Capitol, DOE EM leadershp

The Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Federal lawmakers are concerned leadership at the Department of Energy's nuclear cleanup office, Environmental Management, is turning over too quickly, and are seeking a related review of the office's capacity and long-term competence.

A House Armed Services subcommittee's input on the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, legislation that lays out defense and security spending and other provisions, demands a look into the "key elements" of Environmental Management's mission and "to what extent" former and current Energy Department executives think the remediation office has the proper resources and stability at its uppermost echelons.

"The committee notes that having strong leadership and a strategic longterm plan will be key to the Department of Energy's success in managing its environmental liabilities," which are in the hundreds of billions of dollars, the Strategic Forces mark reads. It continues, "Having the right staff with the right skills is a fundamental first step for EM to effectively address its liabilities and mission goals."

Environmental Management stewards the Savannah River Site, the 310-square-mile reserve south of Aiken and New Ellenton. The site, day-to-day run by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, is home to millions of gallons of nuclear waste kept in aging underground tanks – what's been described as South Carolina's single largest environmental threat.

Cleaning up that radioactive waste is a significant portion of Environmental Management's mission.

The House panel's worries are seemingly driven by the attrition rate at Environmental Management's highest posts. As the panel's 54-page document points out, "Since 1991, EM has had nine different assistant secretaries and nine acting assistant secretaries or senior advisors. In the past 5 years, the average length of service for EM leadership is 1 year."

Environmental Management was established in 1989.

The most recent high-profile shift came around this time last year, when Anne Marie White – the woman atop Environmental Management, the assistant secretary – abruptly resigned. She held the No. 1 spot at the office for a little over one year.

No reason for her leave was included in a resignation memo reviewed by the Aiken Standard at the time.

The National Nuclear Security Administration's then-chief of staff, William "Ike" White, replaced her as senior adviser. The two aren't related.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican representing the 2nd Congressional District, which includes the Savannah River Site, sits on the Strategic Forces subcommittee.

Colin Demarest covers the SRS, DOE, its NNSA and government, in general. Support his crucial reporting and local journalism, in general, by subscribing. Follow Colin on Twitter: @demarest_colin.