by Kingston Reif
By Kingston Reif and Patricia Morris
The international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials and keep our nation safe from nuclear terrorism is at a crossroads.
In Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, the President’s budget request and Congressional appropriations for threat reduction programs did not reflect the urgency of the threat. Funding for these programs was actually less than what Congress appropriated in FY 2009. The administration attempted to close this gap in FY 2011 by requesting a $320 million increase over the FY 2010 appropriated level that enables the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Defense Department’s Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program to accelerate their efforts to lock down and eliminate nuclear materials around the world. The FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Act fully supported this funding.
However, the appropriations process for FY 2011 has been mired in gridlock. Instead of operating through normal appropriations bills, the government is being funded by a stopgap spending bill known as a Continuing Resolution. The current Continuing Resolution passed at the end of December 2010 funds most government programs at FY 2010 levels through March 4, 2011, including the programs to secure and safeguard nuclear weapons and materials.
To make matters worse, on February 11 the Republican-controlled House of Representatives proposed a Continuing Resolution to fund the government for the rest of FY 2011 that cuts funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account by $647.5 million below the administration’s FY 2011 request. These cuts occurred because Republican leaders did not consider the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nonproliferation programs to be “security spending” – which they exempt from major budget cuts – even though the purpose of many of the programs in this account is to prevent nuclear terrorism. Thus, the House Continuing Resolution fully funds the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program at the FY 2011 requested level, but inexplicably reduces the National Nuclear Security Administrations’ nonproliferation budget.
Three days after the House unveiled its budget cuts, the President released his budget request for FY 2012. Until there is clarity about the funding levels for the rest of FY 2011, the FY 2012 budget request is difficult to assess. However it is noteworthy that the President’s request for critical threat reduction and nonproliferation programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Defense Department, and the State Department is conspicuously less than the FY 2011 request.
Failure to correct the shortfalls for nuclear security in the Continuing Resolution would significantly hamper U.S. leadership in the important effort to secure vulnerable weapons and materials around the world. For example, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative could face delays in completing critical conversion, removal, and protection activities in Russia, Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Mexico. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative was the biggest beneficiary of the FY 2011 request, as it was due for a $225 million increase above the FY 2010 appropriated level.
It is now up to the Senate, with support from the administration, to ensure that the effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials does not get derailed. In the event that the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account cannot be fully funded at the FY 2011 requested level, Congress and the administration should direct the National Nuclear Security Administration to use its authority to reallocate funding among its nonproliferation programs to prioritize the Global Threat Reduction Initiative and the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation program in order to maintain the accelerated work-scope necessary to prevent nuclear terrorism.