Chief Hopkins

Published in News on 7/2/2018

“I had to see if I could get back in the game. Thanks to some wonderful folks at DOE that appreciate what I bring to the table, I got asked to do the job. I accepted on the spot! No hesitation – none what-so-ever.”

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At the EMI SIG Annual Meeting I, Bernie Pleau, had an opportunity to sit down with Chief Hopkins, Associate Administrator and Deputy Under Secretary for Emergency Operations and ask him a few questions about his role at DOE and what he looks to accomplish.

Pleau: Tell me a little bit about your background?

Hopkins: 30 years military service, Navy submariner, short stint as a contractor, then 9/11 happened and I got really frustrated that I wasn’t contributing anymore, so I applied for a job on Whitehouse.gov because I couldn’t get back into the Navy. They were polite and said they had a lot of younger men and woman ready to sign up.

Several months after filing the application and following a few interviews I ended up at the Department of Treasury where I was the Assistant Secretary for Management & Budget, Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor. Anybody who has ever done that job will understand why I was looking to move on. Soon after I arrived at Treasury, the Secretary was looking to replace the heads of emergency management (EM) and continuity of operations (COOP).  I told her that I could do those jobs and I could do them well.  That started everything.

I did three years at Treasury, starting in 2002 and then a very short year at IRS. With everything I had been working on with the White House military office and some folks in the White House, I was selected for a wonderful position at FEMA in the Office of National Security Coordination. My responsibilities were to run the executive branch COOP and continuity of government (COG), Mt. Weather EOC, Contingency Communications, and integrated public alert and warning. I loved the job. The only reason I left was that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs saw me working during an exercise and afterwards asked if I would be interested and going over to work for him. As a 30 year veteran I dreamed of the day I would work at VA so I left FEMA with a heavy heart and moved to VA where I worked with some very wonderful passionate people. 

That period of time from 02-09 was just a magical period as I worked with so many wonderful professionals that were so passionate for the EM and COOP mission.  It was like being on active duty again. One ship one crew – we were always looking out for each other.  We would never let our teammate walk off a cliff. We were in it to win it and all the other clichés you can think of. 

Looking back at the achievements, when I was responsible for the executive branch, the cadre of folks and professionals I worked with were completely focused on bringing the nation together as one and not having to go through another chaotic event like 9/11 where all the Department and Agencies headed off in different directions. We all worked very closely together and we were bound and determined to bring the nation together under one policy statement.  That’s when the first national continuity policy was developed and signed out by the president in May 2007 – National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20. That’s how well we worked together.  It took us five years to develop that document and get it signed out.  During that period of time you talk about the concept of a band of brothers and sisters, we really jelled as a team.

Pleau: What excites you about taking the emergency management job at the DOE?

Hopkins: Let’s go back to 2009.  I had to leave government employment because of change of administrations.  I was hired by the White House in a political position, so I had to leave in 2009. I didn’t want to go. It was one of those things when you leave kicking and screaming, but it was reality. A new administration and I had to go.

I am blessed with some wonderful friends in the network that I have, so I found things to do.  I helped a friend start a company and helped another friend in the ship building industry in Canada.  While that was fun, there was still something missing – that sense of mission accomplishment, that comradery, that theme of working together on a common goal for something really worthwhile. Outside of the military, the only environment or career field I found those attributes in was EM and COOP. So while I was doing this gig up in Canada, and it was fun, there was still something missing. I paid attention to USA Jobs and when this job announcement came up on my screen, my heart rate accelerated. I had to see if I could get back in the game. Thanks to some wonderful folks at DOE that appreciate what I bring to the table, I got asked to do the job. I accepted on the spot! No hesitation – none what so ever.

Pleau: What’s your vision for what you see happening within the Department for Emergency Management?

Hopkins: I’ve only been aboard seven months. What I’ve seen so far is similar to what I saw in 02 after 9/11. In 02 Departments and Agencies, to put everything in context, were operating off guidance documents. So if you have 20 plus Departments and Agencies, with just a guidance document, those folks were doing what they thought they needed to do during a time of crisis. Unfortunately it was 20 plus different directions for how to respond, recover, and do COOP.

In the few short months I’ve been on board at DOE, I see a similar situation where we have a lot of passionate folks wanting to do the right thing but it becomes cumbersome when there’s no one at the focal point of the COOP and EM office that is speaking with one voice for the whole Department. What I’ve seen from the Secretary, Deputy Secretary and the three Under Secretaries is a new energy to bring that all together with one voice.  That’s what I do. I’m very anxious to move forward with the Secretary’s and Deputy Secretary’s vision to be the best there is. In order to do that, we need to get everybody at HQ’s and in the field on the same page, with regard to the fundamentals of EM and COOP.  So that’s my vision – get everybody on the same page so that we are one ship one crew.

Pleau: Have you had the opportunity to visit any of the sites or facilities?

Hopkins: Just one – I’ve been drinking from several fire hoses for the last several months and the everyday issues are not affording me the time, yet, to go and see what the good folks in the field are doing.  The beauty of this conference (the EMI SIG Annual Meeting) is I can put a face with a name. On a teleconference you don’t get the benefit of seeing who you are speaking to. Here I am seeing and hearing the passion and the pain of folks from the field.  I’m very anxious to get out to all the sites.  There are so many good people out there with great ideas that I want to capitalize on but I just haven’t had a chance to do that yet.

Pleau: Do you feel that the emergency management mission within DOE/NNSA is moving in the right direction, or do you see changes ahead?

Hopkins: I see a lot of changes ahead. Our new Administrator has significant experience in the EM and continuity world. I had a delightful conversation with her after the Eagle Horizon exercise.  She said I’m all in, my chips are all in. I want you and your team to be successful. Whatever I can do to help you move the programs forward, you let me know. She’s all in. So are the Deputy Secretary and the other principals within DOE. This last exercise, the number of principal leadership people who were involved was unprecedented.  I’ve never seen anything like that before. I look forward to many, many good things happening.

Pleau: What will it take to implement the new strategies or ideas you have? Additional funding?

Hopkins: I think there are some economies of scale that can be obtained.  I see some cumbersome work practices that actually cost more than they should. By incorporating some economies of scale and other efficiencies that I see, we can streamline a lot of processes and procedures that will offset, be a zero sum game if you will, for where we want to go.

In fact, when I was on Capitol Hill for the recent budget cycle, the Senate Committee asked why I hadn’t asked for any additional money. I said because I believe with the analysis I have done so far that we can move forward with the programs and accomplish what we need to do without any increase in budget. They were pretty surprised. They said nobody comes to the table and leaves without asking for more money.  I said give me a chance.  I promise you that I will not ask for more money unless I really need it. So I don’t think we need additional funds right now. I think we need to be smarter about using the funds that we have and streamline a lot of our processes.

Pleau: In the past there has been a lot of friction between the field and HQ. Is there a better sense of collaboration now?

Hopkins: I see the field offices hungry to communicate – communicate their concerns and the issues they deal with day in and day out.  I like to build bridges and socialize the issues – talk through the issues. “Seek first to understand” is one of my favorite expressions.  In the short time I’ve been aboard I’ve seen a significant increase in communicating significant issues with the field offices. They understand a bit better about who we are and what we’re doing, and we understand a whole lot more about the issues that they deal with on a daily basis. Again, it is just a seek first to understand mentality and I have seen a big move in being able to address and talk through the issues.

Pleau: What are the top three initiatives you’d like to see get done in your first year?

Hopkins: First I’d like to better understand the fundamentals of what the field offices go through and help them develop a solid foundation for their EM programs. By doing that, reaching out to them and helping them to understand we’re in it to win it, just like they are. We’re not there to tell them how to do their jobs. We all want to work together for the same goal, especially if something happens that we must effectively and efficiently respond to and recover from at a minimal cost to the Site, the Department and the American public.

Second I would like to reestablish the morale and enthusiasm in NA-40 that has been missing in the past five years. It isn’t because of ineffective leadership in the past. It is due to a series of events that have taken place. We need to regroup as a team and develop the one ship, one crew mindset. My top leadership and I are working on it.

The third one will have to wait until I’ve been here a bit longer.

Pleau: What would you like to say to the EMI SIG community?

Hopkins: I have to say as a licensed professional engineer and member of both engineering and navy organizations who hold annual conferences; this by far is the best I have ever attended. This EMI SIG conference just blew me away. The level of enthusiasm and passion amongst the colleagues here and the fact that everybody is sharing great information can only amount to great accomplishments as we move forward. In the past, EM has been in one corner and COOP in the other, but what I have seen here is a wonderful blending of the two communities because of the shared passion and goals. I’m very impressed with these folks! These folks are amazing. I’m glad I made the time to come. Some of the conversations I’ve had were very energizing.  I look forward to many more future EMI SIG meetings. You’ve set the bar pretty high.​

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