by Daryl G. Kimball
On Monday the Barack Obama Administration will roll out its budget request for the next fiscal year (2012). Those numbers will have a major impact on various programs related to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) activities to maintain and refurbish existing nuclear weapons and upgrade the nuclear weapons complex, as well as NNSA initiatives to reduce the threat that nuclear weapons-usable material might be lost, stolen, or sold.
Just as important though was Friday’s announcement from the House Appropriations Committee about its proposed Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) to fund the federal government for the last seven months of the current fiscal year while cutting spending by over $100 billion from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request. The House leadership says it will schedule a vote on the measure the week of Feb. 14.
Unfortunately, the House Republican gambit to significantly cut “non-defense” federal spending threatens to slash National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) nonproliferation programs that are vital to securing vulnerable nuclear weapons-usable material and meeting the goals of the 40-plus nations that met in Washington in April 2010 at a breakthrough Nuclear Security Summit.
The proposed CR for the remainder of fiscal 2011 would hold funding for NNSA nonproliferation programs to $2.085 billion, which is 2.4% below the 2010 level and more than 22% below the President’s original fiscal 2011 request of $2.687 billion.
At the same time, the proposed budget would fund NNSA weapons activities at $6.696 billion, which is a 4.5% below the Obama administration’s fiscal 2011 request of $7.009 billion, but is still above the historical average for the program and 4.9% above the 2010 budget, which was $6.384 billion.
Here’s a snapshot of the numbers …
NNSA Budget at a Glance (dollars in billions)
2010 Request 2011 Request 2011 House CR
Weapons Activities 6.384 7.009 6.696
Defense Nuclear Nonpro 2.137 2.687 2.085
Naval Reactors 0.945 1.070 0.967
Office of the Administrator 0.421 0.448 0.408
Total 9.887 11.215 10.157
The new Continuing Resolution (CR) is necessary due to the fact that last year Congress packaged all of the unfinished fiscal 2011 appropriations bills in CR but that measure only provides for federal spending until March 4, 2011. The CR for fiscal 2011 set spending levels at fiscal 2010 levels for most federal agencies and programs with an exception made for NNSA weapons activities, which were funded at the higher level outlined in the Obama administration’s fiscal 2011 budged request.
Potential Nuclear Nonproliferation Ramifications
If these budget numbers for the remainder of fiscal 2011 are sustained, it would mean that the NNSA nuclear nonproliferation program lost all of the President’s proposed increase for FY 2011 with a total slightly less than the FY 2010 level.
The NNSA nonproliferation program most affected by the current budgetary freeze is the nuclear agency’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). It was slated to receive nearly $560 million in fiscal 2011–a more than $225 million boost from the fiscal 2010 level, according to a report released last month by the Partnership for Global Security. Instead, funding would remain at roughly $333 million if appropriations are stuck at 2010 levels throughout this budget year.
The draft House CR for the remainder of fiscal 2011 outlines an overall NNSA nonproliferation budget that is even lower than the level in the current CR.
The GTRI aims to reduce and remove “high-priority” vulnerable nuclear material, such as highly enriched uranium, from overseas sites. It also converts HEU-fueled research reactors to use proliferation-resistant low-enriched uranium fuel. It also includes the Nuclear and Radiological Removal Program, which removes and disposes of excess weapon-usable nuclear and radiological materials from civilian sites worldwide.
GTRI was to have accelerated the amount of material removed from countries such as Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, Mexico, and South Africa and to begin work to remove more material in fiscal 2012.
Unless the Senate works to increase the fiscal 2010 funding levels outlined in the House CR or NNSA uses its authority to move other nonproliferation funds back into GTRI and other high priority programs, the goal of securing the most vulnerable nuclear material within four years will be in jeopardy.
The funding shortfalls in the current CR for 2010 and the draft House proposal also make it all the more important that the Obama administration’s fiscal 2012 budget request, includes enough funding for high-priority NNSA nonproliferation programs and that the Congress appropriates enough funding to maintain the pace of those programs. And the pace does matter because we are in a race against time to secure nuclear weapons-usable material at locations around the world to prevent the ultimate terrorist disaster.
NNSA Weapons Activities: Still “A Budget to Kill For”
For nearly two decades, the NNSA has used a array of experimental and weapons assembly facilities to maintain the effectiveness and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without nuclear test explosions and without developing new warhead designs. Through warhead “life extension” programs the NNSA has successfully refurbished existing types of nuclear warheads and can continue to do so indefinitely. It has been 18 years since the last U.S. nuclear test explosion and there is no technical reason why the United States cannot make formalize its test moratorium by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Nevertheless, some members of Congress have complained that the nuclear weapons complex needs additional t resources to do the job. Beginning with its fiscal year fiscal year 2011 budget request, the Obama administration sought to dramatically funding for upgrading the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure.
In February 2010, the administration requested $7 billion in fiscal year 2011 funding for NNSA, which oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile and production complex. This request was about 10 percent higher than the fiscal 2010 budget. Linton Brooks, former NNSA administrator in the George W. Bush administration, said in April, 2010: “I’d have killed for that budget and that much high-level attention in the administration.”
By any common-sense definition, the U.S. nuclear weapons complex already has the necessary resources to maintain the shrinking U.S. nuclear arsenal. By maintaining funding for the NNSA weapons complex above the fiscal 2010 level, the House CR still ensures that there is more than enough funding for the NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs sustain core programs necessary to maintain and refurbish the existing warhead types.