WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he is nominating Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the National Security Council’s top nuclear proliferation and defense policy official, to be deputy secretary of energy.
If confirmed by the Senate for the No. 2 job at the Department of Energy, which has been held for five years by Daniel Poneman, Sherwood-Randall would join the department at a moment when it is remaking the nation’s nuclear weapons complex and figuring out the delicate politics of the boom in oil and gas fracking. She would oversee the nuclear complex and a multibillion dollar program to overhaul the nation’s nuclear laboratories as well as its program to update a modestly-shrunken arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Obama’s energy secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, was a longtime professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who had worked in the arena of nuclear power and the move to lower carbon emissions. Sherwood-Randall brings a background in nuclear weapons and nonproliferation strategy to the department, which has split responsibilities for energy strategy and the country’s weapons and counterproliferation work.
For Sherwood-Randall, 54, this would be a third job in the Obama administration, after a foreign policy career focused on Europe, Russia, Turkey and a range of defense issues. In her current job, as the White House coordinator for defense policy and for countering unconventional weapons, she oversaw the effort to get chemical weapons out of Syria and the development of the administration’s policy for dealing with the nuclear arsenal.
“She has been the White House point person on the nuclear weapons complex, and it’s been a complicated task because it’s where the Energy Department and the Pentagon meet,” said Ashton B. Carter, who as deputy secretary of defense until December often worked with Sherwood-Randall. “She’s a superb organizer, and she’ll need that skill — both in the nuclear complex and in the management of the tremendous changes brought about by the new exploitation of petroleum, and its consequences.”
Sherwood-Randall grew up in California and graduated from Harvard College, where her roommate was a future member of Obama’s Cabinet: Penny Pritzker, the secretary of commerce. During the Clinton administration she was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and a protégé of William Perry, former President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary.