A Bargain – But At What Cost?

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) released a new report today. Actions Needed to Identify Total Costs of Weapons Complex Infrastructure and Research and Production Capabilities, GAO-10-582, June 2010

I’ll start with the conclusion –

Within the global community, the Administration, and Congress, a bargain is being struck on nuclear weapons policy. Internationally, if the [START] treaty is ratified, significant stockpile reductions [will] have been negotiated between the United States and Russia. Domestically, a new Nuclear Posture Review has provided an updated policy framework for the nation’s nuclear deterrent. To enable this arms reduction agenda, the Administration is requesting from Congress billions of dollars in increased investment in the nuclear security enterprise to ensure that base scientific, technical, and engineering capabilities are sufficiently supported … For its part, NNSA must accurately identify these base capabilities and determine their costs in order to adequately justify future presidential budget requests and show the effects on its programs of potential budget increases. As it now stands, NNSA may not be accurately identifying the costs of base capabilities because … NNSA cannot identify the total costs to operate and maintain essential weapons activities facilities and infrastructure, … Without taking action to identify these costs, NNSA risks being unable to identify the return on investment of planned budget increases on the health of its base capabilities or to identify opportunities for cost saving…NNSA has the opportunity to mitigate these risks by addressing them through the ongoing revision of work breakdown structures and through identifying means of collecting the total costs … Without taking these actions, NNSA will not have the management information it needs to better justify future budget requests by making its justifications more transparent. Additionally, the availability of this information will assist Congress with its oversight function. (Pg. 25)

It looks like NNSA does not know exactly the total costs of its infrastructure budget, but it does know that it wants more. The report tells us that without identifying the total costs of products and capabilities, NNSA will be challenged to explain the effects of funding changes or justify the necessity for increased investment to support or enhance base capabilities. (Pg. 25)

The reduction in nuclear warhead numbers will mean an increase spending. “In such an environment, NNSA is likely to face increased scrutiny of its planning, programming, and budget execution to determine the effect of funding increases on the overall health of base capabilities.” (Pg. 24)

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