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Budget Resolution Hurts Obama’s Nonproliferation Goals, Study Asserts
WASHINGTON -- The short-term continuing budget resolution approved by the U.S. Congress last December undercuts programs crucial to President Obama's goal of securing the world's loose nuclear materials, according to a recent analysis by a nongovernment organization (see GSN, Dec. 23, 2010).
The resolution, the third passed by Congress and signed by the president, eliminates a $320 million increase the administration requested in fiscal 2011 for an array of nonproliferation programs within the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction program, the Partnership for Global Security said.
The temporary resolution funds most federal programs at fiscal 2010 levels through March 4. Congress can pass another resolution or a full budget before that date, or risk seeing the federal government shut down. The previous budget cycle ended September 30.
Nonproliferation has long been near the top of the administration's policy agenda, highlighted by the April 2009 speech in Prague in which Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons. Last year he convened a two-day Washington summit in which top officials from nearly 50 nations met to hammer out plans to secure the global stores of loose nuclear material within four years.
The program most affected by the current budgetary freeze is the nuclear agency's Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which was slated to receive nearly $560 million in fiscal 2011, a more than $225 million boost from the previous year's total, according to the new analysis. Instead, funding would remain at roughly $333 million if appropriations are stuck at 2010 levels throughout this budget year.
The initiative 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.
Within that effort the largest loss is an intended $210 million increase for the Nuclear and Radiological Removal Program, which removes and disposes of excess weapon-usable nuclear and radiological materials from civilian sites worldwide, according to an NNSA fact sheet.
In addition, the $74 million authorized for the Pentagon's new CTR Global Nuclear Lockdown effort was left unfunded by the interim spending measure, the study notes. The program supports the president's goal to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years by sustaining safeguards upgrades and transitioning responsibilities to host countries by 2014, budget documents show.
The lockdown initiative also would seek to have specific nations establish "Centers of Excellence for Nuclear Security" that would assess that country's equipment and security personnel as well as provide material security training.
"These funding shortfalls will delay or prevent important nuclear security initiatives from being executed this year if sufficient funds are not moved into these priority areas by NNSA or DOD or if the CR funding levels are not increased by the Congress," the report says.
The fiscal 2011 National Defense Authorization Act supported the Obama administration's request for the nonproliferation programs, as did a massive omnibus spending bill passed by the House. The appropriations measure ultimately stalled in the Senate.
The new report notes that by preserving the fiscal 2010 spending levels, $148 million is left free from a dozen NNSA nonproliferation accounts that were slated to be reduced under the president's proposed 2011 budget request. If the agency uses its authority to fund those programs at the 2011 level, the $148 million could be allocated to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative to support its efforts to move nuclear material to safe locations, the study suggests.
In that scenario, GTRI funding would be raised to about $482 million; roughly $77 million shy of the president's original blueprint for this budget year. Congress could then correct the remaining shortfall when it extends the budget resolution or passes fiscal 2011 appropriations legislation covering the NNSA and Pentagon programs. The nuclear agency could transfer additional funds from other accounts; however, this would mean that separate nonproliferation programs would be significantly curtailed, according to the report.
The program recently completed removal of all highly enriched uranium from Serbia (see GSN, Dec. 23, 2010. A total of six nations have rid themselves of their full HEU stocks since the president's 2009 speech.
To date, the National Nuclear Security Administration to date has helped safeguard nearly 6,700 pounds of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, which could power in excess of 120 nuclear weapons.
Special attention was paid to the GTRI effort in the new report because "if you're going to secure what's vulnerable, eliminate it or remove it, then that's the key program," said Kenneth Luongo, president of the Partnership for Global Security.
He added that administration officials are aware of his short-term budget solution but he has received no indication yet that they will act on the recommendations.
Luongo noted that the semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department will still receive $7 billion for its weapons activities in fiscal 2011. That is a $624 million increase over the previous fiscal year.
Last fall, the White House Management and Budget Office asked Congress that the agency's weapons efforts, which ensure the safety and performance of the nation's atomic stockpile, be considered an "anomaly." That allowed those programs to receive requested fiscal 2011 funding levels rather than being stuck at the prior year's amount.
"I interpret it as the political imperative of START and arms control overriding what is a much more important 21st century issue," Luongo said in reference to the newly ratified U.S.-Russian nuclear arms pact.
"The problem our government has, and other governments have, is that while they talk about the new danger, I'm not sure that the money is matching the rhetoric and the money is extremely important," he told Global Security Newswire yesterday during a phone interview.
"I don't quite understand how a budget that's supposed to be at the top of the food chain ends up at the bottom of the food chain," Luongo added.
The bulk of the GTRI program increase was intended to accelerate the amount of material removed from countries including Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, Mexico, and South Africa and to begin the long-lead time preparations needed to remove even more material in fiscal 2012, according to Luongo. He noted that Belarus and Ukraine only recently committed to fully eliminating their HEU stocks and that neither move was anticipated in the fiscal 2011 budget.
"So, we have accelerated activities that are underfunded at present and new activities for which there was no budget," he said.
An NNSA spokesman yesterday declined to comment on the continuing resolution process.
Critical Pentagon Program
The continuing resolution also prevented the high-profile Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program from receiving a nearly $100 million funding boost for fiscal 2011, the analysis shows.
The program collected about $424 million in fiscal 2010 and was authorized to receive more than $522 million for the present budget year. However, as with corresponding NNSA programs, appropriations so far remain frozen at last year's level. It was not immediately clear how that cutback might impact plans for the program through the end of fiscal 2011.
The program has received billions of dollars of support since its inception in 1991. As of last week its accomplishments included deactivation of 7,559 strategic nuclear warheads; destruction of 791 ICBMs; and elimination of 498 ICBM silos and 180 mobile launchers; 669 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and 492 launchers; 32 ballistic missile-capable submarines; 155 strategic bombers; 906 nuclear air-to-surface missiles and 194 nuclear test tunnels, according to scorecard by Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).
A spokesman for the Indiana lawmaker did not respond to a request for comment.
A Pentagon spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Luongo said he is optimistic the additional funds would be provided to the NNSA and DOD programs.
"I'm hoping that in the chaos of the lame-duck [congressional] session with all that was going, this was just an issue that didn't get enough attention," he told GSN. "If it can be rescued in the next CR, assuming the next CR is approved in this new Congress that we have, I'm hopeful the money will be restored."
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