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Lawmakers Issue Bipartisan Call to Protect Nuclear Agency Funding

By Martin Matishak

Global Security Newswire

(Mar. 28) -Highly enriched uranium is transferred as part of a U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration nonproliferation project in Turkey. The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee last week called for providing all NNSA funding sought by the Obama administration for the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo). (Mar. 28) -Highly enriched uranium is transferred as part of a U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration nonproliferation project in Turkey. The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee last week called for providing all NNSA funding sought by the Obama administration for the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo).

WASHINGTON -- Members of a key congressional panel last week unanimously endorsed President Obama's nearly $12 billion funding request for the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration in the coming budget cycle, Global Security Newswire has learned (see GSN, Feb. 12).

The nuclear agency should also receive all $11.2 billion requested by the White House for the current budget year that began on October 1, according to the 16-member House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. Failure to provide sufficient funding now could require large cash infusions for the semiautonomous Energy Department branch beyond even what the administration has proposed for the next budget, panel members wrote in a March 23 letter to Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

"NNSA's fundamental national security responsibility is to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and to secure and remove dangerous nuclear and radiological material from around the world," the lawmakers said in the message obtained over the weekend by GSN. "These crucial national security missions must continue with all the resources necessary to be successful."

"We hope we can work with you to resolve this for the FY 2012 budget resolution to ensure the NNSA remains classified as a national defense function and is provided sufficient budget allocation to support its critical national security activities," subcommittee members told Ryan.

Funding for the nuclear agency and other defense-related activities within the Energy Department should be considered national security operations and shielded from cuts, panel members argued. However, the agency was subject to "across-the-board reductions" in appropriations under the proposed H.R. 1, the complete House fiscal 2011 spending bill, which were applied across all department programs "regardless of mission."

To date Congress has failed to approve a permanent funding plan for fiscal 2011, which is nearly half over. Republican lawmakers insist any final budget must contain deep spending cuts to shrink the federal deficit.

Lawmakers this month approved the latest in a series of short-term continuing budget resolutions that kept most NNSA funding at fiscal 2010 levels. The measure would cut $312 million from proposed funding for the agency's weapons programs in this budget and about $600 million from its nonproliferation efforts.

The latest resolution is set to expire on April 8, leaving Congress less than two weeks to come up with a plan to fund the federal government or close the doors.

Ryan's office had not responded to requests for comment by press time. The nuclear agency, meanwhile, does not comment on continuing resolutions.

"We continue to work with our interagency colleagues and congressional leadership to provide the information they need to make informed choices about the resources required to implement the president's nuclear security agenda," NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera stated by e-mail on Monday. "NNSA is not in a position to comment on the ongoing negotiations regarding continuing resolutions, nor would we presume to comment on hypothetical situations related to future votes or proposals."

Even as it struggles with the current budget, Washington is looking toward the next fiscal year.

The White House spending plan unveiled last month calls for the nuclear agency to receive roughly $11.8 billion in fiscal 2012 to maintain the country's nuclear stockpile and conduct nonproliferation activities around the globe (see GSN, Feb. 15).

Of that amount, $7.6 billion would go toward the agency's "weapons activities," which cover all efforts that directly support the warheads in the nuclear stockpile, including refurbishment. That represents an 8.9 percent, or $621 million, boost for those programs from the fiscal 2011 requested level.

However, an additional $312 million might be required for those activities in fiscal 2012 to "restore the shortfall from FY 2011, should H.R. 1 with its cuts to NNSA pass as currently written," warned members of the subcommittee, which is led by Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Ranking Member Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.).

Lawmakers pointed to the May 2009 conclusions of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States that funding increases are required to reverse "the pattern of underinvestment over the last two decades" in the nuclear weapons infrastructure, which the now-defunct group labeled "decrepit."

The nation's nuclear-weapon laboratory directors, in correspondence with the subcommittee last year, "further highlighted warhead aging and other recently identified problems that complicate their ability to certify the safety, security, and reliability of the stockpile," according to the letter. The three-page document did not detail what those issues entailed.

Subcommittee members also wrote that their Senate colleagues, on a bipartisan basis, made clear that their support for the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control agreement "was directly linked to the modernization of NNSA's nuclear weapons facilities and the nuclear arsenal."

The White House has pledged to invest $85 billion over the next decade to build new nuclear research facilities and service aging warheads. The Senate ratified the treaty last December (see related GSN story, today).

The fiscal 2012 budget blueprint asks for $2.5 billion for the agency's "defense nuclear nonproliferation" account, a more than 5 percent, or $138 million, decrease from the not-yet-enacted fiscal 2011 request. The program has oversight of the agency's varied global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear material.

The latest plea assumes funding of the full $2.7 billion fiscal 2011 request for the agency's nonproliferation work, the missive points out. "Should the cuts in H.R. 1 be sustained, an additional $600 million may be required in FY 2012 to make up" for that shortfall, the subcommittee said.

"We would ask that you account for the NNSA funding increase in the ... budget function for national defense so that we do not again have to make trade-offs between national security activities of the NNSA and nonsecurity programs in the DOE, as was the result of HR.1," lawmakers told Ryan.

"We recognize the demands such significant investment will place on our budget, particularly in these challenging economic times, but we also know that cannot allow these crucial national security activities to be deferred any longer without increasing the risk to the safety, security and reliability of our nuclear deterrent, and without jeopardizing nonproliferation efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism," panel members added.

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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