While the big news from yesterday was the Senate passing New START, Congress also passed legislation that will significantly increase transparency and accountability for nuclear weapons programs and require new standards for nuclear weapons safety and security.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 requires the Department of Energy (DOE) to notify Congress about cost overruns and project delays for nuclear weapons-related programs and projects, and to take steps to address them.
If large-scale construction of nuclear facilities, warhead maintenance programs, or nuclear weapons cleanup exceed 125 percent of their original cost estimate, DOE now must notify Congress whether the project will be terminated or continued. If the DOE continues the project, it must submit a revised cost and schedule estimate, certify that the project is necessary, and explain how it can manage the project’s cost and schedule.
This is particularly important because the Obama administration has pledged to increase the Department of Energy’s (DOE) budget for nuclear weapons programs to $85 billion over the next 10 years. DOE is notorious for poor project management and cost overruns. This provision will help to ensure that this increased funding is spent wisely.
A second provision in the bill requires the DOE to submit a report to Congress by March that describes its criteria and methodology for setting standards for nuclear weapons safety and security.
This will ensure that the Energy Department makes sensible decisions about how to best protect its nuclear weapons. Senator Ben Nelson and Representative Jim Langevin deserve praise for ensuring that this provision remained in the bill!
Even though New START took the spotlight, there were many things that made yesterday a good day for those who work to reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons.