Getty Images; US Navy; illustration by Business Insider
As Inauguration Day draws near, thousands of US government workers tapped by the Obama administration are waiting for a pink slip from President-elect Donald Trump.
It isn’t unusual for a new president to clean house across US agencies, but neither is keeping a few crucial appointed roles filled — at least until worthy successors are named. This is especially true of the leadership of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which safeguards America’s stockpile of roughly 7,000 nuclear weapons.
But according to a Jan. 9 Gizmodo story by Ashley Feinberg, Trump’s transition team just lopped off the top of NNSA’s organization chart, effectively sending leaders Frank Klotz and Madelyn Creedon packing on January 20.
Business Insider contacted several representatives of Trump’s team to confirm the firings, who might be replacing Klotz and Creedon, and receive other details, but we did not receive a response in time for publication.
But the imminent implosion of NNSA leadership is the word from an unnamed “official within the Department of Energy,” who allegedly told Feinberg: “I’m more and more coming around to the idea that we’re so very very f—ed.”
The reason, writes Feinberg:
“According to [Gizmodo's] Energy Department source, Trump’s team has yet to nominate anyone to succeed them. Since both positions require Senate confirmation, if could be months before their chairs are filled. And the vacancies may extend beyond the leadership roles.”
If true — and Trump’s fervent “drain the swamp” rhetoric makes it seem possible, if not likely — it “doesn’t make any sense,” Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund (a global security foundation) and a nuclear policy expert, told Business Insider.
“It’s another one of the unprecedented moves that Trump sees as a clean sweep but could be very bad for the country,” Cirincione said. “You really don’t want to strip away the senior management of your nuclear weapons without naming a replacement. The nukes are basically home alone if you do that.”
Paying the guards of the guards
Cirincione has spent close to a decade on Capitol Hill within the House committees on Armed Services and Government Operations — two groups which help oversee NNSA contract work.
He says that NNSA bosses like Klotz and Creedon must sign off for nuclear weapons contractors to receive payment.
If there is no one in their seats, the money can stop flowing.
“It’s not as bad as not paying the guards of our nuclear weapons, but it’s as bad as not paying the people who pay for the guards of our nuclear weapons,” he said.
So, for an organization that may get roughly $12.9 billion this year alone to maintain “the safety, security, and effectiveness” of existing nuclear weapons, as well as oversee new projects (such as the development of tactical gravity bombs), even a few leaderless days could translate into hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of missed payments and possibly compromise essential services.
“If this goes on, you’ll start seeing contracts ending and a lack of contractual oversight. You will see an impact on our vast nuclear complex,” he said. “Every day, [tens] of millions of dollars are moving through the pipeline, and it’s under the control of the two people [Trump] just dismissed.”
What’s more, Cirincione — whose organization wants to eliminate nuclear weapons, and says he has “blasted” Klotz and Creedon for excessive contract costs and delays — says that immediately firing NNSA’s leadership may not even be necessary or logical, especially given Trump’s call to proliferate nukes.
“Both Klotz and Creedon are pro-nuclear-weapons. They’re the ones in charge of the health of our nuclear weapons,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. Yes, they were appointed by the Obama administration, but they’re non-ideological. It’s not like they’ve been blocking things.”