Congress Boosts Nonproliferation Funding

Robert Golan-Vilella

After months of haggling, Congress has passed a bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, increasing spending for nuclear nonproliferation programs in the Department of Energy by more than 9 percent from their previous levels.

The bill, passed by both houses of Congress April 14 and signed into law the following day, provides $2.32 billion for defense nuclear nonproliferation activities in the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). That figure represents an increase of about $200 million from the fiscal year 2010 appropriation, but falls considerably short of the $2.69 billion that President Barack Obama requested last year for fiscal year 2011. (See ACT, March 2010.) The nonproliferation programs are designed to detect, secure, and dispose of nuclear and radiological materials around the world.

The spending bill does not dictate how the money will be divided within the programs that make up the nuclear nonproliferation account, and neither the White House nor the NNSA has given any indication of how they will distribute it. According to a statement by the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, the increase was intended “to continue efforts to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within 4 years.” This four-year goal is a major component of Obama’s nuclear agenda; he first announced it during his landmark April 2009 speech in Prague. (See ACT, May 2009.)

When fiscal year 2010 ended on Sept. 30, Congress had not passed fiscal year 2011 appropriations bills for most government agencies. For the next six months, Congress funded the government through a series of short-term continuing resolutions, which kept most federal government programs at their fiscal year 2010 levels.

Upon assuming the majority in early 2011, House Republicans put forward their proposal for the rest of fiscal year 2011, H.R. 1, which passed the House in February but failed in the Senate. That bill would have put funding for the NNSA nonproliferation account at $2.09 billion, slightly below fiscal year 2010 levels.

In its final agreement, Congress also fully funded Obama’s request to increase spending for the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program by more than 20 percent, from $424 million to $523 million. The CTR program’s mission is to secure and eliminate weapons of mass destruction and their related materials, with a particular focus on the states of the former Soviet Union.

The NNSA’s weapons activities account, whose programs are responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile, will see little change in its funding under the new legislation. Congress allocated $6.99 billion for the weapons budget, just 0.2 percent lower than the level set in the previous continuing resolutions.

The weapons budget was one of the few to receive an increase in the series of continuing resolutions passed since last October. It grew from $6.39 billion to $7.01 billion, a nearly 10 percent rise that fully met Obama’s request. Leaders of both parties agreed to this exception in the context of the consideration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty; Senate Republicans had insisted that the treaty be accompanied by a robust plan for nuclear modernization. (See ACT, October 2010.)

In H.R. 1, House Republicans had proposed to reduce this number to $6.7 billion.