House Hearing for General Gordon Today is General John Gordon's first full day of work since being formally sworn-in as the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). On Tuesday this week, Gordon appeared before a panel of the House Armed Services Committee to sketch-out some of his plans for the new agency.
This hearing of the Special Oversight Panel on DOE Reorganization was chaired by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). He began by saying that "Congress has been frustrated by the administration for its failure to implement the letter and the spirit of the [NNSA] law," but then quickly described Gordon as "a bright spot" who enjoys "overwhelming support," sentiments later repeated by Rep. Norman Sisisky (D-Virginia). Thornberry said he looks forward to working with Gordon "in a bipartisan way."
Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-California), Ranking Minority Member of the oversight panel, was also critical of DOE management, calling the present organization "bureaucratic kudzu." She remarked that Gordon had "one of the most difficult tasks in the government."
Gordon's remarks to the panel echoed that of his previous testimony. He spoke of his "considerable affection" for NNSA employees. Gordon worried aloud that the "political support for the [NNSA] mission is not broad-based," and voiced his concern about the recruitment and retention of scientists. Gordon wants to move on, telling the panel that a good measure of NNSA's success will be a significant reduction, in a year or two, of the number of reports and hearings on the nuclear weapons complex. We are, he said, "spending an awful lot of time talking about history."
"Dual-hatting of individuals will not be a problem" at NNSA Gordon declared, referring to a flashpoint between the administration and Congress. He plans to bring detailees into his operation on a temporary basis. Gordon will visit each weapons lab at a rate of about one per week, starting with Los Alamos this week. His primary message during these visits will be that "there are changes afoot."
Gordon was asked about the supposed conflict between lab culture and security. "I am frankly not sure what that means," he said, telling the panel that "acceptance, management, and leadership" will be his approach to reforming security at the labs. Mindful of what is being expected of him, Gordon stated "I do worry about the white horse syndrome," saying that the changes he will implement "won't be quick and without setbacks, and will involve some broken china." Again expressing his confidence in NNSA employees, he declared, "they will deliver."
Tauscher is very concerned about recruitment and retention, and warned Gordon that employees of the two weapons labs in her district were "demoralized beyond belief." She expressed particular concern about Asian-American employees who feel that they are viewed as untrustworthy. Gordon agreed that such discrimination "is a significant problem" which is "self- defeating." "I don't have the answer yet, and may never" have a solution on how to bolster recruitment and retention he said. Central to any solution is the quality of science performed at the labs, and pride in working in such an important program, he added. Later in hearing, Rep. John Spratt (D-South Carolina) warned that Members of Congress must guard against being so "ham-fisted" in their approach to security that scientists will not want to work at the labs. In answer to another question late in the hearing about the use of polygraphs, Gordon said he would "like to beg off" a specific answer, realizing that this is a sensitive matter that requires additional review by him. He did say that in his last position at the CIA polygraphs were used regularly.
Thornberry was worried about how Gordon will ensure that his reforms are permanent. Gordon replied that his approach may appear to be slow, but that he will "lock-in" each new procedure. Particular praise was given to the Naval reactors program as an example worth emulating, Gordon saying it "is running like a clock."
The hearing ended up a high note, with no criticism of Gordon's plans. At the same time, and thankfully for the new administrator, Chairman Thornberry observed that "these problems aren't going to be fixed overnight."
Richard M. Jones