John Eschenberg leaving UPF project

eschenberg18NNSA photo

John Eschenberg, the federal project director for the Uranium Processing Facility, is leaving the multibillion-dollar project, he announced in a message today to colleagues and friends. He said he is retiring from federal service, effective May 30.

He did not immediately say what his future plans will include, although he said will “focus on new career opportunities in the private sector” and serving non-profit organizations. He reflected on his federal career to date and cited recent changes and improvements that stabilized the UPF. He said Dale Christenson, the deputy federal project director, would head the project in an acting role “while the formal hriing process ensues,” noting that Christenson would be a strong candidate for the permanent position.

“While there is never a perfect time for transitiion of key leadership roles, given the Project’s stability, now feels like the optimum time to me,” Eschenberg wrote.

Eschenberg was named project director in March 2012 after previously heading the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office on an interim basis and serving as the federal agency’s environmental manager in Oak Ridge.

Here is his message to friends and colleagues:

As I approach the close of my third year as the Uranium Processing Facility Federal Project Director, I want to reflect on just how much progress we have made.  I would point out that although the journey hasn’t been always been easy, we have remained true to our principles to mature process technologies, drive the design to 90-plus percent completion before starting nuclear construction, and to satisfy our top-line project cost objective by really being honest with ourselves to understand what can be built for $6.5B.  We are steadfast in our direction to initiate early site preparatory activities to enable out-year construction of a three building complex with a strategy to tailor safety and security requirements.  Although many challenges remain, our approach, our team, and our leadership are completely aligned for success.
Our alignment for success is quite evident, now having been independently affirmed by both a second Red Team review and a Peer Review Team.  Beginning with last summer’s contract award to enable the separation of design and construction activities from the day-to-day plant and manufacturing operations, our team has moved to adopt a more efficient commercial approach to Project execution.   The merits of that approach are now beginning to be realized.  Of course, much credit is owed to the leadership in the National Nuclear Security Administration for remaining committed to overhauling its approach to managing large capital asset projects over the last three years and to our partners in Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC.
I have had some time to reflect on nearly six-years in Oak Ridge and the changes we have seen during that time.  It began with progress enabled by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act bonanza, generating hundreds of jobs and allowing the reservation to significantly advance it’s environmental clean-up objectives.  It continued with an unwavering commitment to transform and modernize both the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Oak Ridge National Security Complex.  While we have seen many of our prime contractors change and a wholesale restructuring of federal leadership, one element that remains consistent is the universal recognition of the significance we provide to our nation through the advancement of science, national security missions, and by repurposing our assets to expand commercially- driven economic vitality.  This progress is unmatched — anywhere.
More broadly, while reflecting on my service to the Department of Energy, I continue to be thankful for having had an unmatched breadth of opportunity and experience.  My time with the Department has included serving six different Secretaries, in five different states and working in all of it’s major programs.  I am very grateful to have been able to contribute in some small way to the critical missions the Department delivers to our country.  With that said, and after some reflection on my own objectives, I am electing to retire from federal service on May 30th.  While there is never a perfect time for transition of key leadership roles, given the Project’s stability, now feels like the optimum time to me.  The Project is fortunate to have a strong leader in Dale Christenson who has been serving as the Deputy Federal Project Director for almost five years.  He has impeccable credentials, unmatched knowledge, and a proven track record of project deliveries.  Dale will serve in an acting capacity while the formal hiring process ensues and clearly is a strong candidate for taking the position permanently.
My decision to leave federal service is driven by a desire to focus on new career opportunities in the private sector and to further my focus on serving non-profit organizations.  As many of you know, I am heavily involved with the Emory Valley Center (an institution for the developmentally and intellectually disabled) and plan to initiate construction of the new facility later this fall.  Bonita and I will maintain our primary residence in Oak Ridge as our oldest son is a rising Junior at Maryville College and youngest son is a rising senior at Oak Ridge High School.  I have greatly enjoyed our work together and the thought of all that will be achieved over the next several years. It has been, quite honestly, a great honor for me.
John Eschenberg

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.