Nuclear Weapons Sustainment:
Fiscal Year 2018 Nuclear Forces Budget Estimates
GAO-19-127R: Published: Nov 2, 2018. Publicly Released: Nov 2, 2018.
The Departments of Defense and Energy estimate that modernizing the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost billions of dollars over the next decade. The departments are required to update their 10-year cost estimates annually and report them to Congress.
Their fiscal year 2018 report was based on the President's fiscal year 2018 budget. However, the Nuclear Posture Review was released subsequent to the budget. It establishes nuclear weapons policy and called for changes that will impact costs—such as adding a new type of nuclear cruise missile. Officials from both departments expect the changes to be reflected in the next report.
Technician preparing missile component for maintenance
Photo of a technician examining cone-shaped piece of missile on a table.
What GAO Found
The Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Energy (DOE) jointly reported in fiscal year 2018 on plans and budget estimates for nuclear weapons modernization and sustainment. Their joint report was based on the fiscal year 2018 President's Budget issued in May 2017 and DOE's fiscal year 2018 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan--the more detailed planning document on which DOE's portion of the joint report is based--issued in November 2017. Therefore, the joint report did not capture key programmatic changes in nuclear weapon modernization plans resulting from the February 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which establishes policy on U.S. nuclear forces. Examples of such changes include the proposal for a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead and a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile. DOD and DOE officials stated that they expect the fiscal year 2019 joint report will be issued in fall 2018 and will begin to reflect NPR-based changes. Our assessment of the DOD budget estimates found that they were generally accurate and complete based on the underlying data used by DOD to create them. DOE provided budget estimates for only 1 of 10 required years in the joint report, given the timing of the issuance of the NPR. DOE noted in the joint report that it "will make a policy judgment" on budget amounts for future years in accordance with the NPR.
Our assessment of DOD's and DOE's budget estimating methodologies found that the departments had taken some steps to address our prior recommendations on their methodologies, though the recommendations have not been fully addressed. For example, DOD provided more information about its nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) budget methodology in the fiscal year 2018 joint report than it had in previous joint reports; however, it did not explain certain assumptions related to the methodology. We expect to further evaluate any actions taken in response to our recommendations when we evaluate the fiscal year 2019 joint report.
Why GAO Did This Study
DOD and DOE are undertaking an extensive, multifaceted effort to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities, including the nuclear weapons stockpile; the research and production infrastructure; delivery systems; and the NC3 system. The strategic missiles, submarines, and aircraft--and the nuclear weapons carried by these delivery systems--are aging and being deployed beyond their intended service lives. Many of the key facilities for nuclear weapons research, development, and production date back to the 1940s and 1950s. DOD and DOE estimates show that nuclear sustainment and modernization efforts are expected to cost billions of dollars over the next decade.
Section 1043 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, as amended, requires the President, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Energy, to submit a report on the plan for the nuclear weapons stockpile, complex, delivery systems, and command and control system for each of fiscal years 2013 through 2023. DOD and DOE develop this annual report, which we refer to as the joint report. This joint report is to include nuclear sustainment and modernization plans as well as associated budget estimates for the 10 years following the date of the report, and must also include a detailed description of the costs included in the budget estimates and the methodology used to develop the estimates. Section 1043 of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2012, as amended, also includes a provision that we review each joint report for accuracy and completeness with respect to the budget estimates and the methodologies that were used to develop the estimates.
This report assesses the extent to which the fiscal year 2018 joint report provides accurate and complete information about nuclear sustainment and modernization budget estimates and related budget estimating methodologies. To address this objective, we analyzed the budget data underlying the estimates in the joint report, assessed DOD's and DOE's implementation of our prior recommendations on budget estimating methodologies, and met with DOD and DOE officials regarding our analyses.
What GAO Recommends
GAO is not making any recommendations.