by Kingston Reif
On June 15 the House Appropriations Committee marked up (i.e. wrote) the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. The bill passed Committee by a vote of 26-20. Every Democrat except Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Pete Visclosky (D-IN) opposed the bill.
The full committee draft and the report of the bill can be found on the Committee’s website. The bill is scheduled to be debated on the House floor the week of July 4.
Last month House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) announced that the allocation for the Energy and Water Subcommittee would be 16 percent below the President’s request for FY 2012 and 3 percent below the FY 2011 level. This low allocation meant that the diverse programs covered by the bill – ranging from water projects to Mississippi flood relief to nonproliferation to nuclear weapons complex modernization – had to compete for very scarce resources.
Given this low budget ceiling, the Committee did it’s best to protect vital material security and nonproliferation efforts and made sensible cuts to nuclear modernization programs.
Nevertheless, the cuts to threat reduction programs are difficult to comprehend, since these programs counter the most serious threat confronting our national security: the threat of nuclear terrorism.
Nuclear Material Security and Nonproliferation
The Committee appropriated $2.086 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account, a reduction of $463 million below the FY 2012 request.
The Committee’s action follows on the heels of a $370 cut to this account below the administration’s request in the final FY 2011 Continuing Resolution passed by Congress in April. The House proposed an even larger cut (over $600 million), but was forced to compromise by the Senate.
NNSA has yet to publically release a detailed spending plan for FY 2011, but the Committee’s report on the FY 2012 bill contains new information at the sub-account level.
According to the report language, the FY 2012 bill “fully supports the Administration’s four year goal to secure vulnerable nuclear material worldwide as an urgent national security need and priority of the Committee.”
However, the Committee’s appropriation for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, a program to secure and eliminate dangerous nuclear material worldwide, is $120 million below the administration’s FY 2012 request and nearly $50 million below the FY 2011 appropriation. The bill cuts $70 million from the program’s Highly Enriched Uranium Reactor Conversion account and $50 million from domestic radiological protection activities.
The cut to reactor conversion suggests that the Committee does not believe that it is part of the four year goal. However, it is a critical nonproliferation program to reduce the threats of nuclear terrorism. The Committee notes that GTRI has only been able to shut down 3 out of 71 reactors in Russia, but there are still dozens of reactors all over the world that can be converted or shut down first while NNSA negotiates with Russia.
The Committee fully funded the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (INMPC) account’s nuclear material security programs in Russia, but reduced the budget for the Second Line of Defense program to install radiation detectors and other equipment to detect the illicit trafficking of weapons of mass destruction at border crossings, airports, and seaports around the world by $75 million below the request.
Rep. Visclosky (D-IN) expressed his disappointment with the Committee’s cuts to nuclear material security programs at the mark up:
Nonproliferation accounts are reduced significantly, and while I appreciate your efforts, Mr. Chairman, to preserve some of the most critical activities, the allocation reduces our ability to counter the most serious threat confronting our national security: the threat of nuclear terrorism. The current proposal underfunds the Defense Nuclear Non-Proliferation Account by more than $460 million below the request. This comes on top of the $360 million cut below the request that was provided in the final Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution. These cuts underfund vital national security programs, reducing our ability to secure vulnerable nuclear materials around the world, delaying the removal of bomb-grade uranium, and limiting our capacity to detect illicit trafficking of nuclear materials.
Nearly $200 million of the $460 million cut to Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation came from the Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) program, which is part of the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account even though it isn’t a core nuclear terrorism prevention program. The Committee rightly noted that the rising costs of the MOX program’s construction projects are a “threat…to the progress of core nonproliferation activities.” The program is plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays, and the Department of Energy has yet to receive a commitment from any utility to use the fuel.
While nuclear material security spending is only a tiny drop in the bucket relative to the total defense budget, NNSA secured 800 bombs’ worth of nuclear material in 2010. Since April 2009, NNSA has overseen the removal of highly enriched uranium from six countries, including the last bombs’ worth of material from Chile in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake. In total, NNSA has removed 120 bombs worth of material worldwide. This is a remarkable return on investment. Underfunding these programs, which the House has now done two years in a row, undermines U.S. national security.
The Committee’s ax also fell on NNSA’s Weapons Activities account, as it reduced the budget for nuclear warhead and complex modernization by $498 million below the FY 2012 request. Despite this cut, the bill provides $7.1 billion for nuclear modernization, an increase of over $195 million above the FY 2011 appropriation.
As the Committee report notes,
“The request for Weapons Activities is the second year of large increases requested in order to pursue the Administration’s strategy set forth in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to maintain an aging stockpile through full scope life extension activities, to modernize the infrastructure and restore capabilities, and to address the immediate maintenance and production requirements of the stockpile. Despite the economic crisis, the modernization of the nuclear security infrastructure remains a major Committee priority and,therefore, the recommendation provides a three percent increase over the fiscal year 2011 level, and an 11 percent increase over pre-NPR [Nuclear Posture Review] levels. While this level provides the increases necessary to stay on track with the Administration’s infrastructure modernization and stockpile initiatives detailed in the NPR, the Committee also has a commitment to ensure that all taxpayer funds are used responsibly and that only the most cost-effective opportunities are being pursued to meet defense imperatives. The two major infrastructure projects planned may now cost as much as $12 billion to construct. The full costs of refurbishing warheads remain unclear. Even without modernization, the base costs of operating and maintaining the nuclear security enterprise continue to escalate, with pension costs alone estimated to rise 90 percent.” [emphasis mine.]
In addition, Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Freylinghuysen’s (R-NJ) remarked at yesterday’s full Committee mark up that:
Yes, Weapons Activities is below the President’s request but his request included hundreds of millions of dollars for construction projects that are not ready to move forward, capabilities that are secondary to the primary mission of keeping our stockpile ready and, yes, slush funds that the administration has historically used to address its needs. The recommendation before you eliminates these weaknesses and it is responsible.
In other words, the Committee cut fat and waste without compromising NNSA’s ability to maintain the safety, security, reliability of our warheads. For a more detailed explanation of the appropriation for weapons activities, you can read Stephen Young and Nick Roth’s analysis here.