An audit by the Energy Department Inspector General's office has concluded that the "current and future goals" of the Stockpile Stewardship Program are at risk because of improper maintenance of the nuclear weapons production infrastructure. The report, released September 22, cites both management failures and insufficient funding. A senior Energy official termed the self-initiated audit "accurate and balanced."
The Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for maintaining the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal through its Stockpile Stewardship Program. In addition to preserving existing capabilities, the program is responsible for maintaining the facilities and personnel needed for a possible resumption of weapons development, testing, and production.
The report, titled "Management of the Nuclear Weapons Production Infrastructure," emphasizes that requisite warhead production facilities have "not been adequately maintained," noting that DOE has "deferred substantial maintenance and upgrades on its production facilities" in an effort to meet "current operational needs." The report also points to delays in "weapons modification, remanufacture, and dismantlement" and in "surveillance testing of nuclear weapons components" due to infrastructure deterioration. Perhaps most critically, the report says that since the formal end of nuclear weapons production in 1993, DOE has "not reestablished the capability to produce a certified plutonium pit."
The report says that the lack of an "overall implementation approach" and an inadequate budget have led to the deficiencies. It cites several explanations for the apparent budget shortfall, including increased environmental and security requirements and the fact that the program's $4.5 billion budget was based on an assumed strategic stockpile of 3,500 weapons under START II. (The United States currently maintains a strategic arsenal of more than 6,000 warheads.) While acknowledging that the START II implementation deadline is not until 2007 and that most stewardship activities are independent of stockpile size, a DOE spokesman said in an interview that since program operations require advanced planning and START II remains stalled, program decisions must be based on a future stockpile of 6,000 strategic weapons.
The report recommends that National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator John Gordon establish an "overall science and production focal point" with the authority to implement six targeted recommendations that focus on budget planning. In a September 18 response to the audit, Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Madelyn Creedon "generally" supported the report's conclusions and stated that DOE agreed with its recommendations.