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"Forget the Rest" blog

To:  Majority Party members of the House Appropriations Committee 

Re:  Please do not pass any special exception (immediate budget increase) for the nuclear weapons programs (Weapons Activities budget line) of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in any Continuing Resolution (CR)

September 27, 2010

Honorable legislators –

Within its set of requested CR “anomalies,” (pdf) the White House has urged immediate implementation of its proposed nuclear weapons budget increase.

While this Committee has supported these proposed FY2011 increases for the most part, there are no sound reasons to provide this additional funding on an emergency basis and many reasons not to do so.

Minority members of this Committee have argued against passage of these anomalies.  We offer no opinion on the bulk of these anomalies but in the case of Weapons Activities we strongly agree with these Republicans.

Reasons to not provide a special exception from what passes for the normal legislative process these days for NNSA Weapons Activities include these:

  • There is no rush to increase funding for these programs.  All the “deadlines” in the program are internally-generated and entirely artificial.  In fact, the Obama Administration has unreasonably compacted the schedule for some key projects, such as life-extension projects (LEPs) for nuclear weapons, beyond those pursued under President Bush.  “Deadlines” for deliverables are utterly flexible.

  • Several major projects, which contribute to the sense of urgency NNSA is attempting to portray, are in fact deeply flawed in their conception, execution, or both.  The agency hopes to substitute sheer momentum for sound management, and further vest Congress in some of its grand new plans outside the normal give-and-take of budget deliberations.

  • NNSA Weapons Activities is riddled with waste and stuffed with grandiosity, as Mr. Visclosky, Mr. Hobson, and others have frequently advised this committee.  The contractors that spend 96% of this budget line can find an "emergency" to match any proposed budget ceiling.

  • Some of these “emergency” needs will create risks to the nuclear weapons stockpile, such as the B61-12 nuclear explosive study aimed at nuclear component “re-use” across weapon types and the W78/88 replacement warhead study (a form of modernization which breaks an Obama campaign promise).  The form in which this Committee will see those risks is in rising and difficult-to-stem costs during the next few years.

  • These programs create negative net jobs, transferring wealth to a few people at the expense of many.  Direct job generation is extremely inefficient, far less than that to be expected from middle class tax cuts (which we do not advocate).  At the two physics labs, these programs are so ill-conceived and egregiously wasteful they can be portrayed as more subsidies to contractors than contributions to national security.

  • Such an emergency increase will not escape international notice.  Ban Ki Moon condemned weapon modernization by the nuclear weapons states last week.  This proposed emergency increase in funding is, at bottom, driven by a political need to rush     warhead modernization in order to order to please Senate Republicans.  This is a perilous course and perversely undercuts arms control goals.

We can provide further information if required.

Greg Mello, Director, Los Alamos Study Group


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