The National Nuclear Security Administration is a very important part of government with a crucial job: Maintaining America’s surprisingly commonplace nuclear weapons. The NNSA ensures the nukes don’t go off accidentally, that they’re in good repair, and that nobody is stealing them. Founded in 1999 after American nuclear secrets were stolen by Chinese agents, it’s a job so important that it can take years for a President to find a replacement. The first head of the agency, John Gordon, lasted two years into Bush’s term despite being a Clinton appointee, and for most of Obama’s tenure, the head of the NNSA was Tom D’Agostino, a Bush appointee, before D’Agostino stepped aside for Frank Klotz. And under Trump, Klotz and his deputy are out the door January 20th.
Worse, according to the news broken by Gizmodo, they might take far more than just themselves with them. There are a host of government positions within any government administration that are appointed by the undersecretary or his deputy, and, going by government tradition, if your boss gets his walking papers, that’s more or less an unofficial sign that you’ll have a pink slip coming too. It’s traditional for appointees to file a resignation letter with the incoming President that takes effect on noon of Inauguration Day, but some appointees will stick around until a qualified candidate is found.
This isn’t really a job you can appoint just any bureaucrat to, either. Traditionally NNSA heads have been former high-ranking military with missile experience. Klotz, for example, commanded a Minuteman missile squadron, worked at NATO headquarters and America’s Moscow embassy, was the vice commander of the Air Force Space Command, and ended his Air Force career as a lieutenant general at the head of the Air Force Global Strike Command. Klotz literally spent decades studying nuclear tactics.
Trump reportedly has no nominees in place, which is worrying in and of itself. But considering his previous comments on nuclear weapons, one hopes a good nominee is found and confirmed by the Senate, and quickly.