by Kingston Reif
As part of his effort to win Republican support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010, President Obama submitted to lawmakers a 10-year plan to maintain and modernize US nuclear warheads, strategic delivery systems, and their supporting infrastructure.
Contained in what was originally known as the “Section 1251 Report,” the latest detailed public version of the planoutlined $85 billion in projected spending on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) weapons activities and $100 billion for strategic delivery vehicle modernization at the Pentagon between fiscal years 2011 and 2020. (The report is now known as the “1043 report”, named after Section 1043 of the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization.)
Three years later, the administration’s budget request and Congressional appropriations for nuclear modernization, though staggering in their size, have fallen short of the projected totals.
This shortfall has prompted criticism from some Republican lawmakers, who claim that the administration has failed to provide sufficient funding for nuclear modernization. The Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee has even attempted to block funding for the implementation of New START on the grounds that the administration has failed to honor its modernization commitments.
- In its November 2010 update to the Section 1251 report, the administration made clear that its budget “projections” were not “fixed in stone” but were most accurately described as a “snapshot in time” that will be “evaluated each year and adjusted as necessary.” Since 2010, the economic environment, Congressional budget cuts, and the exploding costs of numerous modernization programs have forced changes to the original budget projections. Unforeseen technical advances have also created an opportunity for budget savings.
- The cuts to NNSA’s budget have been spearheaded by the Republican-led House, not by the administration.On February 11, 2011, six days after New START formally entered into force, Hal Rogers (R-KY), Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, introduced a Continuing Resolution to fund the government for the last seven months of Fiscal Year 2011. Known as H.R. 1, the bill cut funding for NNSA weapons activities by $312.4 million below the administration’s FY 2011 request. While some of this funding was restored in the final spending agreement, the end result was a reduction below the 1251 report-level requested by the administration. In FY 2012, House Republicans made even deeper cuts to the NNSA weapons budget of almost $600 million, some of which was restored in the final conference bill.
- Below is a chart detailing the Republican-led House’s cuts to the NNSA weapons budget over the past four years. The bottom line is that the White House cannot force Congressional appropriators to fund what they do not want to fund.
- The 10-year modernization plan was crafted before Congress approved the bipartisan Budget Control Act in August 2011, which requires reductions in the projected growth of defense spending and could lead to even larger cuts if sequestration is implemented for the long-term. If Congress does not change this legislation, sequestration will eliminate an additional $500 billion from the Pentagon’s coffers over the next decade.
- Despite the tough budget environment, the administration’s request for fiscal 2014, released in April, includes an increase of more than 7 percent above the previous year’s level and nearly $1.5 billion more than Congress spent on weapons programs in fiscal 2010.
- The main difference between the original 2010 NNSA spending plan and the current budget is the absence of funding for the construction of a new multi-billion dollar plutonium facility at Los Alamos national laboratory in New Mexico known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility. In 2012, the administration decided to delay construction of the facility by at least five years, due in part to the explosive cost growth of the B61 life extension program and the Uranium Processing Facility in Tennessee, which crowded out funding for the Los Alamos project, and in part to the availability of less expensive alternatives. This decision will not adversely affect the nuclear stockpile because essential plutonium capabilities can be maintained in the near term using existing facilities, for a fraction of the cost. This explains why both the Senate and House appropriations committees supported the decision to delay the facility last year.
- The Pentagon continues to spend billions to modernize existing delivery platforms. It is also investing in programs to build new ballistic missile submarines and long-range strategic bombers, and study possible replacements for our existing ICBMs and cruise missiles. Due in large part to the current budget environment, the Pentagon delayed the Ohio class submarine program by two years in last year’s budget request. The Navy believes that the delay is manageable and necessary to put the replacement program on a more stable and predictable footing.
- The key measure is whether the United States is funding the capabilities necessary to maintain the health of the nuclear stockpile. By this standard the Obama administration is vigorously pursuing these capabilities.
- Contrary to Republican claims, the Administration has provided huge increases for the nuclear weapons complex and the reductions from what was originally outlined were initiated by House Republicans and not by the Administration. If Republicans feel aggrieved, they should point the finger of suspicion at their fellow party members.