Lisa Gordon-Hagerty resigns as chief of nuclear weapons agency

The head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and under secretary of energy for nuclear security has resigned from her position effective immediately, the Department of Energy announced Friday. 

The department said in a press release that Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who became the first woman to lead the NNSA when she was confirmed by the Senate in February 2018, stepped down from the role, adding that William Bookless, who has been serving as NNSA principal deputy administrator for the last year and a half, is now serving as acting administrator. 

“As Administrator, Ms. Gordon-Hagerty oversaw the modernization of NNSA’s infrastructure and the strengthening of its world-class workforce,” the department said in its statement. “She also made significant strides in improving NNSA governance and management and demonstrated a sincere dedication to the 50,000 men and women serving in the national security workforce.”

NNSA, which was established by Congress in 2000, is a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy responsible for promoting the safety and security of U.S. nuclear weapons, as well as the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons around the world. 

While the press release did not provide any details on the reason behind Gordon-Hagerty’s resignation, two senior NNSA officials told Defense News that she had sent her letter of resignation to the White House on Friday following nearly a year of tensions between Gordon-Hagerty’s office and Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. 

The sources told Defense News that Gordon-Hagerty submitted her letter directly to the White House, rather than to Brouillette, to signal her stark disagreement with the energy secretary over recent budget and oversight conflicts. 

The Hill has reached out to the Department of Energy and NNSA for comment. 

Earlier this year, Brouillette attempted to reduce funding from NNSA before defense officials eventually pushed the White House to support the nuclear security agency. 

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) led pro-defense lawmakers in an effort to give the Pentagon more official control over NNSA, while House lawmakers created several pieces of legislation aimed at giving the energy department greater authority over the agency. 

Inhofe on Friday released a statement criticizing what he framed as Gordon-Hagerty’s ousting.

“A short while ago, I spoke with Administrator Gordon-Hagerty, who is an exemplary public servant and remarkable leader of the National Nuclear Security Administration,” Inhofe said. “That the Secretary of Energy effectively demanded her resignation during this time of uncertainty demonstrates he doesn’t know what he’s doing in national security matters and shows a complete lack of respect for the semi-autonomous nature of NNSA.”

Then, the Department of Energy Organization and Management Improvement Act, passed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Sept. 9, changed language that made the NNSA a quasi-independent entity, moving it more fully under the Department of Energy. 

According to Defense News, the move was seen by NNSA officials as Brouillette’s attempt to dismantle the agency, with Inhofe saying in a Sept. 17 hearing that certain energy department officials were “rogue actors” who aimed to “undermine” America’s nuclear weapons modernization. 

The NNSA leadership change comes after a South Korean official told Reuters on Tuesday that North Korea was building two new submarines, one of which is capable of carrying submarine-launched ballistic missiles. 

North Korean state media showed the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, inspecting a new submarine as early as June of last year, according to Reuters. Information on the vessel’s weapons system was not shared, but analysts said the size of it indicated it was meant to carry missiles.

President Trump has met with Kim multiple times to discuss deweaponization, although these have been largely unsuccessful at bringing tangible progress. 

North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program has been the source of much international discord, with various sanctions from the United Nations Security Council since 2006.

Updated: 7:21 p.m. EST.

Tags Congress Dan Brouillette Department of Defense Department of Energy Donald Trump Donald Trump Jim Inhofe Kim Jong Un National Nuclear Security Administration North Korea Reuters United States

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