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Lawmaker Stands by U.S. Nuke Spending Figures

A Republican lawmaker's 10-year projection of U.S. nuclear weapons expenses fails to incorporate key costs related to maintaining the nation's strategic deterrent, and the GOP legislator's use of the figure reflects an unwillingness to consider cuts to wasteful spending, U.S. Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said on Thursday (see GSN, Dec. 1).

In an October call to cut annual nuclear weapons spending by $20 billion, Markey said the United States could spend more than $700 billion over the next decade on its nuclear arsenal and associated operations (see GSN, Oct. 12). The Washington Post on Wednesday questioned the assertion along with the Ploughshares Fund estimate on which it was based, and Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio) pressed Markey to “publicly repudiate and correct the inaccurate and misleading information."

The nation's annual nuclear weapons funding amounts to $21.4 billion and would reach roughly $214 billion over 10 years, Turner argued, citing figures provided by the Obama administration in November.

“Representative Turner’s assessment of the nuclear weapons program makes Enron’s accounting look like Nobel Prizing-winning mathematics," Markey said in released remarks.

"His figures exclude hundreds of billions in spending over the next decade on missile defense, nuclear threat reduction and environmental remediation from previous nuclear weapons production, all of which are massive costs associated with the nuclear weapons program," according to the Massachusetts Democrat. "According to projections using past spending and the best publicly available information, Representative Turner also is grossly underestimating the cost of procuring, upgrading, operating and maintaining nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

"This patently false undercount does nothing to help tackle the kind of cuts needed to reduce our deficit," Markey said. “If Congressman Turner really wants to focus on math, he can begin by subtracting from the waste in America’s bloated nuclear weapons budget" (U.S. Representative Edward Markey release, Dec. 1).

Ploughshares Fund head Joseph Cirincione defended his organization's estimate that U.S. nuclear weapon-related spending would amount to roughly $54 billion in one year and ultimately $700 billion over the coming decade (Ploughshares Fund release, Nov. 30).

"We are convinced that our number is a reasonable accounting of what the U.S. government currently plans to spend on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade," he said in an e-mail statement. "What others are pursuing business as usual, Representative Markey has made a brave stance attempting to realign our nation's defense spending to meet the fiscal demands and challenges of our time" (Global Security Newswire, Dec. 2).

Using inflation-adjusted projections for Defense Department nuclear arms expenses based on the "most comprehensive estimate," of fiscal 2008 spending, the independent organization determined that the Pentagon would spend $259.7 billion on related activities between fiscal years 2012 and 2021. "The Pentagon also plans to procure new nuclear weapons delivery systems -- subs, bombers and cruise missiles -- that are not present in the [fiscal 2008] estimate," Cirincione said in a statement on the Ploughshares website.

The Defense Department has notified lawmakers of plans to allocate $125 billion to nuclear-weapon activities over one decade, he noted.

"A portion of these funds are for modernization programs, which we assume will be added to the previously described 10-year estimates," Cirincione said. "We also account for the $88 billion that the Department of Energy says it will spend over the next 10 years to improve nuclear warheads and the nuclear weapons complex."

He attributed differences in the spending estimates in part to "differences over methodology."

Certain critics of the Ploughshares Fund estimate "doubt that it could cost more to operate weapons than it would cost to buy them in the first place," Cirincione said. He said "that is often the case," but suggested sustainment expenses could significantly outstrip initial procurement costs over a weapon system's service life.

"For the one new nuclear weapon for which the government has provided full cost estimates -- the proposed new nuclear-armed submarine -- operating the subs over their lifetime will cost twice as much as buying the subs in the first place," Cirincione said, noting the Pentagon had in February reportedly predicted the vessels would cost $347 billion during their full period of use.

"That is three times the estimated $100 billion the Congressional Budget Office says it will cost to develop and buy the 12 submarines, and five times the $75 billion the Navy claims it will cost," he said (Ploughshares Fund release).

The Project on Government Oversight said the Obama administration appears to have excluded program "life-cycle" costs from its calculation that nuclear weapons spending would amount to $214 billion over 10 years.

“It's a little like saying it costs me $1,000 a year to operate my car, except that I am not counting the cost of insurance, repairs, registration, taxes, etc.,” Stephen Schwartz, who co-wrote a 2009 nuclear-weapon spending analysis for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Post. “The actual cost is higher, maybe even much higher. But unless the folks at [the Defense Department] can provide us with a breakout of the costs for each system, it's impossible to say what's included and what's not.”

The Pentagon's spending on nuclear weapons is more disputed than Energy Department funding of related activities, according to the Post. The POGO analysis, though, states that "even the [Energy Department] number isn’t very credible, as the agency has a history of exceeding its nuclear budget -- and not by just a little."

"For instance, the high estimate for the cost of its proposed Uranium Processing Facility has increased from $1.1 billion in 2004 to $6.5 billion earlier this year -- a sixfold increase," the organization said (see GSN, July 8). "Furthermore, the administration is not including the billions of dollars in cleanup and health costs created by the ongoing life extension of nuclear warheads and production of nuclear delivery systems in its nuclear budget estimates."

The congressional Government Accountability Office has expressed concern over atomic activities overseen by both the Energy and Defense Departments, the POGO analysis notes. Both departments "need a dose of realism in their budget estimates, which could help avoid such vast discrepancies as we’re seeing between the overall nuclear budget estimates of the administration and of Ploughshares," it states.

The authors of the analysis urged the administration to fully disclose a "complete, detailed" nuclear weapons budget, "that includes operations, tactical nukes and other costs borne by the taxpayer."

"We also need a GAO audit of that budget, because right now, the one thing we do know is that we do not know enough," they wrote (Project on Government Oversight release, Nov. 30).


 

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