The House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee approved the nuclear-weapons parts of the chamber’s 2021 National Defense Authorization Act on Monday in a brief markup that sets the stage for full Committee action on July 1.
It took only about 15 minutes, without debate or amendments, for the panel to advance its portions of the annual defense policy bill that sets spending caps for Pentagon programs, plus nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy.
In doing so, the subcommittee did not say whether it had approved authorization of the 20% annual raise, to roughly $20 billion, that DoE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) seeks for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
It was a controversial request that the GOP-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee granted a couple weeks ago in its version of the 2021 NDAA, but which House lawmakers on both the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees have been loathe to support.
In particular, House lawmakers have not seemed willing to deny the Pentagon permission to start building a Virginia-class attack submarine so that the funds for that proposed boat — one of two the Navy wants for 2021 — could be diverted to the NNSA.
Meanwhile, the strategic forces panel did release a few noncontroversial NNSA policies as part of a bill summary, including:
- Requiring the NNSA by Feb. 1, 2020 to report to Congress about how the agency can monitor its highly specialized nuclear-weapons industrial base, with a follow up briefing by Aug. 1 from the NNSA administrator that identifies the resources the agency needs to keep the base in good health.
- Demanding also by Aug. 1 a report about reducing the risks and costs of transitioning the NNSA enterprise from its period of post-Cold War stockpile maintenance to 21st century production of refurbished nuclear weapons as part of the Stockpile Responsiveness program.
- Calling for a Government Accountability Office report about the assistance NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation provides to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguards program. The report should touch on “how effective has assistance provided by the Department of Energy, NNSA, and other agencies been in strengthening safeguards approaches, technologies, staff, and other resources, and where are the continuing gaps or issues of concern,” according to a bill summary. The Government Accountability Office would have to brief congressional armed services committees on its findings by Jan. 30.
The bill also would require the Department of Defense to compile and publish an open-source report about the nuclear weapons capabilities of Russia, China and North Korea: a requirement subcommittee ranking member Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) inserted into the bill.
“Many times, our debate is hindered because the information that we receive about our adversaries is in a classified manor,” Turner said during the subcommittee markup. “The information about our weapons programs, many times, is not classified. So we’re in a situation where we can’t identify what our adversaries are doing and I think this will be very helpful not only just for our debate, but the global debate of nuclear weapons.”