Nuclear Security Enterprise Struggles with the Issues it was Created to Solve

Nuclear weapons spending has become a hot-button issue in recent years, particularly as it becomes increasingly clear that our budget cannot sustain the current nuclear modernization strategy. Those in favor of upgrades argue that in order to reduce nuclear weapons numbers while maintaining our deterrent capability, modernization is key. This myopic view of spending on nuke upgrades fails to bring key internal and external inadequacies into view, and instead undermines the legitimacy of our future deterrent strategy.  

By not keeping an eye on internal inadequacies and by perpetuating a culture of complacency, our nuclear weapons management reputation has been tarnished, likely affecting the way our allies and enemies see our future deterrent capability.

In the late 1990s, the Department of Energy fell victim to cost overruns and security issues. At the urging of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Congress created a new semi-autonomous entity in 1999 called the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). By creating a separate governing body, the security and overhead could be streamlined to minimize gaps in security and duplication in oversight.

However, while the role of NNSA has remained the same—to oversee our nation’s nuclear weapons management, development, and nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts—the entity itself has run into the same budgetary and security issues that it was created to solve.

Where we stand today
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has criticized NNSA’s inefficiencies, structure, and cost/security balance for years without change. In one of the latest attempts to create positive momentum, the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, created in 2013, released its interim report in March.

The Panel reports that NNSA is doing relatively well on the physical management and modernization side. It states that, “Stockpile Stewardship has succeeded in sustaining confidence in our nuclear deterrent.” But it also reports that NNSA is not focusing enough on the culture, hierarchy, and vision of the Enterprise, which has led to mistrust, confusion, and ineffective, reactionary solutions. “This is not time for complacency about the nuclear deterrent,” says the panel, “our allies depend on these forces and capabilities for extended deterrence and could well pursue their own nuclear weapon capabilities if they perceive the US commitment or competency to be weakening.”

In other words, by focusing on nuclear weapons’ physical structure without also putting substantial effort into repairing the NNSA’s rocky foundation, we may very well be damaging the future of our security and the legitimacy of our nuclear deterrent. This sentiment is echoed by the panel’s key finding that “[t]he current viability of our nuclear deterrent is not in question. At the same time, the existing governance structures and practices are most certainly inefficient and in some instances ineffective, putting the entire Enterprise at risk over the long term.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) weighs in

From September 2012 to May 2014, the GAO conducted an examination of DOE/NNSA 2009 – 2012 security reforms and the implementation of these reforms aimed at improving the security enterprise. The main conclusion of the May 2014 report was that while the NNSA has made efforts toward improvement, they have not been enough, have not been implemented evenly across sites, and there has not been diligent record keeping of quantifiable progress. The report states, the “efforts to-date have not prevented several serious security incidents” and “the goals for security appear to be less clearly defined and less focused than previous attempts at security reform.”

One of the worst and perhaps most well-known security breaches during this period was at the Y-12 National Security Complex. Protestors including a nun, Sister Megan Rice, were able to use simple bolt cutters to reach a restricted area that contained highly enriched uranium (HEU). The consequent DOE report cited a litany of inadequacies leading up to the incident including “troubling displays of ineptitude…, misunderstanding of security protocols, poor communications, and weaknesses in contract and resource management.”

Finally, the GAO says that “without developing a clear vision and path forward for its security program,” the NNSA risks further deterioration of inter-agency collaboration, NNSA/nuclear laboratory trust, physical security, and of the organizational health of our security enterprise.

The bright side

The new Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator, Frank G. Klotz, responded to the GAO report in a three-paragraph letter stating that the “NNSA agrees with the GAO’s recommendation and has already initiated  an effort to develop a security roadmap for NNSA.” The “road map” Klotz refers to has an estimated due date of December 31, 2014.

Beyond this anticipated course of action, Klotz’s presence itself might be a guiding light for positive change. Klotz is a retired Air Force Lieutenant General who has made safety and security his top priority in his new post. Additionally, Klotz has experience streamlining nuclear weapons control and amending faulty security systems, having successfully led Global Strike Command from 2009 to 2011, the team that was created to rectify issues with the Air Force’s management of nuclear weapons.

The NNSA’s mission and success are vital to our national security. Perhaps Klotz’s experience and commitment coupled with a new, forward-looking vision will drive the NNSA’s internal structure towards balance and more effective policies.

26 Senators sign letter to Obama administration urging increased nuclear security funding

Earlier today (August 18) Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Feinstein (D-CA) released a bipartisan letter calling on the Obama administration to support increased funding for vital programs at the Department of Energy to keep nuclear and radiological materials out of the hands of terrorists. The full text of the letter is pasted below the jump. You can read the Merkley and Feinstein press release announcing the letter here.

26 Senators signed the letter, including 22 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 2 Republicans.

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Council for a Livable World strongly support the letter’s message and urge the White House to act on this bipartisan call for increased funding to prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism.

The Obama administration’s recent budget requests have not reflected the rhetorical emphasis it has rightly placed on combatting nuclear terrorism. The FY 2015 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reduces funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the International Nuclear Materials Protection Program (IMPC) by 25% and 27%, respectively, signaling a major retreat in the Obama administration’s effort to secure nuclear and radiological materials at an accelerated rate. This is the third year in a row of budget cuts to these core nonproliferation programs. The proposed budget cuts to these programs are difficult to understand since the danger of nuclear and radiological materials falling into the hands of terrorists remains a serious threat.

Reducing funding for these programs increases the amount of time it will take to secure or eliminate dangerous materials that could be used by terrorists in an improvised nuclear explosive device or a dirty bomb. This is an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security. Important nuclear security efforts should not be slowed by lack of funds.

Fortunately, both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee significantly increased funding above the budget request for NNSA’s core material security and nonproliferation programs. However, it remains to be seen if these higher funding levels will survive and whatever final authorization and appropriations bill is passed by Congress for FY 2015.

For more information on the budget cuts, see our handy fact sheet. For a more detailed discussion of the Obama administration’s nuclear security request and the harmful impacts of budget cuts, see this excellent recent report by Harvard’s Managing the Atom Project co-authored by Nukes of Hazard alum Nickolas Roth.

August 13.2014

Mr. Shaun Donovan
Oftice of Management and Budget
725 I th St NW
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Director Donovan,

We write to request the Administration, in its next budget request, seek increased funding for vital nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs. We have been concerned that the President has proposed cuts to these programs over the last several years. We believe that unsecured nuclear material poses an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security and hope future budgets will reflect the importance of nuclear security efforts.

The President has said that nuclear terrorism is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.” He followed these words by hosting the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010. While we applaud the President’s leadership in spearheading an accelerated international effort to enhance the security of nuclear and radiological materials, we remain concerned about what the future would look like if we slow these programs. For example, through programs such as the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), thirteen countries eliminated all the highly enriched uranium (HEU) or separated plutonium on their soil since 2009, including all HEU from Ukraine. I applaud those efforts been slowed by anemic funding, it is possible that the United States would face the threat of weapons-grade nuclear material in the hands of Ukrainian separatists.

Despite these noteworthy achievements, significant work remains to be done. There are still
hundreds of sites spread across 30 countries that have weapons-usable nuclear material. Many of these locations have very modest or insufficient security measures. For these reasons and others. the FY 201 5 Senate Energy and Water bill increased funding for these programs above the President’s budget request by $136 million for the GTRI, $33 million for research and development, and $50 million for the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation program.

Reducing budgets for agencies and programs that help keep nuclear and radiological materials out of the hands of terrorists is out of sync with the high priority that President has rightly placed on nuclear and radiological material security and signals a major retreat in the effort to lock down these materials at an accelerated rate. The recent spate of terrorism in Iraq, Pakistan, and Kenya is a harrowing reminder of the importance of ensuring that terrorist groups and rogue states cannot get their hands on the world’s most dangerous weapons and materials.

Given current world events, now is not the time to pull back on nonproliferation, a major U.S.
policy objective. Going forward, we urge you to work with us to ensure that critical nuclear
material security and nonproliferation programs have the resources they need. We seek your
support for a FY 2016 budget that builds on the Senate Energy and Water proposed FY 2015 funding levels to further accelerate the pace at which nuclear and radio logical materials are secured and permanently disposed.


Cutting off our nose to spite our face on nuclear security cooperation with Russia

Russia’s illegal invasion of Crimea requires a strong and forceful US response to support  Ukraine and punish Moscow. But that fact that a meaningful response is required does not mean that we should deliberately score an own goal by taking actions that would be self-evidently counterproductive and detrimental to our security.

As former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Senator Sam Nunn wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “A key to ending the Cold War was the Reagan administration’s rejection of the concept of linkage, which said that bad behavior by Moscow in one sphere had to lead to a freeze of cooperation in all spheres.” “Although current circumstances make it difficult,” they noted, “we should not lose sight of areas of common interest where cooperation remains crucial to the security of Russia, Europe and the United States. This includes securing nuclear materials…and preventing catastrophic terrorism, as well as destroying Syrian chemical stockpiles and preventing nuclear proliferation by Iran and others.”

This is wise advice. But wisdom is a commodity in short supply on the GOP-led House Armed Services Committee, especially when it comes to nuclear policy. It should not be surprising, then, that the Republican leadership of the Committee is sponsoring legislation in response to the Crimea crisis that would imperil our security by stopping nuclear security cooperation with Russia.

Among the many not so brilliant ideas included in the legislation, which is titled “Forging Peace through Strength in Ukraine and the Transatlantic Alliance” and co-sponsored by Reps. Michael Turner, Buck McKeon, and Mike Rogers, is a provision that “Prohibits the contact, cooperation or transfer of technology between the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Russian Federation until the Secretary of Energy certifies the Russian military is no longer illegally occupying Crimea, no longer violating the INF treaty, and in compliance with the CFE treaty.”

Unless there is some disclaimer in the actual bill text that I have yet to see, this would bring to a halt NNSA’s nuclear security work in Russia, most of which is conducted under the auspices of the International Nuclear Materials Protection (IMPC) program. Examples of activities that the IMPC program plans to pursue in and with Russia in FY 2015 include consolidating of all category I/II fissile material into a new high security zone at a nuclear material site in Russia; completing a perimeter upgrade around two guarded areas with 13 buildings that store and process weapons-usable nuclear material in a large bulk processing facility; providing upgrades at three additional buildings in a large bulk processing facility; and completing upgrades to closed city perimeter entry points at the two primary weapons design facilities and one bulk processing facility in Russia.

As our friend Nick Roth has written, “although Russia has made tremendous progress in securing its nuclear weapons and materials, because of the size and far-flung locations of Russia’s stockpile, Russia still presents one of the most significant challenges to reducing the global risk of nuclear terrorism. Russia has the most highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium of any country and the most HEU research reactors in the world. There is also a significant risk of insiders stealing nuclear material from its nuclear facilities.”

It is true that in recent years Russia has become an increasingly difficult partner on nuclear security cooperation. Moscow’s refusal last year to renew the old Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) umbrella agreement has reduced the amount of work we can do in Russia (though much of NNSA’s work will continue). Funding for nuclear security work in Russia makes up a much smaller share of the Pentagon and NNSA’s nonproliferation budgets than it once did, as Moscow is appropriately footing more of the bill to secure materials and sustain improvements enabled by US assistance.

Meanwhile, NNSA has already decided to rescind its funding request for one nuclear security activity within the IMPC program and is apparently reviewing the merits of other programs as well.

Yet it’s important to remember that we don’t cooperate with Russia on nuclear security as a favor to Moscow. We do it because it is strongly in our national security interest. Our cooperation with Russia keeps Americans safe from the threat of nuclear terrorism and this cooperation should continue (and is continuing) despite the tensions in the larger US-Russia relationship. At a time of enhanced U.S.-Russia tensions now is hardly the time to reduce our on-site presence in the Russian nuclear sector. The cost for these programs is relatively low and the return on investment is extremely high. There is more work that remains to be done and it is critical that this work get done as quickly as possible.  

Fortunately, there appear to be GOP leaders in the House who understand this. At an Energy and Water appropriations subcommittee hearing last week, Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) highlighted the importance of nuclear security cooperation despite our concerns about Moscow’s behavior in other areas:

REP. SIMPSON: — why I ask this question. You’re probably going to see amendments on the floor to take out all funding for all of those things that have the word “Russian” anywhere in them. How much funding in your budget is a request for projects that are in Russia that probably will face amendments and stuff? And I have been and I think this committee has been supportive of the work that’s going on there. We want to be able to answer the questions that are going to come up.

MS. HARRINGTON: Thank you, sir. We view the work that we do in Russia, which focuses on the security of both the material and facilities and, in some cases, the actual weapons that were once a threat to this country, as vital to U.S. national interests. So we hope that both we and the Russians would be able to continue with that kind of work.

As you know, in past geopolitical times of conflict, there have either been carve-outs or accommodations made to allow nonproliferation and threat-reduction programs to move forward.

That said, as you might imagine, internally within the government right now, there is intense scrutiny of everything that’s being done with Russia, you know, and real concern about the path that it has chosen to take. So we are in that process of reevaluating.

In terms of the 2015 budget, there’s — out of the 1.55 billion (dollars) there’s something around $100 million for programs that work with Russia. Of that, about 25 percent goes to our own laboratories to support the technical expertise to bring into projects. So out of the total budget amount, it’s not a particularly large percentage, but we still view it as being a very important element of our ability to engage both with sensitive materials and at sensitive facilities.

REP. SIMPSON: So the short answer I would give to people is this is actually in our own interest, not just Russian interest and the world’s interest.

MS. HARRINGTON: Correct. Right, that is why we are there. [emphasis mine.]

Well said.

New Obama Budget Slashes Nonproliferation

More FY 2015 budget analysis over on the mother ship, this time on the Obama administration’s disturbing cuts to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) core nuclear and radiological security programs. Here’s a teaser:

In its Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Obama administration made it resoundingly clear that it is in a full-on retreat from accelerating the security of nuclear and radiological materials around the globe.

This decision is difficult to fathom, given that as recently as this week the President stated that the number one thing that keeps him up at night is “loose nukes.” Likewise the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review identified nuclear terrorism as “today’s most immediate and extreme danger.”

For the third year in a row the NNSA budget submission continues a disturbing trend of funding nuclear weapons and other programs at the expense of core nuclear and radiological material security programs. This year, the tradeoff is starker than it has ever been.

The request slashes nearly eighteen percent compared to the FY 2014 enacted level from core threat reduction and nonproliferation programs such as the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the International Materials Protection and Cooperation (IMPC) program while increasing weapons funding nearly seven percent (including a massive 20 percent increase for the unnecessary, over budget, and behind schedule B61 mod 12 life extension program). The request also increases funding for NNSA’s Naval Reactors program by nearly 26 percent.

Roughly half of the funding cut to the Defense Nuclear Non-Proliferation account (or approximately $250 million) came out of core programs, while the other half was to the controversial Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program in South Carolina.

Read the whole thing here.

FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Summary and Analysis

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.

Paul Ryan Still Doesn’t Get It on Nuclear Security

As some of you may already know, on Thursday the Center’s sister organization Council for a Livable World launched a national ad campaign targeting six Republican leaders in the House and Senate to highlight their support for reckless cuts to vital nuclear security programs that keep our nation safe from the threat of nuclear terrorism.  The current stopgap Continuing Resolution that is currently funding the government cuts approximately $550 million from the President’s FY 2011 request for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Account.  The year long CR proposed by House Republicans in February would cut funding for this account by nearly $650 million below the FY 2011 request.  

Rachel Maddow had a nice segment on the campaign on her show Thursday night.  More info on the ads can be found here.  More info on the essential programs and budget cuts that are the subject of the ads can be found here.

In response to the ad that ran in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) issued the following statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“Washington can cut spending without compromising our national defense, and the continuing resolution simply prevents further spending increases from taking hold. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned last year: ‘I think the biggest threat we have to our national security is our debt.’ As we act to get our fiscal house in order, it is critical that we prioritize spending and address our nation’s most pressing fiscal, economic, and security challenges.”

Ryan’s claim that the cuts to nuclear security programs do not compromise our national defense is demonstrably false.  If Ryan gets his way, hundreds of kilograms of dangerous nuclear weapons usable material would remain unsecure.  Ryan simply dodges the fact that vital programs within the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Account counter the most serious threat confronting our national security; namely, the threat of nuclear terrorism.

But don’t take NoH’s word for it.

A day after Ryan insisted that he’s protecting national security by cutting the nuclear security budget, Republicans and Democrats on the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee issued a strong rebuke to the new Budget Committee Chairman.

In a March 23 letter to Ryan spearheaded by Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH), 9 Republicans and 7 Democrats expressed their “deep concern about the effects H.R. 1 will have on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 and possibly FY 2012 funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).”  These budget cuts can’t be sustained, the letter concludes, “without jeopardizing nonproliferation efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.”

The message the Subcommittee is sending to Ryan is clear: Short changing the budget for vital nuclear security programs makes America less safe.

Another short term CR hurts effort to secure/eliminate bomb grade material

Last week the Senate rejected both the long-term House-passed Continuing Resolution (CR) (HR 1) and the Senate Appropriations Committee version.  This week Congress will again consider a short-term CR extending spending to April 8.  The text of the proposed three-week measure can be found here.

The newest proposed short-term CR continues the status quo on funding for NNSA’s Defense Nuclear Non-Proliferation account, the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program, and a host of important nonproliferation programs at the State Department.  These programs continue to be funded at the FY2010 level, as has been the case since the start of the fiscal year on October 1, 2010.      

Looking for some numbers to focus on?  How about these:

  • $2.1 billion – spending level for “Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation” since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2011 that began on October 1, 2010.  This is $551 million less than the Administration’s request for Fiscal Year 2011.  The Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account has been funded at or very near the FY2010 appropriated level since October 1, 2010.
  • $7.0 billion. – spending level for “National Nuclear Security Administration – Weapons Activities” (Nuclear complex modernization).  This is $624 million above the Fiscal Year 2010 level.  Unlike the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account, the Weapons Activities account has been funded at the FY2011 requested level since October 1, 2010.

Meanwhile, we’ve created a website with information about the current fight about the budget and proposed cuts to nuclear security spending over at the mothership.  My favorite resource? A handy chart on the impact of the various short and long term CRs on NNSA’s nonpro and weapons activities accounts. Check it out.

Senate Democrats Propose 7-Month Continuing Resolution

Last Friday, Senate Democrats released a summary of their version of a Continuing Resolution for the rest of FY 2011 that would cut $51 billion from the President’s FY 2011 request compared to the $100 billion that the House cut in HR 1.

The Senate CR proposes $2.327 billion for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account, which is $360 million below the FY 2011 request but nearly $300 million more than HR 1. The bill summary states that this level of funding maintains U.S. efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials in 4 years.

I have not seen a figure for the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program or the State Department’s nuclear security programs.  The draft Senate CR funds the Pentagon base budget at $513.6 billion and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at $157.8 billion for a total of $671.3 billion. That total is $17.3 billion less than the President’s request and $2.1 billion less than HR 1.

Also of note, the Senate CR provides $6.824 billion for NNSA’s weapons activities account, which is $185 million below the FY 2011 request but over $120 million more than HR 1.

The Senate will hold stand-alone votes on both HR 1 and the Senate Democratic alternative this week (probably tomorrow), both of which are likely to fail to achieve cloture.  Negotiations will then begin on a full year CR.  However the House and the Senate may not be able to reconcile their differences before the current two week CR expires on March 18, meaning there will likely be yet another short term CR to fund the government through the rest of March.

The Senate proposal for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account is an improvement over the House proposal, but it is still not enough. The number in the draft Senate CR is likely to be the high-water mark for NNSA’s nonproliferation budget for the next two years unless the administration and members of Congress make a strong push for the full FY2011 request.