By MIA STEINLE
The agency responsible for the nation’s nuclear weapons cannot ensure its own budget is credible, which may result in overspending, according to a federal investigative office.
The National Nuclear Security Administration “does not thoroughly review” the budget estimates it compiles from U.S. nuclear weapon sites before it draws up its annual budget request to Congress, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The eight nuclear weapons sites are managed and operated by private contractors for the government.
Senior agency officials told the GAO that there is an “inherent trust” between the agency and the nuclear sites. Additionally, they said that a lack of “financial and personnel resources” mean a formal review of the budget is unrealistic.
The National Nuclear Security Administration is a semiautonomous agency within the Department of Energy. It is “responsible for the nation’s nuclear weapons, nonproliferation, and naval reactors programs,” according to the GAO. Its proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 is more than $11.5 billion, which is almost half of the entire Department of Energy budget.
Agency officials also told the GAO that they don’t follow a Department of Energy policy that requires a formal review of the budget because it expired in 2003. However, department officials told the GAO the policy still stands.
“By not adhering to these provisions,” the GAO said the agency “is reducing the creditability of its budget proposals.”
The GAO report comes at a time when rising costs of nuclear weapons projects are turning into “a serious liability for the [agency] as it tries to fend off criticism from Congress,” John Fleck reported for the Albuquerque Journal. He cited the proposed nuclear facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico as a point of contention. The GAO noted that the cost of this project has increased sixfold since its inception.
The GAO also cited the rising cost of the Uranium Processing Facility in Tennessee as a concern. Given the agency’s “record of weak management of major projects,” the GAO said improved oversight of the agency is necessary to ensure responsible spending.
Mia Steinle is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight.