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"Forget the Rest" blog

For immediate release 12/19/12

FY2013 Defense Authorization Conference Bill
Powerfully Advances Nuclear Weapons Contractors

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 office, 505-577-8563 cell (try this first)

Albuquerque, NM -- This year's Defense Authorization conference bill (H.R. 4310), should it become law, would powerfully protect the business interests of the nuclear weapons contractors who spend more than 97% of all funding for U.S. nuclear warheads. 

President Obama has said he might veto the bill (pdf), mentioning an unwelcome provision demanding construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) among many other problems, some of which may have been corrected (from the White House's perspective) in conference. 

This morning, we are not offering a detailed analysis of the bill's many provisions affecting nuclear weapons policy and the supervision and operation of the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA's) nuclear warhead complex.  We offered some of our views on the House bill (as passed by the House) and Senate Armed Services markup of this legislation here

Study Group Director Greg Mello:

"Overall, this is a nuclear lobbyist's bill.  Numerous provisions are included that will add bureaucratic complexity to the management of the warhead complex, tie up federal efforts in ways that stifle reform, provide new political power to nuclear management and operating (M&O) contractors, and tilt the playing field toward new programs and projects.  It creates numerous intra-federal reporting requirements and duplicative federal work, while creating additional review and advisory bodies, some of which will place contractors in a federal oversight capacity -- overseeing their own overseers.  Running contrary to past direction from a previous Republican-controlled House, it encourages laboratory employees to augment and substitute for federal employees, the number of which it caps and the budget for whom it cuts. 

"There could be nothing more federal than national security, and within that sphere nothing more inherently federal than nuclear weapons.  Nonetheless this bill would weaken still further the federal character of this enterprise.

"It ties nuclear warhead policy into a Gordian knot of complexity that will be difficult to set free.  It establishes presumptions favoring new warheads and multibillion-dollar facilities, while partially casting aside long-standing safety standards that might show up contractor failures.  

"This has come about primarily because of a profound failure of leadership by the White House and the Democrats in Congress.  Pressure by contractors for more business is a constant factor.  What is new, and what is creating these profoundly negative outcomes, is the nearly complete collapse of White House leadership, starting with the ineffectual and in some cases disloyal seniormost appointees who are currently running NNSA.  The top individual -- NNSA Administrator Tom "D'Agostino -- was originally appointed by President Bush, and he and those immediately under him have done an abysmal job in mapping out a coherent path forward for the agency and controlling its costs. 

"The present legislation is just the latest response to a broad failure of leadership that extends across the entire national security establishment with respect to nuclear weapons.  If you keeping kicking the can down the road, eventually you will lose it.  This Administration talks in large, vague terms, but that's all it does.  It does not walk.  It does not produce program plans or budgets.  It does not manage projects effectively.  It does not make enough hard choices. 

"The main question this bill does not answer is: where will the money come from?  If new funds are forthcoming, they must come from other security programs, non-military discretionary spending, mandatory spending, new taxes, or new debt.  Will they be available?  The nuclear contractors, whose lobbyists have played an outsized role in drafting this bill, certainly hope so."


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