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Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise: NNSA's Budget Estimates Do Not Fully Align with Plans

GAO-14-45 Published: Dec 11, 2013. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2013.
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What GAO Found

The National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) total budget estimates for modernizing the nuclear security enterprise for fiscal years 2014 through 2031 have increased by about $19 billion overall when compared with the estimates in the agency's fiscal year 2012 budget materials, with most of the increase occurring in fiscal year 2019 and beyond. Factors such as sequestration, the achievability of planned cost savings, and pension liabilities could affect the accuracy of future budget estimates as presented.

Budget estimates for two of three areas discussed in NNSA's modernization plans may not represent total funding needed and therefore do not fully align with aspects of these plans. In the area of stockpile maintenance and refurbishment, budget estimates increased by $27 billion--accounting for more than the total increase of $19 billion to overall budget estimates for modernization--primarily due to changes in the way that NNSA calculated budget estimates for nuclear weapons refurbishment programs. However, NNSA's plans for two weapons refurbishment programs also indicate that additional funding may be needed before fiscal year 2019 to meet scheduled milestones. In the infrastructure and science, technology, and engineering capabilities areas, NNSA's budget estimates decreased slightly. However, in the infrastructure area, NNSA did not include in its budget estimates billions of dollars in planned major construction projects because officials said these infrastructure plans were too preliminary. Providing Congress with budget estimates that reflect long-term plans and the expected funding needed to execute these plans, even if preliminary, helps in prioritizing projects and funding and aids in congressional decision making.

Why GAO Did This Study

Nuclear weapons have been and continue to be an essential part of the nation's defense strategy. The end of the cold war resulted in a shift from designing, testing, and producing new nuclear weapons to maintaining the existing stockpile indefinitely and extending the operational lives of these weapons through refurbishment, without nuclear testing. At the same time, the production infrastructure for nuclear weapons has become outdated.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 mandated GAO to report annually on whether NNSA's nuclear security budget materials provide for sufficient funding to modernize and refurbish the nuclear security enterprise. This report addresses (1) changes to NNSA's budget estimates for modernizing the nuclear security enterprise since fiscal year 2012 and (2) the extent to which these budget estimates align with NNSA's modernization plans.

To answer these objectives, GAO reviewed NNSA's fiscal year 2012 and 2014 nuclear security budget materials, which are composed of NNSA's budget request justification and its Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, which describes modernization plans and budget estimates for the next 20 years or longer. GAO also interviewed NNSA and DOD program officials.


GAO recommends that NNSA include a range of budget estimates for preliminary projects and programs in future modernization plans. NNSA generally concurred with the recommendation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Nuclear Security Administration To improve the utility of future budget estimates and address the misalignment between modernization plans and budget estimates, the Administrator of NNSA should include in future modernization plans at least a range of potential budget estimates for projects and programs that the agency knows are needed, based on available information about these projects and programs' future costs.
Closed – Implemented
As a result of reviewing NNSA's fiscal year 2014 modernization plans, GAO recommended to the NNSA Administrator that future modernization plans could be improved by including at least a range of potential budget estimates for projects and programs that the agency knows are needed, based on available information about these projects and programs' future costs. GAO reviewed NNSA's fiscal year 2015 modernization plans (GAO-15-499) and reported that the 2015 version of the plans represented an improvement in that the plans (1) included preliminary estimates (at the midpoint of a low-high cost range) for large construction projects previously omitted, and (2) increased from $364 million to $851 million (current year dollars) budgeted for construction projects scheduled for the 20 years after the FYNSP, which is a figure more consistent with identified need.

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