Former Ambassador Linton Brooks’ tenure as a member of the Board of Managers for National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia ended in May. He had served since July 2017 and chaired the missions committee, which covers all aspects of the Labs’ missions.
Brooks had been closely affiliated with Sandia since the late 1970s, when he escorted a foreign delegation on his first visit to the Labs in 1979.
“One of the most striking things about Sandia is the breadth of what we do. Every time I come here, I find out something I didn’t know Sandia is doing,” Brooks said during an interview about his five-decade-plus career.
When questioned about his most significant contributions to Sandia, Brooks pointed to his work on gender issues with Dori Ellis, who served as deputy labs director and in several other leadership positions at Sandia. “I take some credit for more leadership roles at Sandia being occupied by women. When I began, no women were voting members on the Board of Managers. Now, two of four voting members are women,” Brooks said. “I have worked alongside incredibly talented and dedicated women, and to exclude them from leadership roles would be unjust.”
Brooks also served on Sandia’s Nuclear Deterrence External Advisory Board. “Ambassador Brooks is a consummate leader who brought vast experience in U.S. government and on the international stage to the Board of Managers,” said Labs Director James Peery. “His contributions to Sandia Labs will endure as will his impact on national security. We were privileged to have someone of Ambassador Brooks’ caliber on the board and will miss his dedication and insight.”
A career of public service
To say Brooks has had an impressive career would be an understatement. From the Navy to negotiating treaties and leading NNSA, Brooks said his career has been all about one thing: public service.
When asked what work or job he’s most proud of, he picked three.
Brooks started his career in 1959, serving as a U.S. Navy officer, including commander of the nuclear-powered submarine USS Whale. He completed several naval and DOD assignments over the course of his 30-year career as a naval officer, including in nuclear policy and arms control. “I’ll always think of myself as a submariner,” Brooks said.
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
Brooks served as the chief U.S. negotiator of the START I Treaty, with Senate-confirmed rank as ambassador. The treaty, signed in 1991, required the United States and Soviet Union to reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons. “I managed to maintain decent morale in a time of intense work. The treaty stands up well. We got most of it right,” Brooks said. Reductions of nuclear weapons were complete by the treaty’s December 2001 deadline.
Brooks also led negotiations on the START II Treaty, which was signed in 1993, but that treaty was never entered into force.
Brooks served in high-level positions in the DOE starting in the early 2000s. From 2002 to 2007, Brooks led more than 37,000 federal workers at NNSA, maintaining the safety, security and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. NNSA oversees national laboratories in the nuclear security enterprise, including Sandia. “Employees at the federal level and the labs are so wonderful to work with,” Brooks said, adding that he shielded the internship program from budget cuts during his time as NNSA administrator.
Following his retirement in 2007, NNSA established an award in Brooks’ honor. The annual award recognizes employees with five or fewer years of experience as a federal worker, and whose contributions exemplify Brooks’ spirit of commitment and achievement. “When I was at DOE, I was well-known for a relentless commitment to talking about public service,” Brooks said. “Not everyone gets to make a difference like we do.”
In addition to advising national laboratories since his retirement in 2007, Brooks has also served on federal panels and has been an independent national security consultant.
Sandia’s mission and relevance
With the current geopolitical situation, Brooks said we’ll continue to face complex international situations, elevating the importance of Sandia’s national security work.
“The public needs to understand that nuclear deterrence is important. Elites need to understand how much more complicated it is,” Brooks said. “It’s conceivable the deterrent we have today is not the deterrent we will need in 2050. If we don’t learn along the way, it’s the deterrent we’ll have available,” Brooks said. “New ideas have always come out of Sandia.”
Brooks also said space and cyberspace need to be factors considered when talking about deterrence.
Attracting top talent
Equipment like Sandia’s Z Pulsed Power Facility, Earth’s most powerful pulsed-power facility and X-ray generator, is key to attracting new talent, according to Brooks.
“We have tools that no one else has. Academia can’t afford to do the type of work we do. People can go work elsewhere and make more money,” Brooks said. “The importance of the mission is what keeps people here.”
While leadership is important for shaping workplace culture, Brooks reminded Sandians of the power they hold to shape the work environment. “Be the type of people that you want to work with and build the type of community that you want to work in,” Brooks said.
As the interview wrapped up, and Brooks prepared for a busy week that includes his final Board of Managers meeting, it was clear what he’ll miss most. “The most important thing I do is mentor the next generation. I love it,” Brooks said quietly, followed by a short pause. “I just love it.”