do you support NNSA?

I work on the Ukraine Task Force as the Co-Chief of Operations, focusing on our partner countries, international groups, and coordinating what NNSA and other government agencies are doing to help. I work alongside the Task Force management team and the leadership of the Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation (CTCP). Previously, I supported the leadership of CTCP’s Office of Nuclear Incident Response, which oversees the Nuclear Emergency Support Team, better known as NEST (read more about that NEST here), where I worked on improving the way we worked, engagements, and getting advanced technology for our team into the field.

What led you to a career in nuclear security?

Jesse Altum and Karine Jean Pierre posing for a photo at the White House.
Jesse Altum and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre at a White House LGBTQ+ event.

I have long been interested in national security, foreign policy, and engaging with others across the globe to advance a more secure tomorrow. I was always interested in science and policy, pulling from chemistry and social studies. When I was young, I used to research how to detect things at the molecular level and how to how to use signals to communicate with and control things in the air.

All of this came alive inside me as my brain responded creatively to the events of 9/11. In school, I used to carry a Trapper Keeper with the Time magazine cover on the 9/11 attack to remind me to work hard and protect others. Now I get to do that every day!

After working at the Denver Police Department, I decided to pursue my interest in international law enforcement and worked to earn my masters in international security policy from the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. While there I had the opportunity to work for the FBI and the Department of State before turning to a career in technology that led to NNSA. I was a 2021-22 NNSA Graduate Fellowship Program Fellow with NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation before moving to CTCP and the Ukraine Task Force.

A portrait of Jesse Altum in front of a U.S. flag. He is wearing a dark suit.
Jesse Altum just before his swearing-in ceremony at the State Department.

What is your proudest accomplishment while working at NNSA?

Working on the Ukraine Task Force and coordinating the U.S. response to the fall of the Afghan government have by far been the most meaningful and impactful things I have worked on. In the latter project, I was able improve the lives of people I felt like I had known my whole life but never met. I am continuing that kind of work with the Ukraine Task Force. In my technological work, I am excited to see almost of year of program management turn into the next generation systems for the administration and am proud of my work with other systems that help our teams talk to each other.

What advice would you have for anyone interested in a career in nuclear security?

Take risks, work hard, try new things, be willing to shift gears, and follow the bends in the river instead of trying to steer the water in the wrong direction. Ask others for advice – what worked for them and what did not, talk openly with people – with sincere and honest questions that show you value their time.

I grew up watching Julia Childs, who taught me French cooking, dedication to public service, and going after what I love.

Jesse Altum
Co-Chief of Operations, NNSA Office of Nuclear Incident Response

Tell us a little about finding your identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. How do you feel your experience has changed with time

The more involved I get into direct mission-related work, the more important it is for me to show up as my full self every day and know that I can be comfortable and open at work in order to give my all to the sensitive and fast-paced mission and challenges we face at NNSA.

What does Pride mean to you?

It means being able to serve the American people as my full self, engaging others across the entire diversity spectrum to bring their full value to our mission, and promoting and encouraging others to dedicate their time, talent, and treasure to the great work at the Department of Energy and NNSA. As the Communications Director for the Department’s PRIDE employee resource group, I get to show my pride in service every day and empower others across the enterprise through storytelling, visibility, and development of community at the Department.

Jesse Altum and Rod Rosenstein at a White House event.
A photo of Jesse Altum and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a White House event when Altum worked at the FBI.

Why do you think diversity and inclusion is important in the workplace? Why do you think it is important to your profession?

Diversity is incredibly important to every workplace, but especially the work of national security. It takes all perspectives at the table to think dynamically and strategically about the problems we face as a nation and identify the solutions to implement. Diversity comes in variety of forms and it always each one of us to bring special insights that make each one of us unique members on the team.

It is important to nuclear security and counterterrorism because it takes ALL kinds of people and knowledge to keep America and our partners safe. Excellence in academia, experience, and subject matters does not come in a one size fits all package. It is important that we welcome, encourage, and support those dedicated to this unique mission and promote excellence in all who make that dedication.

Tell us something interesting about yourself; what do you like to do for fun/downtime?

I love running long distance – I am talking 40+ miles. I enjoy physics, cooking global cuisines, and traveling that globe to find my next great meal, and maybe another addition to my ever-growing copper pan collection. I grew up watching Julia Childs, who taught me French cooking, dedication to public service, and going after what I love.