The Obama administration yesterday put forth a spending plan that would boost funding for the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration to nearly $12 billion in the next fiscal year (see GSN, Feb. 9).
It marks the second year in row that the nuclear agency has been selected for a cash infusion.
The agency, a semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department, would receive roughly $11.8 billion in fiscal 2012, to maintain the country's nuclear stockpile and conduct nonproliferation activities around the globe, according to the White House funding request.
That figure is a nearly $2 billion increase over the enacted level for the 2010 budget cycle and represents a more than 5 percent hike from the $11.2 billion the administration sought for this budget year.
In December, lawmakers approved a short-term continuing budget resolution that keeps most NNSA funding at fiscal 2010 levels, leaving out a requested $320 million funding boost for the agency's nonproliferation initiatives. The resolution is set to expire on March 4. Congress can pass another resolution or a full budget by that date or risk seeing the federal government close its doors.
Arms control has been near the top of the administration's policy agenda since the president gave a speech in Prague in April 2009 that called for a world free of nuclear weapons. Last year he convened a two-day summit in Washington in which top officials from almost 50 nations made plans to secure the global stores of loose nuclear material within four years.
"The fact that the president's budget does show strong support for these activities is the beginning of the message from the administration that there is an urgency to these activities, even as the administration is cognizant of the need to address the deficit," NNSA Deputy Administrator Anne Harrington told reporters yesterday.
Agency officials "feel pretty good that we have a strong case to be made for all the activities for which we are requesting funding," she added during a late afternoon conference call.
The newly minted appeal seeks $7.6 billion for NNSA "weapons activities," which ensure the safety and performance of the nation's atomic arsenal. That amount is an 8.9 percent, or $621 million, bump from the fiscal 2011 request.
Most of those new funds would go toward stockpile maintenance, according to NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino
Another $2.5 billion would be funneled into the agency's "defense nuclear nonproliferation" program, a more than 5 percent decrease from the present budget cycle request. The program has oversight of the agency's assorted efforts for halting the spread of nuclear material.
The amount represents a down payment on $14.2 billion over the next five years to reduce the global threat posed by unsecured nuclear and radiological materials, the NNSA chief said during the same conference call.
Taken together, the fiscal 2012 budget blueprint marks the first step in administration's commitment to invest $85 billion over the next decade to build new nuclear research and production facilities and overhaul aging warheads, according to D'Agostino. The Obama administration pledged to beef up spending on the nuclear complex during its ultimately successful effort to draw sufficient GOP support for ratification of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia.
The remaining dollars would be steered to other agency efforts, including its national laboratory network and the naval nuclear reactor program.
A bulk of the $7.6 billion for NNSA weapons activities, nearly $2 billion, would be devoted to directed stockpile work at the agency's network of facilities. The new figure is an increase of less than $100 million from the request for this budget year.
The operations encompass all activities that directly support weapons in the nuclear arsenal, including maintenance and day-to-day care as well as planned refurbishments.
Funding would support ongoing life-extension programs for the W-76 warhead, which is deployed on the Navy's Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile, and the refurbishment of the B-61 gravity bomb, according to the text of the spending request.
Those dollars would also bankroll an ongoing study to evaluate future options for maintaining the W-78 warhead carried by Minuteman 3 ICBMs.
Another $1.65 billion from the weapons activities account would go toward science, technology and engineering "campaigns," budget documents show. Those programs consist of multiyear efforts to develop and maintain the capabilities needed to assess the safety and reliability of the nuclear arsenal without underground testing.