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House Slashes Nuclear Weapons Budget Request
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Christine Kucia

Citing a “Flawed budget process,” the House of Representatives July 18 overwhelmingly approved a fiscal year 2004 appropriations bill that slashes President George W. Bush’s request for funds needed to conduct earth-penetrating nuclear weapons research, build a new plutonium pit- manufacturing facility, and shorten the potential time frame for conducting a nuclear test to 18 months.

The 377-26 vote on the Energy and Water Appropriations bill reflected a stinging challenge to the president’s proposed spending level of $8.8 billion to fund Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons programs. Representative David Hobson (R-Ohio), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, led the attack on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) budget.

In a July 8 statement, Hobson said, “Based on the President’s decision to reduce our nuclear stockpile, I thought we were trying to consolidate the nuclear weapons complex around the country—not expand it.” Under the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) signed in May 2002 by Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the United States and Russia each agreed to reduce their operational nuclear arsenals and deploy only 1,700-2,200 warheads by 2012. Citing the need for a “serious debate” about the national security requirements for the nuclear weapons program, the Appropriations Committee concurred that it “will not assume that all of the proposed nuclear weapons requests are legitimate requirements,” according to the July 15 panel report.

The overall Weapons Activities budget was cut by $260.4 million—for a total budget of $6.1 billion, and the full committee report cited concerns that the nuclear weapons stockpile plan has not been modified to incorporate anticipated changes as a result of SORT. Hobson pointedly noted that, although House appropriators requested a plan for the nuclear weapons stockpile reflecting the reductions outlined in SORT, which entered into force June 1, 2003, “we are still waiting for that plan,” which House appropriators first requested in September 2002.

Directed Stockpile Work was cut by only $21 million, but the committee juggled funds considerably to meet stockpile maintenance needs while forcing NNSA to re-evaluate several programs. The committee cut $15 million from programs to study potential earth-penetrating nuclear weapons capabilities and to fund additional research on advanced nuclear weapons concepts. “The committee is concerned the NNSA is being tasked to start new activities…before the Administration has articulated the specific requirements to support the President’s announced stockpile modifications,” the report stated.

Significant decreases in funding were also levied against other nuclear weapons programs. The committee cut $12 million for a new plutonium pit-manufacturing facility, questioning whether the existing production capability at Los Alamos National Laboratory would fulfill U.S. stockpile needs. Planning for the facility is in the early stages.

The committee also rebuffed efforts to shorten the time needed to resume full nuclear tests to 18 months, cutting the entire $24.8 million request from NNSA for that purpose. The House report indicates that the current 24-36-month readiness posture “has not been successfully maintained” and appropriators fail “to see how the NNSA’s enhanced test readiness proposal puts in place a program that precludes a similar state of disarray ten years into the future.”

In addition, the committee slammed NNSA’s management of stockpile maintenance programs, stating that the agency is “struggling to successfully demonstrate its core mission of maintaining the existing stockpile through the Stockpile Stewardship Program.” A July General Accounting Office report profiled problems with the Stockpile Life Extension Program, including NNSA’s failure to report the full cost of refurbishments in compliance with U.S. government standards; insufficient planning and organization, resulting in field contractors making independent budgetary decisions; and inadequate means of comparing the program’s progress against established baselines.

NNSA spokesman Bryan Wilkes rebuffed the House’s critique August 20, saying, “We’re not ‘struggling’ to demonstrate anything,” adding that the cuts “were not based on correct information.” NNSA officials remain confident that the requested budget will prevail during House-Senate conference committee deliberations.

Meanwhile, Senate appropriators passed the NNSA’s weapons and directed stockpile budget requests July 17 with only minor changes. The full Senate will deliberate the appropriations bill after the August recess.

 

Nonproliferation Programs Cut

In addition to cutting administration requests for certain nuclear programs, the House of Representatives made several notable changes to fiscal year 2004 funding for programs focused on reducing the threat posed by nuclear problems in Russia.

Claiming that the way the Department of Energy (DOE) administers nuclear nonproliferation programs with Russia “leads to excessive costs for administration and less funding going to Russia,” the House limited money spent in the United States on such programs to 35 percent of the DOE nonproliferation funds for Russia. The House also refused to expand a program to bolster the safety of nuclear reactors to countries other than Russia. In addition, the House slashed nearly all the funds required to help accelerate the disposal of excess highly enriched uranium in Russia, saying that previously allocated funds had not yet been spent. Still, the House provided $28 million to continue the Megaports program—first initiated in the fiscal year 2003 wartime supplemental appropriations bill—to screen the world’s busiest seaports for radioactive material prior to shipping cargo to U.S. ports.

Meanwhile, the Senate committee allocated $20 million for a nuclear and radiological national security program and $20 million to help remove nuclear weapons-grade materials at risk of theft from sites worldwide. The Senate also shifted an additional $10 million to the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program, which helps out-of-work nuclear weapons workers to prevent them from offering their expertise to other countries.


Prgram
Budget Request
House Allocation
Difference
Weapons Activities
$6.38 billion
$6.12 billion
-$260 million
Directed Stockpile Work (Supports maintenance, R&D, engineering and certification programs for nuclear stockpile)
$1.36 billion
$1.34 billion
- $21 million
Campaigns (Provides specialized scientific and technical support for stockpile work)
$2.40 billion
$2.27 billion
- $127 million
Readiness in Technical Base and Facilities (Supports physical/operational infrastructures at nuclear plants and laboratories)
$1.61 billion
$1.51 billion
- $102 million
Defense nuclear
nonproliferation
$1.34 billion
$1.28 Billion
- $60 million
Nonproliferation and International Security (Funds security for weapons of mass destruction materials)
$102 million
$106 million
+ $4 million
International Materials Protection, Control, and Cooperation (Helps Russia secure nuclear weapons and weapons-grade fissile material)
$226 million
$255 million
+ $29 million
Accelarated Materials Disposition (Accelerates Russia’s disposal of highly enriched uranium)
$30 million
$5 million
- $25 million
Total for National Nuclear Security
Administration
$8.83 billion
$8.51 billion
- $326 million

Source: 2004 House Energy and Water Appropriations Committee Report

 

Posted: September 1, 2003