A day after the Department of Energy released some 650 pages of details on its $16.5-billion nuclear-weapons budget request for 2020, the chair of the House Appropriations panel that funds the agency demanded more information on proposed weapons spending from Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
“With respect to nuclear weapons, this is not a budget that establishes clear priorities with a responsible plan to fund and execute those priorities,” Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), chair of the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee, told Perry Tuesday during a hearing on the agency’s 2020 budget request.
Kaptur asked whether Perry could provide any “ follow-on materials” about the proposed 2020 nuclear weapons and nonproliferation spending overseen by DoE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Perry said DoE would “work with” Kaptur’s office to provide “additional documentation” about the semi-autonomous agency’s 2020 request.
Kaptur did not say during the hearing exactly which information she wanted that DoE not include in the detailed NNSA budget request the agency released late Monday, ahead of the hearing.
Kaptur did say that she was concerned about NNSA cutting “key nonproliferation programs,” although she did not identify any by name.
NNSA requested some $16.5 billion in total for weapons, nonproliferation, and nuclear-Navy propulsion work for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. Weapons activities would get the biggest increase, if the budget request became law: nearly 12 percent to almost $12.5 billion, compared with the 2019 budget.
The biggest winner within the weapons activities budget is the program to extend the life of the W80 warhead so that it can tip the Air Force’s planned Long Range Standoff Weapon cruise missile late next decade. NNSA requested nearly $900 million for the W80-4 life-extension program for 2020: more than 35 percent above the 2019 budget of $655 million. The 2020 request is about 25 percent more than the agency, in last year’s budget request, projected it would seek for the weapon in 2020.
Meanwhile, the total NNSA nonproliferation budget — spending on activities to halt the spread of weaponizable materials around the world — would actually rise about 3 percent to almost $2 billion, if NNSA’s 2020 budget request became law. Within the nonproliferation account, however, NNSA plans to continue converting the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., designed as a plutonium disposal facility, into a factory to annually produce 50 fissile warhead cores by 2030.
Kaptur decried the “massive” increase for weapons in the NNSA budget, worrying — as former NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz did just before he retired a little more than a year ago — that such increases will perhaps fatally stress a nuclear security enterprise that is “already at its maximum.”
Perry acknowledged that, telling Kaptur that “[t]he NNSA is going to be really strapped from the standpoint of both from financial and from staffing levels” as the 30-year, $1-trillion nuclear modernization and maintenance program started by the Obama administration in 2016 and supplemented by the Trump administration in 2018 continues.
Perry and NNSA Administration Lisa Gordon-Hagerty are slated to testify about NNSA’s budget request Thursday before the full Senate Armed Services Committee. Gordon-Hagerty and senior NNSA officials are scheduled to appear April 2 before the subcommittee Kaptur chairs.