House appropriators propose cuts to nuclear weapons spending

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Politics > Committee marks up bill that would provide $193 million less than what the White House asked for

WASHINGTON — House appropriators are looking to provide nearly $200 million less than the Obama administration has sought for nuclear weapons programs in fiscal 2014, even as fellow Republicans on other committees argue the administration is not requesting enough.

The draft energy and water spending bill released by the House Appropriations Committee on Monday would provide $7.7 billion for nuclear weapons activities, nearly $193 million less than the $7.87 billion the White House requested. It is nearly $400 million less than the $8.08 billion that would be allowed by the annual defense authorization legislation drafted by the House Armed Services Committee and approved by the House on Friday.

Republicans on the House Armed Service Committee have argued that the administration’s request is not enough to meet the terms of a 2010 deal made during lawmaker negotiations on ratification of the New START arms control deal with Russia, in which the president agreed to spend $85 billion over 10 years on nuclear arms complex modernization.

A key component of arms modernization is programs aimed at extending the life of various aging nuclear warheads. The spending bill released Monday would require the Energy Department to draft by the end of the year a “report that provides an analysis of alternatives for each major warhead refurbishment program.”

The report would include “summary of the overall cost, scope, and schedule planning assumptions for the major refurbishment activity,” along with a “full description of alternatives considered” and a “comparison of the costs and benefits of each of those alternatives, to include an analysis of trade-offs among cost, schedule, and performance objectives against each alternative considered.”

According to a committee aide, the bill language is intended to ensure that the administration fully conveys to Congress how it makes decisions relative to the often multibillion-dollar life-extension programs. The aide asked to remain anonymous, due to not being authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Some lawmakers have suggested in recent months that certain life-extension programs are more complex and costly than they ought to be. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, asked during an April hearing why the National Nuclear Security Administration is pursuing $10 billion in upgrades to the B-61 gravity bomb when a simpler, $1.5 billion plan reportedly could have been completed faster.

Feinstein suggested the administration should consider scaling back nuclear weapons updates rather than cut money from nonproliferation programs, as the White House has proposed.

The House appropriations legislation released Monday matches the administration’s request to cut nonproliferation spending. It provides $2.1 million, down from the $2.3 billion Congress allocated in fiscal 2012. This is also in sync with what the House defense authorization bill allows.

The House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee is expected to mark up its bill Tuesday.
-Doug Guarino, Global Security Newswire