With the FY14 Omnibus Appropriations bill finally passed in January, and a new budget proposal for FY15 coming up next week, now is a good time to take a look at where the FY14 chips have fallen, and what the approaching budget cycle may hold for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Our previous post covered weapons programs, while this installment will look at the agency’s funding for nonproliferation programs.
Nonproliferation Programs: Cuts, but Some Good News
As noted in our previous post, nonproliferation programs generally did not do as well as weapons programs in FY14, and total appropriations for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation were about $186 million less than the NNSA request. Despite the overall drop in funding between the NNSA’s request and the appropriations bill, however, appropriators actually added modest amounts of funding to several key programs, citing the importance of their goals and the danger that reduced funding would lead to long delays in accomplishing program goals.
Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI): Congress Holds NNSA to its Word on Goals
The Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) was one of the programs that received modest additional funding from appropriators in FY14. The NNSA requested $424 million, about 12 percent less than the program’s FY13 funding. The NNSA explained the drop in requested funding by saying that the program is reaching the end of an intensive four-year effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material worldwide, and that most of the funding for this effort was frontloaded, so less is required as it nears its end. In FY12 budget documents, however, the NNSA anticipated requesting $637 million for the program in FY14. Moreover, a comparison of current program goals with the FY12 request shows that they have been scaled back.
FY14 Global Threat Reduction Initiative Funding, USD, in millions
Despite the NNSA explanation, however, Congressional appropriators added $18 million to the NNSA request, for a total of $442 million—an increase, but still $59 million less than the program’s FY13 funding. Senate appropriators actually sought to increase funding for the program further, citing concern over the potential for a reduction in funding to cause completion of a program to install security upgrades at civilian buildings with vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials to slip from 2025 to 2044—20 years later than the NNSA’s previously stated goal. House appropriators were less supportive, attempting to limit increased funding to the international portions of GTRI, while cutting funding for domestic activities.
Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX): Digging a Deeper Hole
One other beneficiary of the appropriations process was the Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program, for disposing of excess weapons plutonium. The administration requested $503 million for disposing of plutonium and uranium in FY14—a drop of about 30 percent from its FY13 funding. Within that amount, funding for the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) dropped from $438 million to $320 million. The NNSA said it would slow the program while conducting an assessment of alternative plutonium disposition strategies. This assessment has reportedly been completed and presented to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, but it is not clear when the results will be announced.
Mixed Oxide Fuel Program Funding, USD, in millions
Despite expressing concern about delays and cost overruns in the program, Congress (influenced heavily by key members from South Carolina, where the program is based) elected to increase funding above the NNSA request. The appropriators provided an additional $24 million for the program in FY14, for a total of $344 million. While this is a cut of $94 million from FY13 funding, it is still too much; it makes no sense to increase spending on a program in the midst of a reassessment. This is particularly true when alternative strategies like immobilization pose fewer security risks and could ultimately be cheaper than MOX.
The Final Tally: Room for Improvement in FY15
In the end, the big question is whether in FY15 either Congress or the NNSA will finally begin to take seriously the ongoing fiscal constraints that the entire federal government faces. In the FY14 budget process, Congress began to recognize that it needs to keep a closer eye on the NNSA’s more extravagant plans, as in the case of the interoperable warhead, but still increased funding for pet projects like MOX.
Some of the additional studies Congress requested this year—such as on the B61 or the W78 life extension programs—may encourage a more reasonable approach to the FY15 budget request. At the very least, they should provide much-needed details on the NNSA’s plans and cost estimates. Such external scrutiny of many current and previous NNSA projects is essential, or the programs will continue to be years behind schedule and many times more expensive than anticipated. Congress must exercise its authority to demand additional information and transparency from the NNSA to ensure that the programs the agency proposes are necessary and carried out efficiently.
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