U.S. Nuclear-Arms Cost Estimate Jumps Up $27 Billion

Technicians perform maintenance on a W-76 nuclear warhead. An 18-year cost estimate for U.S. nuclear-arms operations has jumped up more than $27 billion, the congressional Government Accountability Office said.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Diane Barnes
Dec. 13, 2013, 6:02 a.m.

An 18-year spend­ing out­look for U.S. nuc­le­ar arms has shot up by $27.1 bil­lion, and costs could rise fur­ther still, con­gres­sion­al aud­it­ors said this week.

In­vest­ig­at­ors found the in­crease by com­par­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s latest cost es­tim­ate for main­tain­ing and up­dat­ing U.S. nuc­le­ar weapons over a set peri­od — fisc­al years 2014 through 2031 — to the U.S. es­tim­ate from two years ago for the same time­frame, ac­cord­ing to a Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice re­port re­leased Wed­nes­day.

The Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion blamed the up­tick from in part on a change in its cal­cu­la­tion meth­od. The agency — a semi­autonom­ous arm of the En­ergy De­part­ment — noted that its pro­jec­tion from fisc­al 2012 re­lied on out-of-date data based on the now-de­funct Re­li­able Re­place­ment War­head pro­gram, aud­it­ors wrote in the as­sess­ment.

GAO aud­it­ors said a sched­ule ad­just­ment also con­trib­uted to the cost jump, which boos­ted an­ti­cip­ated stock­pile ex­pendit­ures for the 18-year peri­od from $46 bil­lion to $73.1 bil­lion. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion moved up plans to be­gin mod­ern­iz­ing nuc­le­ar war­heads for the Air Launched Cruise Mis­sile sev­en years soon­er — in 2024 in­stead of 2031 — bring­ing more of the as­so­ci­ated costs in­to the time range un­der scru­tiny.

The es­tim­ate for over­all NNSA spend­ing dur­ing the same peri­od in­creased by just $19 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to GAO aud­it­ors. They vari­ation, they wrote, is due to de­creases in the agency’s pro­jec­ted spend­ing on oth­er agency activ­it­ies, such as main­ten­ance of the nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al’s sup­port­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

They noted, though, that the agency’s es­tim­ate leaves out “most of the budget es­tim­ates” for two pricey ini­ti­at­ives: con­struct­ing a new en­riched-urani­um pro­cessing plant in Ten­ness­ee, and sus­tain­ing plutoni­um cap­ab­il­it­ies long tied to a pro­posed fa­cil­ity that now faces can­cel­la­tion.

“NNSA plans to con­struct these fa­cil­it­ies or al­tern­at­ives to the fa­cil­it­ies and, as a res­ult, NNSA’s budget es­tim­ates for the in­fra­struc­ture area are not fully aligned with its mod­ern­iz­a­tion plans and likely un­der­es­tim­ate the amount of fund­ing that will be needed in fu­ture years.

The re­port notes sev­er­al factors that could fur­ther shift NNSA cost es­tim­ates in com­ing years, in­clud­ing the agency’s fail­ure to ac­count in its pro­jec­tions to date for budget cuts man­dated un­der the 2011 Budget Con­trol Act. Those “se­quest­ra­tion” re­duc­tions would crimp nuc­le­ar-weapons spend­ing if they re­main in place, the doc­u­ment says.

Its au­thors noted two oth­er vari­ables that could in­crease spend­ing: a pos­sible rise in ex­penses from con­tract­or re­tire­ment funds, and “cost sav­ings” built in­to budget es­tim­ates without full as­sess­ments of how to achieve them.

This art­icle was pub­lished in Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, which is pro­duced in­de­pend­ently by Na­tion­al Journ­al Group un­der con­tract with the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. NTI is a non­profit, non­par­tis­an group work­ing to re­duce glob­al threats from nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al, and chem­ic­al weapons.

What We're Following See More »
Chaffetz Also Caves, Says He’ll Vote Trump
1 hours ago
DNC Sues RNC Over Trump’s Rigged Vote Comments
1 hours ago

The Democratic National Committee sued the Republican National Committee in U.S. District Court in New Jersey for aiding GOP nominee Donald Trump as he argues that the presidential election is "rigged." The DNC claims "that Trump's argument is designed to suppress the vote in minority communities."

Clinton Foundation Staffers Steered Biz to Bill
9 hours ago

"Two chief fundraisers for the Clinton Foundation pressed corporate donors to steer business opportunities to former President Bill Clinton as well, according to a hacked memo published Wednesday by WikiLeaks. The November 2011 memo from Douglas Band, at the time a top aide to Mr. Clinton, outlines extensive fundraising efforts that Mr. Band and a partner deployed on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and how that work sometimes translated into large speaking fees and other paid work for Mr. Clinton."

House Investigators Already Sharpening Their Spears for Clinton
19 hours ago

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz plans to spend "years, come January, probing the record of a President Hillary Clinton." Chaffetz told the Washington Post: “It’s a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”

Clinton Super PAC Enters the House Fray
23 hours ago

Priorities USA, the super PAC aligned with the Clinton campaign, which has already gotten involved in two Senate races, is now expanding into House races. The group released a 30 second spot which serves to hit Donald Trump and Iowa Rep. Rod Blum, who is in a tough race to win re-election in Iowa's first congressional district. The super PAC's expansion into House and Senate races shows a high level of confidence in Clinton's standing against Trump.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.