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A Nuclear Budget to Kill For?

2:13 PM, Dec 2, 2010
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In the discussion of the relationship between ratification of the new START treaty and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget for maintaining our nuclear weapons stockpile, an oft heard war cry in favor of ratification is that the Obama Administration’s budget is one that former NNSA Administrator, Ambassador Linton Brooks “would have killed for.” 

In fact, Ambassador Brooks recently reiterated this statement saying, “But these budgets include significant increases over the budgets that I worked with.  I’ve said publicly that I would have killed for these budgets.”  Without implying that there is anything untoward in the Ambassador’s closet, has anyone done any fact checking of this statement?

Ambassador Brooks became the Administrator of NNSA on May 16, 2003 and left that position on January 4, 2007.  Thus, he inherited the FY2003 budget, led during the FY2004-FY2006 budgets and left partway through the FY2007 budget.  The NNSA Weapons Activities budgets as appropriated for those years were; $5,954 million in FY2003, $6,273 million in FY2004, $6,226 million in FY2005, $6,434 million in FY2006, and $6,275 million in 2007.  It should be noted that in FY2005, the Department of Defense transferred $300 million to the Weapons Activities account, bringing the available FY2005 funds to $6,526 million.  Compared directly to the FY2011 budget, the modern budget request does appear generous.  To stop funding here, however, would of course be an inaccurate and misleading comparison.  Obviously, the value of money, due to inflation and other factors, is not a constant over time.

In examining the relative value of these budgets, it might be easiest to compare the dollars and cents in terms of the current value of money—a 2010 valuation.  Using historical data, prior year budgets can be converted to 2010 values.  Likewise, assumptions on future rates of inflation allow comparison between the proposed future budgets and the current assessment.  For this comparison, we will assume that the FY2011 budget reflects the 2010 valuation, and we can compare prior budgets directly with the requested $7 billion for weapon activities.

Using official U.S. estimates of inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the 2003 budget would be adjusted more than 18% and the 2007 by 5% leading to the “Linton Brooks” budgets (in 2010 dollars) of: $7,060 million, $7,245 million, $7,290 million, 6,963 million and 6,603 million for FY2003 through FY2007.  Assuming an extremely low future rate of inflation of 1.5% per year, the FY2015 budget has a value of only $7,140 million in 2010 dollars.  Clearly, Ambassador Brooks had more to work with than he remembers (though that last year made for a sour departure), suggesting that his leadership left a bad taste on Capitol Hill.

 As this simple assessment shows, the FY2011 budget request did not match the level of investment that NNSA and Ambassador Brooks enjoyed from 2004 to 2005.  In fact, the Administration has also conceded this point: “From FY 2005 to FY 2010, a downward trend in the budget for Weapons Activities at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) resulted in a loss of purchasing power of approximately 20 percent.”  The FY2011 budget only improved on the FY2010 budget by about 10%, leaving quite a gap in purchasing power from FY2005.  With this admission, and the recognition that significant portions of the complex were still underfunded, the Administration recognized the need to provide an even more significant boost to the Weapons Activities FY2012 budget request.  They plan to increase the budget and additional $600 million in FY2012 and correspondingly through FY2016.  For comparison with the FY2011 request above, the projected budget requirement for FY2015 is now $8,700 million.  In 2010 dollars, this updated request has a value of $7,370 million in FY2012 rising to $8,070 million in FY2015. 

A budget worth killing for? – Debatable.  A budget that finally starts to correct the previous years of neglect of our nuclear weapons infrastructure? That's much more probable if it is properly funded.

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