Good Hearing on Gordon's Nomination to Head NNSA General John A. Gordon's nomination hearing to head the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) took just one hour, with much of the time devoted to strong statements of support for the nominee. There was not a single word of reluctance expressed by any of the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee about Gordon's fitness to assume what is going to be the very challenging position of NNSA Administrator and Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security.
"This is a day of joy; I mean that most sincerely," said committee chairman John Warner (R-VA), telling Gordon, "I support your nomination." Warner then briefly outlined the reorganization of the Department of Energy that was mandated by last year's defense authorization bill, citing the report of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board as "the compass that guided the Congress." It is, Warner said of the semi- autonomous NNSA, "time to make this new entity work." Warner's sentiments were shared by Ranking Minority Member Carl Levin (D- MI) and Pete Domenici (R-NM), who was credited by Warner as the chief architect of the NNSA. Domenici commented that Gordon was one of the most qualified of any candidate for a position in Domenici's 28 years on the Hill, and added, "Let's make sure we don't let this Secretary [of Energy] or any Secretary water this down."
"...the conditions are right for success," Gordon told the senators. "I want you to know that I accept and support every element of the mission statement" for the NNSA. He was effusive in his praise of the "employees of the enterprise -- at Headquarters, at field offices, at the labs and plants and other facilities," calling them "skilled, talented, proud and dedicated. They need only focused leadership with a constancy of direction and commitment to what they do and what they stand for."
At the same time, Gordon outlined challenges and problems, including a dramatically different threat environment, very tight funding, a narrow base of public support, the loss of energy and cohesion, retention and recruitment problems, an aging infrastructure, and his contention that "we do not enjoy full confidence of Congress, our partners, or our own people." The key task for the NNSA will be "to restore trust and confidence in the management and leadership of the nuclear security enterprise in this country."
Gordon appealed for less oversight: "Without in any way minimizing the absolute need for Congressional oversight and the need for the unique insight offered by outside experts, it seems to me that we have carried this to the extreme."
Levin was the first to question Gordon, asking him about the DOE stockpile stewardship program. "I am very optimistic about this program," Gordon replied, adding that it will take considerable effort and funding to make it effective. On his relationship to the Secretary of Energy, Gordon stated "he will be my boss"; the Secretary will make policy and Gordon will implement it. Gordon also broadly supports non-proliferation efforts. In reply to Wayne Allard (R-CO), and later to Warner, Gordon said one of his biggest problems will be the retention and recruitment of employees. Allard also asked about the National Ignition Facility, Gordon saying that while he was not fully briefed on all the issues, there had been "terrible" management problems.
Jack Reed (D-RI) asked Gordon about scientific openness and military requirements. This is, Gordon said "a very real problem, a very real issue." Yet, he continued, "I cannot accept the premise" that researchers cannot "buy into" the need for security, commenting, "these people are as patriotic as anyone that I know."
Warner concluded, "I think we have had an excellent hearing today," and announced his plans to move the nomination quickly to the Senate floor.
Gordon was asked to provide written responses to a series of questions from the committee before the nomination hearing. Selections from his responses will appear in a future FYI.
Richard M. Jones