President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 aims to pump an extra $589 million into building nuclear bombs. What will he get for that sum? Pretty much the same results that President Obama expected a year ago, when they appeared to cost much less.
The Trump administration has proposed to make room for the new nuclear weapons spending by cutting expenditures in other areas at the Department of Energy, including scientific research that looks at alternatives to fossil fuels. It also has proposed a 65-percent cut in the budget for a program that helps other countries keep the ingredients for a nuclear weapon out of terrorists’ hands.
“That is certainly a broad statement of priorities,” observed Matthew Bunn, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who has worked as an advisor to the government on nuclear security and terrorism.
Despite the new funds, mostly to be spent for modernization of four warheads, the timetables for the completion of these programs wouldn’t be accelerated, and none of the additional money would be spent on new initiatives surpassing Obama’s aggressive nuclear modernization plans.
“In this budget, they’re not doing any new nuclear weapon projects, they’re just continuing the Obama administration’s modernization plan,” said Hans Kristensen, an analyst at the Federation of American Scientists who closely follows nuclear weapons programs. “It’s not clear to me that this budget increase is going to amount to more and quicker.”
It’s not surprising that the expense of holding the status quo went up, according to Kristensen. In fact, he expects the costs of Obama’s modernization campaign, estimated by independent groups to total around $1 trillion over the next three decades, will continue to climb.
“There will almost certainly be a greater expense. No doubt about it. Unless some miracle has happened, this is always the trend with these massive programs,” he said. “They will not come in on time or on budget. That’s a fact. To portray [it] otherwise is just a little silly.”
The NNSA has long understated the costs of modernizing America’s nuclear arsenal, according to a report last month by the Government Accountability Office. Its auditors flagged what they called a “misalignment” between NNSA’s budget requests to the president and the agency’s internal estimates of what modernizing the arsenal will cost.
They said NNSA’s internal estimates for the years 2018 to 2021 are “below the funding levels NNSA has identified as needed for those efforts.” This lowballing will haunt the NNSA in the future, the GAO said, as it keeps deferring inadequately-funded modernization work to future years, pushing an additional bump-up in costs out to 2022 through 2026.