Weapons Complex Monitor Vol. 30 No. 21
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May 24, 2019

Anne White Out as DOE Nuclear Cleanup Office Boss, Sources Say

By Wayne Barber

Anne Marie White is stepping down as head of the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, multiple industry sources said Thursday afternoon. They linked her departure to friction with her immediate superior, Undersecretary of Energy for Science Paul Dabbar, exacerbated by concerns about radioactive contamination near a DOE facility in Ohio.

White became assistant energy secretary for environmental management in March 2018, assuming control of a $7 billion operation to clean up 16 radioactively contaminated nuclear sites across the country.

White is believed out of town for personal matters, and the Energy Department likely won’t announce anything until after the Memorial Day holiday, an industry source said. That source and three others said they heard White was being forced out.

Two of the same sources said Mark Gilbertson, the office’s principal deputy assistant secretary, is being reassigned to a different position within the Energy Department.

A spokesman for the Environmental Management office directed questions to the main Energy Department headquarters press office. Spokespeople there did not respond to multiple requests for comment by deadline for Weapons Complex Monitor.

As for Friday morning, no change has been made to the EM office’s online organizational chart, which lists White and Gilbertson in the top two spots.

Dabbar, who oversees the Environmental Management office, reportedly requested White’s resignation Wednesday after the two disagreed over her handling of the potential spread of radioactive contaminants from the Portsmouth Site in Ohio to the surrounding area. A middle school near the site last week closed early for summer due to reported radiological contaminants in air samples.

The Energy Department says its own air monitoring has shown only “trace” amounts, far below being a risk to human health, of neptunium-237 and americium-241 around Zahn’s Corner Middle School. Nevertheless, the Energy Department has agreed to pay for extra air sampling this summer by an outside consultant.

During recent weeks White had many conversations with local authorities in southern Ohio on the school issue.

Two sources said White’s relationship with Dabbar has never been strong. He might believe she is giving the Ohio situation too much attention, sources said.

The Donald Trump administration might tap Ike White, chief of staff and associate principal deputy administrator at DOE’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, to take over for Anne White on an acting basis, a couple of the sources said.

One of the industry sources said he left a business meeting Thursday afternoon “and my phone was blowing up” with news about Anne White’s departure. “Here we go again,” he said, adding the cleanup office continually seems in flux.

Upon her swearing in, Anne White became the first Senate-confirmed “EM-1” at the Department of Energy since Monica Regalbuto left when President Trump took office in January 2017.

A longtime nuclear cleanup consultant, who founded Bastet Technical Services, she was sworn in as head of the cleanup office 14 months ago.

She came to the post determined to advance accelerate remediation and site closure, one of the sources said, but “she took her eye off the political ball.”

Before joining DOE, Anne White worked 25 years in the nuclear industry, with hands-on field experience at many DOE complex sites, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Nevada National Security Site, and the West Valley Demonstration Project in New York. She assisted several nations, such as Romania, develop policy and regulations for emerging nuclear power programs.

If she is indeed on the way out, another industry source hopes that won’t slow a series of DOE remediation procurements in the pipeline for this year. “All of industry is geared up and ready to go” on contract awards, he said.

Gilbertson has been a member of the federal Senior Executive Service for 25 years. While named him as her principal deputy, or EM-2, in November, after he held the role three months on an acting basis. Beforehand, the DOE veteran previously served as assistant secretary for EM’s Office of Regulatory and Policy Affairs.

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