Auditors: Price Tag on U.S. Nuclear Arms Excludes Key Expenses

A Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile lifts off during a 2013 trial launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Official estimates are excluding key costs for maintaining and updating U.S. nuclear weapons, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
June 11, 2014, 10:49 a.m.

Con­gres­sion­al aud­it­ors say of­fi­cial es­tim­ates are ig­nor­ing key ex­penses for the U.S. nuc­le­ar force, such as costs of over­haul­ing mis­siles and air­craft.

The De­fense and En­ergy de­part­ments in­dic­ated that they planned to spend roughly $263.8 bil­lion on the atom­ic ar­sen­al over the com­ing dec­ade, but their pro­jec­tions omit­ted sig­ni­fic­ant items while ob­scur­ing “as­sump­tions and lim­it­a­tions,” ac­cord­ing to a Tues­day re­port by the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice.

The in­vest­ig­at­ors singled out the Air Force, in part, for list­ing planned up­dates to the in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­sile and stra­tegic bomber fleets as “zero-cost” pro­jects in the covered 10-year peri­od. The ser­vice is seek­ing $914 mil­lion in fisc­al 2015 for design­ing a new nuc­le­ar-cap­able air­craft, and is still ex­amin­ing pos­sible op­tions for the fu­ture of the ICBM force.

The De­fense De­part­ment should sup­ply at least “pre­lim­in­ary” es­tim­ates of all work to main­tain and re­fur­bish the U.S. nuc­le­ar de­terrent, so that budget plan­ners in Con­gress are “not left to spec­u­late,” the aud­it­ors ar­gued in their as­sess­ment. The au­thors looked at where the nuc­le­ar-arms cost pro­jec­tions stood as of last Ju­ly.

The Pentagon ac­cep­ted a GAO call — sim­il­ar to a re­quest put to the En­ergy De­part­ment in Decem­ber — to provide “a range of po­ten­tial 10-year budget es­tim­ates” for their nuc­le­ar-arms ini­ti­at­ives if more ex­act fig­ures are un­avail­able.

The re­port’s au­thors also as­ser­ted that the En­ergy De­part­ment’s Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion would need more money than it ex­pects for re­fur­bish­ing cruise- and bal­list­ic-mis­sile war­heads through fisc­al 2018.

“An NNSA of­fi­cial told us that the agency shif­ted fund­ing with­in its budget es­tim­ates for these two pro­grams bey­ond fisc­al year 2019 to stay with­in [White House] guidelines,” the as­sess­ment states.

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