The Senate last week adopted language that would scale back, but not eliminate, some of the new oversight and influence the chamber’s Armed Services Committee proposed to give the Pentagon over civilian nuclear weapons budgets via the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
On Thursday, the Senate unanimously adopted an amendment from Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), which strikes provisions from the annual defense policy bill that would have required the secretary of defense, through the joint DoD-DoE Nuclear Weapons Council, to participate in the earliest stages of the annual budget negotiations for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA).
The amendment also killed bill language that would have required the secretary of energy, in annual budget requests, to separate the NNSA budget from other DoE defense nuclear funding, such as cleanup of shuttered weapons production sites.
The amendment did not do away with the segment of the legislation that would require the Nuclear Weapons Council to certify that the NNSA’s budget request each year is adequate for Pentagon purposes, but it did eliminate a requirement that the secretary of energy adjust the agency’s budget request to accommodate the Defense Department determination.
Instead, the energy secretary would merely have to include the Pentagon’s preferred funding level for the NNSA, if that level differs from what the NNSA and DoE proposed, in an appendix to the agency’s first-draft budget submission to the office of management and budget.
Cantwell and other lawmakers, plus Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette and the Energy Communities Alliance interest group, had complained that the Senate Armed Services Committee’s National Defense Authorization Act could allow the Defense Department to shortchange cleanup of shuttered Manhattan Project and Cold War nuclear weapons sites.
The Senate is scheduled return in two weeks from its Independence Day recess, at which time lawmakers will vote to approve the now-amended National Defense Authorization Act the upper chamber’s Armed Services Committee produced in June.
The House Armed Services Committee approved its version of the annual defense policy bill last week, but House leadership had not scheduled floor debate at deadline Monday for Defense Daily.