D’Agostino leaves post at NNSA

-A A +A

Lab: Deputy administrator Miller to take job

By John Severance

The National Nuclear Security Admninistration has confirmed that administrator Thom D’Agostino will be leaving his post Jan. 18.

D’Agostino said NNSA Principal Deputy Administrator Neile Miller will become acting administrator and acting undersecretary for nuclear security.

D’Agostino is leaving after more than 36 years of federal service, including the last five-and-a-half years as the NNSA administrator and under secretary for Nuclear Security, and two years as deputy administrator for Defense Programs.

“My wife Beth and I have decided the timing is right for me to leave Federal service,” he said. “This was a difficult decision for me as I am committed to serving our country, committed to the missions of the NNSA, the Environmental Management Organization, the Office of Legacy Management and I am committed to you in carrying out this mission.  

“However, I have an equally important commitment to my wife and family and I am a strong believer that organizations are healthier when leadership changes on a periodic basis. The time is right for this change and I will step down from this position on 18 January 2013, at the end of the first term of the Obama administration.”

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who some Washington insiders believe to be leaving as well, also released a statement.

“From the reactor room on the U.S.S. Skipjack to the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Tom D’Agostino has proven himself to be a talented leader, a trusted adviser and a true confidant. Rising through the ranks of the U.S. Navy and then leading our nuclear security efforts here at the Department of Energy, Tom has devoted 36 years to serving and protecting the American people.  He has done so with a sense of purpose that reminds us all why public service is a noble profession.

“As Secretary of Energy, I have greatly enjoyed working with Tom over the last four years. Tom has led NNSA, EM and LM through a period of unprecedented international attention and complex transition. From leading a vast acceleration of the Department’s efforts to reduce nuclear dangers at home and abroad, to overseeing our efforts to protect public health and safety by cleaning up the nation’s Cold War nuclear legacy, Tom has earned the title one major news outlet gave him: “Undersecretary for Saving the World.”

Lab director Charlie McMillan said, “Thom has been a friend of the labs and a personal friend for more than 15 years. His honest and straightforward approach, combined with his integrity and commitment to mission, will long be remembered.

I thank him for his service to the nation and wish him all the best.”

It has been a rough year for the NNSA and D’Agostino.

And at least two watchdog groups — Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the Project On Government Oversight — have called for his resignation.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Jay Coghlan cited the following missteps.
 • In February, NNSA indefinitely delayed the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos after spending $425 million in design. Estimated costs rose from $660 million in 2004 to up to $6 billion today.
• In July, three peace activists (including an 84-year-old nun) managed to cut through three fences and walk by malfunctioning security devices to pour blood on a new facility at the Y-12 Plant near Oak Ridge, Tenn., that stores up to an estimated 400 tons of highly enriched uranium.
• Also in July, Senator Diane Feinstein disclosed that NNSA’s planned B61 bomb Life Extension Program will cost $10 billion, $4 billion more than previously reported.
• In September, the contractor building NNSA’s MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility announced it would cost $2 billion more than its earlier $4.8 billion estimate.
• Also in September, the DOE Inspector General issued a report indicating that the W76 Life Extension Program will cost $200-plus million more than previously estimated and that NNSA has failed to accomplish even half of the refurbishments scheduled to date.
• By Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2012, NNSA failed to achieve the already repeatedly postponed goal of fusion ignition at the $5 billion National Ignition Facility (originally estimated at $1 billion).
• For the first time NNSA failed to supply reports for five-year budget projections and a Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, both legally required by Congress on the agency’s near-term programmatic priorities and related costs.
• NNSA acknowledged that the design of its proposed $6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 (originally estimated at $600 million) cannot fit all its intended equipment. It’s back to the drawing board, despite spending $500 million over three years in design work.

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group also weighed in.

“NNSA is an agency that need not and should not exist. Much of its work is duplicative of that done in other agencies. This year’s National Defense Authorization bill, now being in its final stages, would increase that bureaucracy. Ms. Miller’s position should become, again, an assistant secretary position in DOE, with deputy secretaries reporting to her for naval reactors, nonproliferation, weapons activities, and, we believe, also disarmament.  An alternative would strip away nonproliferation and send that work to the Pentagon. Other variations are certainly possible.”