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.