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Pentagon Official Backs Nuke Spending Plan

A high-level U.S. Defense Department official on Wednesday said efforts to update and sustain the country's nuclear forces would benefit from funding proposals in President Obama's latest Pentagon budget request (see GSN, Feb. 14).

“After more than a decade of serious underfunding the nuclear weapons enterprise, the president put forward budget requests in (fiscal 2011) and (fiscal 2012) that included substantial new investments for this mission,” John Harvey, principal deputy assistant Defense secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, said in comments carried in a Pentagon press release. “We’ve had a very high level of support within the administration for getting these investments funded and sustained by Congress.”

From fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2015, nuclear arsenal upgrade operations overseen by the Energy Department's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration are set to receive $5.7 billion in funds previously intended for the Defense Department, an arrangement the official described as an indicator of the Pentagon's dedication to carrying out the updates (see GSN, Feb. 14). Another $2.2 billion was set aside for the efforts between fiscal years 2012 and 2016, he said.

President Obama in 2010 pledged $85 billion in spending over the next decade for modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and its associated complex. The White House budget for the next fiscal year would provide the National Nuclear Security Administration with $7.6 billion “to maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent" -- a 5 percent boost from current funding but $372 million less than the administration had projected in 2010.

“The final funding levels appropriated by Congress for (fiscal 2011) were huge boosts to the enterprise and reflected some of the [Defense Department] contribution,” Harvey said. “The recent congressional appropriation for (fiscal 2012), while it did not go as far as we had hoped on the (National Nuclear Security Administration) side, provides a basis for continued progress.”

Financial constraints pose possible complications to U.S. nuclear weapons spending plans, the official said, noting the government is “embedded in an increasingly austere budget environment.” Barring congressional action, budget “sequestration” would eliminate $500 billion an additional defense spending over 10 years, he said (see GSN, Nov. 15, 2011).

“The Budget Control Act ... coupled with fact-of-life growth in key programs, has forced us to tighten our belts,” he said. “The implications of the (sequestration) under the Budget Control Act are so dire that we, in the department, are unwilling to consider it a plausible prospect.”

“The financial gridlock characteristic of recent budget exercises and continuing resolutions has had an impact on all federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy,” Harvey added.

The Defense Department might receive the funds it wants for arsenal updates, but over a different period than anticipated, he suggested.

“Our best strategy is solid, cost-effective implementation of high-priority programs that address the long-term state of the nuclear enterprise,” the official said (U.S. Defense Department release, Feb. 16).

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