On March 14 the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia held a hearing titled “Managing Interagency Nuclear Nonproliferation Efforts: Are We Effectively Securing Nuclear Materials Around the World?”
The hearing focused on the status of the U.S.-led effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. Of particular interest was a question asked by Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Akaka on the FY 2013 budget request for nuclear material security programs. Below is Sen. Akaka’s exchange with Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Non-Proliferation Anne Harrington on the request for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s material security activities.
SEN. AKAKA: …
Ken Luongo, who is president of the Partnership for Global Security, has raised concerns that this budget is inadequate to meet the nuclear threat to American and international security and could undermine the four-year nuclear security agenda. Others likely will argue that we cannot fully fund the president’s requests.
Please respond to Mr. Luongo’s view that more funding is needed, and address what affect less funding would have on our ability to effectively secure vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials.
MS. HARRINGTON: I noticed that Mr. Handelman is letting me take this question first, thank you.
If you look at budget projections that were presented several years ago for where we would be in the 2013-2014 space, they’re quite different from where we are right now. But that is very much a reflection of fiscal realities in the United States. The Budget Control Act governs what our limits are going to be. The Budget Committees are very constrained overall. And so across the government, every agency every program is looking at how it can continue to meet mission goals, but with less resource.
We are no exception. And we are confident that the 2013 budget as presented will allow us to continue to meet our four-year goals. That does not mean that it’s only the Global Threat Reduction Initiative Program, but we have to maintain the funding in other programs that are also part of this overall effort. There are at least four different program areas that support the four-year effort, in my office. So we have done our best to balance across those programs to make some tough decisions, but we believe they were the right decisions to be able to carry this effort forward. Thank you.
Harrington is correct that the current budget environment requires difficult budgetary tradeoffs and that an appropriate balance must be struck. However, while the budget request for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the International Materials Protection and Cooperation program (INMPC), the two core NNSA programs in the effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials at an accelerated rate were cut by $291 million relative to last year’s appropriated level, the request for the controversial Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program is $229 million more than last year’s level.
In addition, the FY 2013 budget includes a onetime request of $150 million for USEC. Formerly the U.S. Enrichment Corp., USEC is a privately owned company that is attempting to build a new gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant to produce fuel for nuclear power plants at Piketon, near Portsmouth in southern Ohio.
Neither the MOX program nor USEC are core material security programs or contribute to the mission of the four year goal. Last year the House Energy and Water appropriations subcommittee noted that the rising costs of the MOX program’s construction projects are a “threat…to the progress of core nonproliferation activities.” The Senate expressed similar concerns.
There’s of course more to the story than just the topline budget numbers. In short, as Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), ranking member on the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, noted at the subcommittee’s March 6 hearing on the NNSA nonproliferation budget, it’s difficult to conclude that NNSA struck the right balance within the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account.
For more on the shortcomings of the FY 2013 budget request not only at NNSA, but across the government, see Ken Luongo’s opening statement at the March 14 hearing’s second panel here.