Money Matters: Reducing Funds for U.S. Nonproliferation Programs Will Make America Less Safe

On March 16, President Trump released what Washington budget wonks call the “skinny budget” which outlined the broad framework for the more details fiscal year 2018 budget to be released later this year. This budget framework calls for a 5.6% overall spending reduction for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and an approximately 11% increase for the department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). NNSA’s charge, in support of the U.S. defense mission, is to maintain and enhance the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without testing; to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; and to provide the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion.

President Trump’s “America First:  A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” highlighted nine priority areas for NNSA and noted that the increase in NNSA funding would go toward ensuring a responsive nuclear infrastructure and advancing existing nuclear warhead life extension programs (see page 19). Unfortunately, there was no mention whatsoever of any priorities for NNSA’s global Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) programs.

Why does this matter?  One of the most important functions of NNSA is to reduce nuclear and radiological dangers posed by terrorists or rogue nations both domestically and internationally. As a former Acting Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) for nearly two years, I played a key role in developing several presidential budget requests and have unique insights into the complicated internal budget progress.

As it stands, the broad outlines of the “top line” DOE and NNSA numbers are being broken down into specific allotments for each of the various NNSA programs, including its Defense Programs and the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. We should all be concerned and watch this process very closely.  Given the president’s March 16 skinny budget outline and the fact that U.S. nonproliferation programs were not highlighted as a priority, it is very likely that NNSA’s nonproliferation programs will be cut in order to enable increased funding for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and nuclear infrastructure. 

This is an ill-advised strategy. NNSA’s nonproliferation programs are an essential building block of America’s defense strategy, and funding reductions to these programs will make American less safe, not more. After 25 years at the U.S. Department of Energy, I can note firsthand that increased funding for U.S. programs to secure vulnerable nuclear and radiological material directly resulted in increased global and U.S. national security. As head of NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) for more than eight years, I worked closely with the federal Office of Management and Budget, the White House, and Congress and received increased funding to remove and/or dispose of vulnerable material from more than 12 countries. These countries contained enough nuclear material to make nearly 200 nuclear weapons. Without that funding, we would not have been able to safely and securely remove all highly enriched uranium from countries such as Ukraine, Libya, Vietnam, and Turkey, to name just a few.  

At the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, just one year ago, more than 50 heads of state acknowledged in the Summit Communique that “the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism remains one of the greatest challenges to international security, and the threat is constantly evolving.” Given the threat posed by ISIS and other terrorist groups, we need sustained funding to ensure that vulnerable nuclear and radiological material is secured or removed both overseas and here at home.  We must draw attention to this issue now, before the specific details of the president’s FY 2018 budget are finalized by the White House and released to Congress in mid-May. We simply cannot afford to reduce funding for programs that will make America safer.



April 12, 2017
Andrew Bieniawski
Andrew Bieniawski

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