On January 13, the Senate and House appropriations Committees released the text of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Omnibus appropriations bill, a $1 trillion government spending bill that includes 12 appropriations bills to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year. The Senate and House are scheduled to vote on and approve the legislation later this week.
The Omnibus bill funds national defense spending (function 050) at $520.5 billion, the level agreed to as part of the December 2013 Ryan-Murray budget deal. National defense spending includes the Pentagon’s base budget as well nuclear weapons activities at the Department of Energy. The final appropriation is an increase of $2.5 billion over the FY 2013, post-sequester enacted level, but a decrease of approximately $32 billion below the administration’s budget request of $552 billion.
In addition, the bill provides $85.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for the war in Afghanistan, an increase of $5.8 billion above the budget request. The OCO increase softens the blow to the base Pentagon budget relative to the budget request, since OCO funding can be used to pay for activities that are normally base budget activities without breaching the budget caps set by the Ryan-Murray deal.
Regarding nuclear weapons, the Omnibus bill nearly fully funds research and development programs to rebuild the triad of nuclear delivery systems. On the Department of Energy side, the bill funds the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) weapons nuclear activities account at $7.78 billion, a decrease of only $87 million (or 1%) below the budget request and a mammoth increase of $810 million (or 11.6 percent) over last year’s post-sequester enacted level. By comparison, the Omnibus bill reduces the base Pentagon budget request by approximately 6%. While the final appropriation for NNSA is not as large as it at first appears (see below), it is still an enormous increase given the budget environment. After a decrease in funding in FY 2013, the NNSA weapons budget is back on the rise. Meanwhile, funding for NNSA’s core nuclear material security and non-proliferation programs continues to tumble.
The Omnibus bill also fully funded the controversial B61 life extension program, reversing the approximately one-third reduction to the program made by the Senate Appropriations Committee last year. As a condition for full funding, the bill requires NNSA to retire the B83 gravity bomb by 2025 and the Secretary of Energy to submit an unprecedentedly detailed analysis of alternatives for all major life extension programs, including the B61, before the programs begin development engineering. The required analysis of alternatives will strengthen Congress’ ability to determine whether NNSA is pursuing the lowest cost, lowest risk warhead life extension options that meet military requirements. Given the affordability concerns of the currently proposed B61 LEP, the assessment will also be helpful in providing Congress with a look at a possible Plan B.
While the NNSA portion of the B61 LEP appears to have survived intact for FY 2014, the program is hardly out of the woods yet. The budget requests are slated to continue to skyrocket in the coming years and it’s still not clear how NNSA can successfully execute the mod 12 program, which could cost $10 billion, given the budget environment. Indeed, it appears that other areas of NNSA's weapons activities account and especially some programs in Naval Reactors were cut to help make room for the B61 LEP this year. The tradeoffs between the B61 LEP and other NNSA programs will become increasingly stark in the years ahead.