ALAMEDA COUNTY, CA — President Joe Biden nominated a former manager from the Livermore branch of Sandia National Laboratories to head the National Nuclear Security Administration, the sprawling federal agency responsible for the reliability and safety of U.S. nuclear weapons.
The manager is Jill Hruby, an engineer who joined Sandia/Livermore in 1983. Highly regarded technically as well as for her people skills, she rose locally through supervisory and managerial ranks for 27 years until she moved to Albuquerque, NM, where in 2015 she was named president and director of all Sandia.
That selection made her the first woman to lead one of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories. The three are Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories in addition to Sandia.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, is a semi-autonomous unit of the U.S. Department of Energy. It owns the three weapons labs and either owns or is responsible for facilities scattered around the U.S. that manufacture and assemble weapons parts or produce nuclear materials.
Hruby’s nomination requires Senate confirmation. If confirmed, she will become NNSA’s second consecutive female leader. The first was Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who once worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Praise for Hruby’s nomination came from sources ranging from cabinet level officials in Washington to retired Sandians who had worked with her personally.
Sandia Labs director James Peery sent congratulations and noted Hruby’s historic role as first woman director of a national security laboratory.
The Biden Administration’s Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, called Hruby “one of DOE’s very best success stories…the perfect person to head up our efforts to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent and protect our national security.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, Democratic Congressman from the Tri-Valley, called Hruby a “fantastic nominee,” citing her “decades of experience in nuclear security” and “distinguished service as Sandia’s director.”
Across East Avenue from Sandia’s Livermore site, the director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Kim Budil, said she is “delighted to hear of (Hruby’s) nomination.”
She called Hruby a “fantastic leader and trailblazer, being the first woman to be director of a national security lab. She brings tremendous knowledge of the nuclear security enterprise.”
Dona Crawford, who worked in the Sandia/Livermore computations department in the 1980s and ’90s, remembers Hruby as, “Whip smart. She listened intently and asked the most pertinent and often penetrating questions.”
She felt that Hruby “truly cared” about the people she worked with as well as about the Laboratory’s mission.
Crawford also worked at LLNL as an associate director. Now, in retirement, she is president of the Livermore Lab Foundation.
The theme of combined technical and personal skills was echoed by several retired Sandians who were willing to comment but preferred not to be identified.
One called Hruby the “very best among a generally very good bunch of bosses I had at Sandia.” Another referred to her as “exceptionally strong connecting with people and leading diverse teams even in very complex areas … quick to grasp the leadership needs of an organization and get them moving on track.”
A third spoke of demands made by the nuclear weapons program on a wide range of advanced technologies. Hruby was unusually good at integrating different research and engineering teams into coordinated efforts, he said.
Hruby retired from Sandia in 2017 after NNSA chose a new contractor to replace its longtime manager, aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.
The new contractor, a Honeywell subsidiary called National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, or NTESS, brought in its own management team, replacing Hruby and several others from the senior Lockheed Martin hierarchy.
Hruby did not leave the national security scene for long. In 2018, a respected Washington nonprofit called the Nuclear Threat Initiative chose her for the first Sam Nunn Fellowship, named for the organization’s co-founder.
After years of working in a classified environment, one of Hruby’s first efforts at the Nuclear Threat Initiative examined what could be learned from publicly available sources on recently announced Russian weapons systems that might threaten the West.
Her study, published in late 2019, reported in detail on the status and capabilities of hypersonic weapons, nuclear torpedoes, long range cruise missiles and other systems that Putin’s government had boasted openly about.
Her study in turn helped form the basis for others at NTI to examine how these developmental systems could affect international stability, leading to a study that provided support for the extension of the New START nuclear arms control treaty.
Hruby has a bachelor’s degree from Purdue and a master’s from UC-Berkeley, both in mechanical engineering.
The author of many technical publications and reports, she holds three patents. The Department of Energy, NNSA and the Defense Department have all given her awards for distinguished and exceptional service.
Senate hearings on her nomination are not yet scheduled.