S. 3454, the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), was posted online yesterday. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) completed its mark of the bill on May 27, though it’s not clear when the full Senate will act on it. Unlike the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), SASC marks up the NDAA behind closed doors.
H.R. 5136, the House version of the NDAA, cleared the full House on May 28. As you may recall, HASC approved two damaging amendments on nuclear policy, both of which went unchallenged on the House floor. One provision constrains the ability of the President and senior military leaders to determine the best strategic posture for the U.S., while the other undermines and mischaracterizes the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.
Fortunately the SASC mark does not include these measures. On the plus side, the bill contains two essential provisions calling for greater oversight over Life Extension Programs and major NNSA construction projects. Given the unprecedented amount of money that the Obama administration is proposing to spend refurbishing and modernizing the nuclear weapons complex over the next ten years, it only makes sense that Congress demand additional means of supervision and accountability. Simply put, these provisions are no-brainers…
The first important oversight provision in S. 3454 is Sec. 1049, which calls for the development of criteria for determining the safety and security of nuclear weapons. The provision requires the Secretaries of Defense and Energy to submit a report to the congressional defense committees no later than March 1, 2011 containing (1) criteria for determining the appropriate baseline for safety and security of nuclear weapons and (2) a methodology for determining the level of safety and security that may be achieved through a life extension program for each type of nuclear weapon.
According to the Committee report accompanying the bill, the baseline requirement for safety and security “would be the minimum requirement for safety and security across the nuclear weapons stockpile.” The report goes on to say that the methodology for determining the level of safety and security “should include…a broad, system life cycle cost benefit analysis, in addition to the cost of the Life Extension Program, which is currently part of the phase 6.2A process.”
I take this to mean that SASC is looking for answers to the types of questions that Hans Kristensen and Ivan Oelrich have repeatedly been asking: “how much surety is enough, who sets the bar, and what is it worth?” Without clear baselines it’s always possible to argue that more surety is needed, whether it’s actually necessary or not. Similarly, I wonder if the Committee’s call for a “system life cycle cost benefit analysis” is designed to shed some light on the cost-effectiveness of enhancing safety and security by tinkering with the nuclear explosive package (also known as intrinsic surety) relative to other more targeted measures to improve surety over the course of a weapon’s lifetime (e.g. more guns, guards, and gates). The 2007 Minot incident screams for this type of approach.
The second provision of note in S. 3454 is Sec. 3114, which amends the Atomic Energy Defense Act to require the Administrator of NNSA to establish cost and schedule baselines for Life Extension Programs, and the Secretary of Energy to establish cost and schedule baselines for defense funded construction projects and defense environmental management projects with a total cost in excess of $100 million. The Committee report lays out of the particulars of the provision as follows:
Each required cost and schedule baseline would be submitted to the congressional defense committee no later than 30 days after it is developed. If the cost of any project exceeds 125 percent of the cost baseline or if the time to complete the project will exceed 125 percent of the schedule baseline, the Administrator or the Secretary as the case may be shall notify the congressional defense committees within 30 days after any such determination is made.
Within 90 days of a cost or schedule breach the Administrator or the Secretary as applicable shall notify the congressional defense committees if the project will be terminated or continued. If the project is continued the Administrator or the Secretary as applicable shall certify that a revised cost and schedule baseline is in place, that there is no alternative available other than to continue the project and still meet mission needs, and that a management structure is in place adequate to manage and control the cost and schedule of the project in the future.
Sound familiar? Regular readers of NoH will remember that Nick Roth recommended similar language earlier this year. Citing a January 2010 GAO report excoriating NNSA for failing to establish high-quality cost estimates for construction and environmental clean-up projects, Nick argued that the Department of Energy should be subject to much greater scrutiny when its projects go way over budget. Here’s what he wrote at the time:
According to the Nunn-McCurdy amendment to the 1982 Defense Authorization Bill, if a DOD procurement program has a cost overrun of more than 15%, DOD has to inform Congress. If a program has a cost overrun of more than 25%, the Secretary of Defense is required to appear before Congress and meet certain certification requirements; otherwise the program is terminated. DOE needs to be held to the same standard of accountability both before AND after they do their cost estimates.
Has SASC been reading NoH? In any event, these provisions are big wins for greater transparency and accountability that ought to command strong bipartisan support.