Mere weeks ago, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his intent to “strengthen and expand” the United States’ nuclear arsenal, giving all of us a view of how the president-elect may conduct himself on sometimes-sensitive issues like nuclear development.
Now, a Department of Energy source tells Gizmodo’s Ashley Feinberg that Trump is dismissing two top officials at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), ordering them to vacate their positions on or before Jan. 20, even though no one is known to be in line for the positions.
The NNSA mission statement says the agency:
[…] maintains and enhances the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing; works to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Both Undersecretary for Nuclear Security Frank Klotz and deputy Madelyn Creedon were appointed by President Obama, and replacements for both their positions would require Senate confirmation, meaning that it could be months before replacements are named, vetted and confirmed. It also puts every other appointee in the NNSA at risk; they defer to the head of their agency, and, according to Gizmodo’s DOE source, “are also, theoretically, out on Inauguration Day.”
Without replacements, the agency could be frozen for months.
In any transition, it’s normal for political appointees to offer resign on or before the new administration takes office. Dismissing officials from the prior administration is not normal, especially before finding a replacement.
For important positions, if a suitable appointment cannot be found before Inauguration Day, it’s common for an appointee to stay at their position until a replacement is found. That would include positions like Klotz’s and Creedon’s; Feinberg points out that “for the entirety of Obama’s first term and into part of his second, the NNSA Administrator remained a Bush appointee.”