The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) dinged the National Nuclear Security Administration recently for not providing 10 years’ worth of cost forecasts in an annual report to Congress on defense nuclear spending.

The semiautonomous Department of Energy agency by law must write a joint report each year with the Defense Department profiling the expected costs of ongoing nuclear-weapon and nuclear-weapon-complex modernization. The law, the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, says each agency must provide a decade’s worth of cost estimates, beginning with the year of the latest report.

But in the joint report on fiscal 2019, turned over to Congress in November 2018, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) provided specific forecasts only five years out, to 2023. 

“DoE officials stated that providing budget estimates beyond 2023 in a table would impute a false level of fidelity to these data,” the GAO said in the Nov. 7 report.

The agency already provides specific five-year forecasts in its annual budget request to Congress, and projects costs much further into the future each year — albeit in charts, not tables with specific funding levels — in its annual Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan.

“However, because the SSMP [Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan] presented the relevant data in chart format, it is difficult to obtain specific estimates for program costs,” the GAO stated. “In past years’ joint reports, DOE has included all 10 years of budget estimate information.”

In a letter appended to the GAO report, NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty said the agency would be “reverting back to direct inclusion of the full 10 years of estimates in the FY 2020 joint report.”

The next decade is a pivotal time for the NNSA, which will have more balls in the air than at any time since the Cold War. In that span, the agency will juggle four weapons life-extension programs, plus billions of dollars of infrastructure improvements, including an effort to build factories at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce the fissile weapon cores called plutonium pits.