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CNS Issue Brief: Transparency for Nuclear Security Spending

Jan. 5, 2012

A fleet of B-36 Peacemaker bombers and 16-person crews at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, in 1955. A fleet of B-36 Peacemaker bombers and 16-person crews at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, in 1955.
U.S. National Archives

With U.S. federal government spending, including defense spending, now expected to decline sharply over the next decade—even as the Obama administration has pledged to invest more than $210 billion to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal and its supporting infrastructure—it becomes increasingly important to know where nuclear security dollars—money spent on nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs (such as cooperative threat reduction)—are going on both an annual and a cumulative basis.

Stephen Schwartz offers a historical perspective on the nuclear weapons budget, answering the questions:  "Why don't we know what we spend?"  and "Why does knowing what we spend matter?" 

He then proposes a solution to the issues created around the lack of budget transparency:  "Congress could pass a law requiring the executive branch to prepare and submit each year, with the annual budget request, an unclassified and classified accounting of all nuclear weapons and weapons–related spending for the previous fiscal year, the current fiscal year, and the next fiscal year (this could also be done by the president via an executive order, although that would not require or encourage congressional support and would not have the permanence of a law). As it already does, the DOD would project its nuclear weapons–related spending five or six years into the future, only in much greater detail. A senior White House official would oversee this annual exercise, in coordination with relevant officials of the Office of Management and Budget and senior budget officials of key departments and agencies, ensuring that the bureaucracy fully complied with this new requirement."

Read the full issue brief.



Stephen Schwartz analyzes the lack of budgetary transparency for U.S. nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs and assesses policy solutions.

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