Ensuring a safe, secure, and effective nuclear stockpile requires excellence from coast to coast.
The headquarters of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is not, technically, a single headquarters.
Instead, the NNSA main offices are spread across three sites: the James V. Forrestal Building in Washington, D.C.; a site in Germantown, Maryland; and an office in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Working along with the three headquarters are eight NNSA field offices, spread from coast to coast. Together, these offices oversee the nation’s nuclear security enterprise: the three national labs, three fabrication and materials production plants, one assembly and disassembly site, and one research and testing site whose combined 50,000 employees and contractors are collectively responsible for the health of America’s nuclear weapons and related work.
“Our nuclear deterrent remains the cornerstone of our national defense and provides critical assurance to our allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific,” NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby remarked at the 2023 Nuclear Deterrence Summit. “The rapidly changing nature of the challenges we face requires an enterprise capable of responding to those challenges in a timely manner. The nuclear security enterprise of the future we envision as resilient and flexible.”
NNSA was created in 2000 when Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which placed three previously existing Department of Energy (DOE) organizations (Defense Programs, Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, and Naval Reactors) together under a new semiautonomous agency still housed within DOE.
To better understand how NNSA manages its missions across many sites, it helps to focus more narrowly.
The NNSA field office at Los Alamos National Laboratory, for example, is led by Field Office Manager Ted Wyka, who came to Los Alamos in 2021 from NNSA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Collectively, Wyka’s 98-person team of NNSA employees provides contract oversight for Los Alamos—helping ensure the Laboratory completes projects safely and on time while also meeting quality requirements. Some of the NNSA Los Alamos Field Office employees even work in Lab facilities, where they collaborate directly with researchers.
“We’re all part of the same mission. We’re all part of the same nuclear security enterprise,” Wyka says. “For example, I may only have a dozen safety professionals in the field office. But we have 6,600 in the enterprise, so if there’s something specific that I or the Lab needs support with, we have that expertise on hand.”
“Communication is a piece of everything we do here,” he continues. “We have to work closely with federal and state regulators, and up in Los Alamos, we have four Pueblo neighbors, and it’s really important for us to stay in constant communication with them.”
One of NNSA’s top priorities nationally is pit production, for which both Los Alamos and the Savannah River Site will manufacture plutonium pits, or nuclear weapon cores. To accomplish this mission at Los Alamos, Wyka’s team meets regularly with Lab leadership and relays progress and needs to headquarters.
The pit production mission requires a lot of new infrastructure and equipment, so Wyka’s team has been busy coordinating with federal and state environmental agencies. One day Wyka might speak with the Pantex Plant, in Texas, where weapons are assembled and disassembled. The next day, he might communicate with the NNSA field office at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in California, which is assisting in new facility design for the pit mission. Then he might be on the phone with the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, in southern New Mexico, because producing pits means more nuclear waste to dispose of safely.
“It’s definitely an enterprise-wide project,” Wyka says. “We’re constantly working at every level of the Lab, at every level of NNSA, at every level of the nuclear security enterprise, to ensure we can deliver on this mission.”
Every day, the same level of coordination is needed at all eight field offices, which in turn coordinate with the three headquarters, which in turn relay information back down the chain, all the way to the scientists and engineers who steward America’s nuclear weapons. It’s a circle of oversight that keeps the nation safe. ★