The directors of Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia National Laboratories appeared yesterday in front of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, testifying that the New START Treaty would not prevent the labs from ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. The directors head the three labs that carry out the NNSA’s (National Nuclear Security Administration) stockpile stewardship program. The three directors were joined by Dr. Roy Schwitters, the Chairman of the JASON Defense Advisory Group, at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE HEARING
At the morning hearing – the Armed Services Committee’s second on the treaty – all four witnesses stated that the labs retained sufficient authority and flexibility to carry out their stewardship missions under the terms of the New START treaty and Obama administration Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). Moreover, in the Q&A, the four witnesses emphasized the consequences of a failure to ratify the treaty on the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, arguing that discord in Washington inhibits the labs’ ability to attract and retain top talent. Dr. Miller, the director of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, put it most clearly, stating: “having an agreed upon long-term vision for the future of the nuclear weapons stockpile is very important to the stability and engagement of the workforce.”
The few moments of contention centered on two issues: the Obama administration’s NPR and FY2011 budget. The Obama NPR gives a “strong preference to refurbishment or reuse,” rather than replacement, in warhead life extension programs. In criticizing the NPR, Senator McCain referenced a May 2010 letter, signed by 10 former national lab directors, which expressed concern about this policy in the NPR. All four witnesses, however, maintained that the NPR would not impede stockpile stewardship or life extension programs:
ANASTASIO (Los Alamos): “It is certainly true that there are restrictions in the NPR but I still believe that it is very clear that we have both the authority and responsibility to explore on a case by case basis what’s the best technical approach on each system to extend its life into the future.”
MILLER (Lawrence Livermore): “I believe that the concern expressed by the former lab directors is obviously legitimate…[however] I believe that the situation we have is a workable one.”
The four witnesses also stressed the need for a renewed and sustained financial commitment to the U.S. nuclear complex. The directors pointed out that prior to this year, funding for the NNSA has fallen each year since 2006. Senator Inhofe (R-OK) seized on this comment as an opportunity to criticize the Obama administration’s FY2011 budget, arguing that the funds in the 2011 budget fell short of what was requested by the NNSA. Senator Reed (D-RI) quickly pointed out that the FY2011 budget’s allocation to NNSA is a 13% increase over the previous year’s budget, and the lab directors spoke highly of the budget, with Dr. Miller praising it as a “step in the right direction” and Dr. Anastasio arguing it showed a “strong commitment” to the nuclear stockpile.
FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE HEARING
Directors Anastasio, Miller, and Hommert reiterated their views on the treaty in an afternoon hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the Q&A, discussion focused on the Obama administration’s 10-year Funding Plan. The directors praised the plan for its renewed financial commitment to the nuclear complex but also asserted that this focus would need to be maintained by future administrations and congresses.
MILLER: “Given the recent trends, I can’t stress how positive a step [the budget is.]”
ANASTASIO: “The 2011 budget submission shows a strong commitment on the part of the administration…[but] in the out years, we need to find ways to sustain our focus and commitment.”
Because the 10-year Plan pushes much of the funding increases into the out years (2016 and after), senators on both sides of the aisle emphasized the need for Washington to stick to the plan in the long run.
Finally, props to Senator Inhofe for managing to attend one of yesterday’s hearings (he sits on both committees, but 50% attendance is still a major improvement). In case you missed our earlier post, Sen. Inhofe has a lousy attendance record at the New START hearings, noting that he doesn’t like to show up to hearings that include witnesses who support the treaty. Apparently Sen. Inhofe’s knows better than Secretary of Defense Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mullen, STRATCOM Commander Gen. Chilton, and countless others.