The fiscal 2014 continuing resolution, thanks to sequestration, cuts almost $1 billion from President Obama’s requested $7.9 billion for the weapons program of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Energy Department outfit that runs the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.
If the $6.9 billion projected by the Congressional Budget Office for the NNSA weapons program is maintained for fiscal 2014, it “could soon accomplish what arms control activists have repeatedly failed to do, curbing the rapid growth of the U.S. nuclear weapons budget,” according to an analysis in the Albuquerque Journal, the New Mexico newspaper that closely follows the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories.
Budget cuts have already affected long-range Defense Department plans to replace the triad of strategic nuclear delivery systems. The next generation of Ohio-class strategic submarines has been cut by two — to 12 — and development work on the first one has been extended by two years. Research for a new strategic bomber and a new land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) have slowed.
Long term, it’s the replacement of the delivery systems that could cost more than $100 billion in future years. But the bombers can carry conventional weapons, the submarines can serve alternative functions and the ICBMs can be upgraded to last for over a decade more.
It’s been one of the ironies of the Obama administration that in order to get enough GOP Senate support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia in 2010, the president had to agree to increase over the next decade the money spent on the nuclear weapons complex. He also had to agree to replace the three types of delivery systems.
Oddly, in contrast, while President George W. Bush sharply reduced the number of strategic nuclear weapons, he was never pressed to spend the large amounts needed to modernize the nuclear weapons complex, much of which dates to the Manhattan Project.
So, over the past three years, Congress, with administration support, has kept increasing funds for the nuclear weapons program while other discretionary spending, including for defense, was being cut. Funds grew incrementally from $6.8 billion in fiscal 2010 to $7.56 billion in fiscal 2013.
One problem: Increased costs of NNSA projects have eaten up what’s been appropriated. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has for years put the NNSA on its “high-risk list” because of its poor planning, bad financial management, and waste and abuse in major construction contracts.
For example, the aging plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory was set for replacement. In 2005, the NNSA approved the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project at an estimated cost of $975 million.