Francis: The Senate’s draft of the National Defense Authorization Act authorizes a 20% increase in the budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration. The agency could get $19.8 billion for nuclear weapons programs. Frank Lowery is Associate Administrator for Management and Budget at the National Nuclear Security Administration. Frank, welcome, and thanks for coming on the program. What’s the difference between what you originally asked for, what the Energy Department originally asked for, and what your boss, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, asked for in an increase back in January, and where did that difference come from?
Frank: Thanks, Francis, for having me. The request from the president, for the presidential budget request of the NNSA for fiscal year 21 is a request for $19.771 billion. That request will support the three mission pillars for NNSA. Number one on the list is the strategic nuclear deterrent, our nuclear stockpile, also the defense nuclear nonproliferation mission that keeps the entire world safer for all of us, our kids and our grandkids, and the naval nuclear propulsion mission, which provides the nuclear reactors that propel our nuclear submarines and our aircraft carriers on defense missions that keep the peace around the world. So that budget request, the $19.771 billion request for fiscal year 21 supports all three of those missions, and it was the right request. The secretary and the president approved that request, and now it is up on the hill for deliberations.
Francis: One of the reasons I am happy to talk to you, Frank, is because every year people talk about the money that’s going and whether it is authorized in NDAA or appropriated in the appropriations bills, talk about the money that goes for defense, and it goes to the Defense Department and then some other agencies, and they talk about the work you and your organizations do separately almost, and yet you are integrated very tightly into the programs you just talked about with the DoD programs, right?
Frank: Yes, sir, Francis, that’s a great way to put it. In fact, we have continuous deliberations with the Department of Defense to make sure we remain aligned with what the Department of Defense needs for our strategic nuclear triad for the deterrent mission, and so we do that through the Nuclear Weapons Council, plus we are integrated with the Department of Defense through the Department of the Navy and the Naval Reactors organization, which is Admiral Frank Caldwell, and he is the military officer that’s in charge of the mission for all of our nuclear-powered carriers and nuclear-powered submarines. So that integration, the NNSA being fully integrated in the Department of Defense budget build and budget request, it’s essential. We have to be lock-step with DoD to make sure we deliver the products they need on the schedule they ask for, and that’s why it is very important for us to stay so tightly aligned.
Francis: In your debrief a moment ago, Frank, you talked about the refurbishment and the infrastructure projects that are necessary. Give me more detail on that, where that money will go and what kind of updates are necessary, how that contributes to executing the National Defense Strategy and so on, Frank.
Frank: Francis, great question. So when you look at the National Nuclear Security Administration, our DNA runs back to the Manhattan Project in World War II. In fact, some of our facilities are still in the same buildings that were built to support the Manhattan Project, you know, back in the 40s. 40% of our infrastructure is more than 40 years old. And so renewing the infrastructure or replacing buildings that are really past their normal lifetime is an important element in the refurbishment of the infrastructure for the National Nuclear Security Administration. We are a little different from other Department of Defense agency requirements, because if I think of the submarine structure and who will build the next nuclear powered submarine, there is a giant industry out there that does nuclear submarine construction for us, and they are in charge of refurbishing their own infrastructure as a company. NNSA is not like that. We are a federal agency, and the infrastructure we have to rely upon to deliver for the Department of Defense is maintained by the National Nuclear Security Administration. It is not owned by a giant industry. It is government-owned and contractor-operated.
Francis: For that infrastructure refurb, let’s assume you get the money you get. You go through the typical buildings process that a civilian agency would go through, working through the General Services Administration PBS. What does that look like, Frank?
Frank: Francis, it is a little more complex than a normal GSA construction project might be. If we were to build an office building, I would say, yes, we follow GSA requirements. But we are talking about infrastructure buildings that have to support nuclear operation, so there are a whole different set of safety standards that are required and that our project management and project project acquisition folks have to comply with. It is not as simple as building an office building and then occupying it with folks that are going to do payroll and HR. We are talking about constructing buildings that will be used to assemble, disassemble and perform surveillance on nuclear weapons. So the safety standards are quite a bit more stringent than you would expect for a normal GSA office building, if that answers your question.
Francis: It does. And that’s exactly what I wanted to get at. The infrastructure in an agency like NNSA is not simple, that it is a complex operation that you are about to undertake. 30 seconds left, Frank. What is next on your agenda besides just understanding what your budget and authorizations will be for fiscal 2021?
Frank: Francis, thank you. We are focused on the improvement across our enterprise. It is a 50,000-person strong enterprise, and we are recruiting even in the midst of a pandemic. We have not stopped, and we are interested if folks are looking for a mission that they can enjoy and find passion for for a lifetime, we are looking for those folks.
Francis: Frank Lowery, great to have you here, appreciate your time today.
Frank: Thank you, sir.