Nuclear Security Program Review Complete, But Questions Remain

Then-U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration chief Thomas D'Agostino visits China's Yangshan Port in Shanghai in December 2011 for the commissioning of radiation detection technology deployed under the Second Line of Defense program. The Obama administration has completed, but not made public, a strategic review of the program (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko).
Then-U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration chief Thomas D'Agostino visits China's Yangshan Port in Shanghai in December 2011 for the commissioning of radiation detection technology deployed under the Second Line of Defense program. The Obama administration has completed, but not made public, a strategic review of the program (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko).

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has completed its strategic review of a program intended to prevent the smuggling of nuclear-weapon material across international borders but it is so far unclear what the results are.

Details on the review, which was rolled into a broader look at U.S. nuclear detection efforts, might not be made public for weeks, National Nuclear Security Administration officials suggested.

Agency officials initiated the review last year amid opposition to a planned substantial budget cut for the Second Line of Defense initiative. The program installs radiation detection equipment at foreign border crossings, seaports and airports.

For fiscal 2013, the administration requested $92.6 million for the program. Had it been endorsed by Congress, that would have amounted to a 65 percent funding cut to the program as compared to the $262.1 million lawmakers allocated for fiscal 2012. Lawmakers on both sides of aisle voiced strong reservations about the proposed cut, as did nuclear watchdog groups.

Ultimately, the entire federal budget was rolled into a continuing resolution that maintained fiscal 2012 funding levels for most programs. The White House Management and Budget Office, though, nonetheless implemented an 85 percent cut to the Megaports Initiative, which is part of Second Line of Defense.

When they proposed the cuts, senior NNSA officials said they were justified by a constrained budget environment and the program’s near completion of its work in Russia. By the end of 2012, the initiative was to have installed radiation detection equipment at nearly 500 foreign points of entry, including 383 border crossings in Russia.

Then-NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said last March the agency was “not abandoning” the program, but that it was necessary to pause for a strategic review in order to determine how best to prioritize its resources in the future.

Anne Harrington, deputy NNSA administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, told members of the House Appropriations Committee last week that the Second Line of Defense review was ultimately folded into a broader, interagency study of global nuclear detection led by the White House and is now complete.

“The result was a very nice selection of areas where our programs could fill specific capabilities and gaps within a broader interagency program,” Harrington said. “So now we go forward into a new phase of the program where we’re using a different mix of technologies, we’ve reported within the whole interagency spectrum and have a very clear role to play now in a larger effort.”

What exactly that role is remains unclear.

As of last year, it was the program’s goal to equip about 650 sites in approximately 30 countries with radiation detection equipment by 2018. Its subordinate Megaports Initiative was to equip more than 100 seaports with technology enabling scanning 50 percent of global shipping traffic by the same year.

Robert Middaugh, an NNSA spokesman, told Global Security Newswire that questions on whether these goals will change as priorities shift “are tied to future funding levels,” and therefore the agency cannot discuss them until President Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget request is released. The annual budget rollout, which usually takes place in February, has so far been delayed.

The results of the Second Line of Defense review are “not in the form of a document that we can release publicly,” Middaugh said.

During last week’s hearing, acting NNSA Administrator Neile Miller suggested the program might involve more international collaboration in the future in cases “where countries are now mature either in their own capabilities and their own ability to step up and be more of an actual partner with us as opposed to an assistance recipient.” She said other countries might “either go out themselves with us and help us do these things in [third] countries or provide us the funding to be able to do that.”

Miller added: “Overall the support for Second Line of Defense is strong in the interagency [community], and we expect to go forward as a strong program and as a strong component of our overall efforts to detect and contain material worldwide.”

March 7, 2013
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WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has completed its strategic review of a program intended to prevent the smuggling of nuclear-weapon material across international borders but it is so far unclear what the results are.

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