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Key NDAA Reforms: Nuclear Weapons Complex Edition

This week, the House rejected key amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have prevented rollbacks of oversight at our nation's nuclear weapons labs and would have maintained zero funding for an unnecessary $6 billion plutonium facility. These excellent amendments were rejected by GOP leadership and not brought to the House floor for the vote.

But it's not too late. There's hope that comparable measures will make it into the Senate version of the bill. It's time for Congress to realize that the Cold War is over.

Here's a quick look at two of our recommended reforms to the NDAA:

Preventing the Rollback of Oversight at Nuclear Labs

We’re been talking a lot recently about the problems with the Department of Energy's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) laboratory system—it's too big and too expensive for post-Cold War America, and both the NNSA and its contractor-operated labs are loathe to make public important documents that give taxpayers a better picture of their performance. There’s already a tremendous lack of oversight. So why is the House trying to roll back health, safety, security, and financial oversight at these troubled nuclear weapons labs?

Reps. George Miller (D-CA), Peter Visclosky (D-IN), and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) proposed an amendment that would have ensured that NNSA nuclear weapons labs aren’t given a free pass. The amendment took aim at sections of the NDAA that give the labs the ability to self-regulate and to lower health and safety standards. It also would have struck a section that strips the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board of its independence. Simply put, the amendment would have prevented dangerous rollbacks of oversight of nuclear weapons and serious repercussions for public health and safety.

Time to Zero Out Funding for Nuclear Boondoggle

POGO asked the House of Representatives to support a proposed amendment to the NDAA by Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Hank Johnson (D-GA) to restore cuts  to the federal government’s $6 billion boondoggle, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF).But we’re definitely not the only ones who want to end funding for CMRR-NF. There has been a flood of testimony and articles from experts who think it’s time to zero out funding for this proposed money pit once and for all.

President Obama has already proposed holding funding for CMRR-NF for the next five years. Importantly, both the  House and Senate Appropriations Committees provided zero funding for CMRR-NF in their FY 2013 bills. So why are we even still talking about this issue? Recently, the House Armed Services Committee defied logic by approving an amendment by Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) that would appropriate $160 million back to the facility.

Funding this facility may have made sense as part of a Cold War strategy, but it certainly doesn’t make any sense today.

As Nickolas Roth of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian have pointed out, the NDAA provision fails to acknowledge the fact that CMRR-NF doesn’t have support from the Pentagon or the NNSA.

"If the DoD believed it essential to spend $6 billion on the CMRR-NF, it would have already allocated money for the project. In fact, the DoD, since 2011, has been transferring money to NNSA for projects it deemed essential. It is clear that the Pentagon, in conjunction with NNSA, had already decided that it could not afford to build the CMRR and adequately fund or manage other high priority nuclear modernization activities, as well," Roth and Brian wrote.  

So Rep. Turner and GOP leadership that blocked consideration of the Markey-Sanchez-Johnson Amendment are essentially going rogue in order to save a facility that POGO and countless other experts have called a “project without a cause,” whose estimated price tag has climbed from $375 million to $3.7 to $5.9 billion.

According to Stephen Young, senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, “There is no need for the United States to increase pit production…and even if there [is], the existing plutonium facility at Los Alamos could expand production without building the replacement nuclear facility.”

William Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, said that Rep. Turner’s nuclear proposals “would take us back to the worst days of the Cold War, when political posturing and inflated fears drove a dangerous, costly, and counterproductive arms race.”

So don’t just take it from us: the House missed a big opportunity to save taxpayer dollars on CMRR-NF. Let’s hope the Senate doesn’t make the same mistake.

By: Mia Steinle
Investigator, POGO

Mia Steinle, Investigator Mia Steinle is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight and the civil society coordinator for the U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Her work focuses on government management of the oil, gas, and mining industries.

By: Dana Liebelson
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

dana liebelson At the time of publication, Dana Liebelson was POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Nuclear Security, Nuclear Weapons Complex Oversight

Authors: Dana Liebelson, Mia Steinle

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