Washington (July 30, 2020) – Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report requested by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The Senators requested the GAO Report in February. They asked the GAO to identify what steps, if any, the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have taken since Fiscal Year 2017 to address rising U.S. nuclear weapons modernization costs. In 2017, the GAO recommended that NNSA consider “deferring the start of or cancelling specific modernization programs” to flatten the sharp uptick in the NNSA’s weapons activities budget. Instead, NNSA and the Department of Defense, which sets nuclear weapons requirements, have gone in the opposite direction by accelerating, not scaling back, multi-billion dollar modernization projects to implement President Donald Trump’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).
The GAO report suggests that the already excessive figure upwards of $1.2 trillion the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the United States will spend over the next three decades on nuclear-weapons spending will actually end up being a much larger figure unless NNSA programs are scaled back or scrapped. In fact, NNSA’s weapons activities Fiscal Year request is 25 percent above the enacted amount for Fiscal Year 2020, an increase that GAO projects will be sustained over the next five fiscal years. The GAO report also finds that the Trump administration has not considered the additional costs to the nuclear weapons enterprise that would result if President Trump allows the New START Treaty with the Russian Federation to expire in February 2021, as he has threatened. The GAO report reads: “DOD is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its existing force structure.”
“The GAO’s sober analysis makes clear what we already knew: we cannot afford well over a trillion dollars in gold-plated nuclear modernization programs,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The GAO sounds the alarm that the Trump administration wish-list to build new types of nuclear weapons in new multi-billion dollar facilities is not only unnecessary, it’s not sustainable, at least not without sacrificing other funding priorities. If Congress fails to restore sanity to the nuclear weapons budget and President Trump pushes the New START Treaty with Russia off the ledge, we risk tumbling into an unaffordable and unwinnable 21st century arms race.”
“The GAO today reported the government will have to set aside billions of dollars more to support our nuclear weapons program,” said Senator Feinstein, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water of the Appropriations Committee. “This is particularly alarming considering we already expect to spend a stunning $1.2 trillion over the next three decades. And if New START expires, as President Trump has threatened, the costs would climb even more to keep pace with Russia. We already have more than enough weapons to destroy the world many times over, and at a time of economic crisis, the administration must consider delaying or terminating some of our nuclear weapons programs in order to keep the potentially crushing costs under control.”
In June, Senators Markey and Feinstein introduced the Hastening Arms Limitation Talks (HALT) Act, legislation which calls on President Trump to extend the New START Treaty and take other steps to reduce the salience and number of nuclear weapons globally, in part through entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the negotiation of a verifiable treaty placing limits on fissile material.