Earlier this month the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing to review the FY 2012 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). There was bipartisan support and appreciation for the work performed by the NNSA, with much interest in its work to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.
Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) noted in his opening remarks that NNSA’s budget was the only program in the subcommittee’s jurisdiction that was “held harmless and for good reason” in one of the continuing resolutions that maintained government-wide funding. Looking ahead, Frelinghuysen said “it’s highly unlikely there will be any new funding in Fiscal Year 2012 for our subcommittee.” Frelinghuysen went on to say the subcommittee must do its part to cut federal spending, and warned, “resources will be constrained even for the most essential of activities under our jurisdiction.”
Addressing Thomas D’Agostino, Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and the Administrator of NNSA, chairman Frelinghuysen made perhaps the central point in the hearing when he said:
“I am aware that the Administration's request for Fiscal Year 2012 for Weapons Activities asks for a substantial increase. Compared to Fiscal Year 2010, this request is $1.2 billion or 20 percent higher. Mr. Administrator, in the fiscal environments that we are now facing, that request is unlikely to be met. However, Mr. Administrator, I promise you a fair and thoughtful hearing, but with the proviso that new resources will not be available unless they come from existing accounts. No account in this request will be spared, and you'll have to ensure that we understand, and I'm sure you will, the need for every dollar you request.”
Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ) concurred on the subcommittee’s need for a full understanding of NNSA’s programs:
“this is the second consecutive budget request for weapons with a large increase intended to ensure the safety, reliability, and security of our nuclear weapons stockpile. We have supported the President's commitment to complex modernization . . . . I join the Chairman in believing that the NNSA must provide the Subcommittee detailed information on how you plan to execute this expanded program. In these challenging budget times, it is encumbered upon all of us to ensure that the taxpayer's hard-earned dollar is used efficiently and effectively.”
The testimony, and the questions asked and answered were carefully worded because of the nature of NNSA’s programs. In several instances D’Agostino and the other two witnesses, Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Donald Cook and Brig Gen Sandra Finan, Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application, offered to provide additional information in a classified setting.
There were no “red flags” that arose during this hearing. The witnesses and subcommittee members agreed on the importance of what D’Agostino called “the best science and research in the world,” the need for critical upgrades to NNSA’s infrastructure (some of which dates to 1952), and to support and protect its workforce. Members asked about NNSA’s programs as they relate to the new START treaty and the Nuclear Posture Review, warhead dismantlement, and the life extension program for several warheads. There was discussion of NNSA’s strategy to have a smaller enterprise by reducing redundancies.
Members were also interested in what is being done to improve communications and coordination between NNSA and other federal departments and agencies. There were carefully worded discussions about the Russian and Chinese nuclear weapons programs. The witnesses described the critical importance of Livermore’s National Ignition Facility, Sandia’s Z Pulsed Power Facility, and the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility at Los Alamos to NNSA’s stockpile stewardship program. Frelinghuysen wanted to know how NNSA was responding to issues that were raised about a tritium readiness program that was investigated by the Government Accountability Office.
Chairman Frelinghuysen ended the two-hour hearing by telling the witnesses, “I want to thank you all for being here, for your participation, for your education, and may I say, for the work that you do each and every day.” From the tone of the hearing, it was evident that Frelinghuysen was speaking for the members of the subcommittee, and was addressing all of the employees of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Note that selections are from a transcript prepared by and used with the permission of CQ Roll Call.