Energy chief cites security, workforce

The Energy Department's new boss told Congress that his key initiatives over the coming year include tightening agency security and attracting new talent to ease the burden of an aging workforce.

In testimony Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham said he has had many meetings with Gen. John Gordon, director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, about improving security at all agency sites.

"I intend to work with Gen. Gordon and the other DOE program offices to ensure that the department's senior managers are fully engaged in improving security at all of our sites, not just the national laboratories," Abraham said.

Abraham, who became Energy secretary under President Bush after losing his bid for re-election as a Michigan senator, also expressed his concerns that "many labs are at risk of losing their highly trained scientists and engineers to more attractive employment opportunities." The average age for personnel in those positions was 50, he noted.

Abraham conceded under questioning that security and workforce issues were connected. "We need to make sure each one is strong, and I don't think there's a trade-off needed," he said. "It's not an inverse relationship. You don't have to sacrifice security in order to build morale, and vice versa."

DOE is hindered in attracting top high-technology personnel to its laboratories and other facilities because of more lucrative offers from the private sector, as well as the fact that the United States is not building new weapons now as it did during the Cold War, Abraham said.

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