Butler County Native Ascends to National Defense Post
Brown, David M., Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
As the new overseer of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, some aspects of Robert L. Smolen's life are secret.
The Butler County native's allegiance to the Steelers is not among them.
"Folks here will tell you that I'm looking across the room at a Terrible Towel," Smolen, a 1970 graduate of Knoch High School in Saxonburg, said of the symbol of Pittsburgh that hangs in his Washington office.
Smolen, 55, a retired Air Force major general, was sworn in Nov. 28 as deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration. He is in charge of the nation's Stockpile Stewardship Program, which employs more than 30,000 people.
President Bush appointed him to the position in August, and the Senate confirmed the appointment last month.
The program he heads is responsible for keeping the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal at the ready.
Touring nuclear laboratories during his first week on the job, Smolen outlined some priorities to his staff.
"I told them I have a number of goals, but primarily I want them to stay focused on what they do best and just worry about doing that, and let me worry about trying to knock down the obstacles that keep them from doing their job better," Smolen said. "I'm instrumental in trying to help them get the resources they need to make all that work.
"It's really exciting to be a part of an organization that has so many smart people doing so many really important things across such a wide spectrum," he said.
The program faces challenges.
"Our nuclear weapons are very old. The newest one is over 20 years old. We're not testing anymore. We have a science-based program that enables us to monitor our weapons to ensure they are safe and reliable and secure," Smolen said. …