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 The agency — a semiautonomous arm of the Energy Department — noted that its projection from fiscal 2012 relied on out-of-date data based on the now-defunct Reliable Replacement Warhead program, auditors wrote in the assessment.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 »
"Even as he acknowledged the importance of an open internet, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday set his telecom agency on a course to scrap the tough, broad net neutrality protections imposed by the Obama administration. During a major speech in Washington, D.C., Pai outlined the need for a total revision of existing federal rules that seek to prevent companies like AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon from blocking or slowing down web content, including the movie or music offerings from their competitors." Separately, Pai told Reason's Nick Gillespie that the Clinton Administration "basically got it right when it came to digital infrastructure. We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015."
The White House on Wednesday laid out its plan for tax reform, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying it would be "the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country." The tax code would be broken down into just three tax brackets, with the highest personal income tax rate cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. The plan would also slash the tax rate on corporations and small businesses from 35 percent to 15 percent. "The White House plan is a set of principles with few details, but it’s designed to be the starting point of a major push to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive tax reform package this year," said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement today established the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE), as called for in a presidential executive order from January. The new office's website states that its staff "will be guided by a singular, straightforward mission—to ensure victims and their families have access to releasable information about a perpetrator and to offer assistance explaining the immigration removal process."