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DOE Threat Reduction Funding Cut, Programs Reorganized

Philipp C. Bleek

On November 12, President George W. Bush signed into law a bill that provides less money for Energy Department non-proliferation efforts than was allocated last year, but more than his administration had asked for in its budget request. The law also reorganizes several department threat reduction initiatives.

The fiscal year 2002 energy and water appropriations act allocates about $804 million for the Energy Department’s Defense Nuclear Non-Proliferation programs, approximately $70 million lower than 2001 funding levels but about $30 million higher than the administration had requested for the programs earlier this year. (See ACT, May 2001.) The administration’s proposed cuts had been targeted primarily at threat reduction efforts in Russia, which make up about one-third of the department’s nuclear non-proliferation budget.

For the Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) program, which upgrades security at vulnerable fissile-material and weapons-storage sites, the administration requested only $138.8 million for 2002, well below 2001 funding levels. But Congress appropriated $173 million, essentially restoring, but not increasing, as some lawmakers had hoped, funding to 2001 levels.

That allocation includes $4 million for the Second Line of Defense program, which helps Russia’s customs service detect illicit nuclear transfers across Russian borders, effectively merging the initiative with the MPC&A program. During an interview, an Energy Department official indicated that the reorganization was intended to facilitate “improved coordination” and capitalize on “synergies” between the programs.

The law also calls for joint management of the Nuclear Cities Initiative and the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, both of which seek to provide alternative employment for Russian weapons scientists so they do not sell their services to states or groups trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. In addition, the law appropriates a lump sum for the two programs, which the Energy Department will have to divide between the initiatives. The law also significantly increases funding for these two efforts beyond the administration’s original $29 million request, allocating $42 million. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, had recommended in May that a merger of the programs be considered “to achieve potential cost savings and other efficiencies.” (See ACT, June 2001.)

Administration officials have made it clear that, upon conclusion of an ongoing review they are conducting, funding for the Energy Department’s threat reduction programs could be changed and programs could be further reorganized. Announced by Bush in March after suggested cuts to the programs drew congressional ire, the review is nearing completion, according to administration officials. When the review was launched, an administration official had indicated it would last six to eight weeks. (See ACT, April 2001.)

Lawmakers have also sought to boost Energy Department threat reduction funding with money from the $40 billion emergency supplemental spending bill submitted to Congress after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Although those efforts have been unsuccessful to date, some lawmakers still appear to hold out hope that the department’s 2002 threat reduction appropriations can be boosted.