Morning Briefing - May 29, 2019
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May 29, 2019

House Budget Would Extend NNSA Nonproliferation Streak of Funding Increases

By ExchangeMonitor

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) program to keep nuclear and radiological materials out of the hands of bad actors would be funded at or above the requested level for the fifth year in a row, if a fiscal 2020 spending bill the House Appropriations Committee passed last week becomes law.

The spike in funding, if enshrined in law, would not be dramatic: about 7% more than the White House request, or almost $2 billion. The account has surfed between $1 billion and $2 billion annually for the past 15 years, previous spending bills show.

This year, House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee Chair Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) went to bat for the nonproliferation account, for which the Donald Trump administration had actually proposed a modest 3% increase. That was too modest for Kaptur, who pointed out that the White House’s preferred NNSA nonproliferation budget would cut the Global Material Security account from the current enacted level — almost 16% to about $405 million.

Kaptur repeated that observation during a full committee markup last week, where full panel Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and all her Democratic colleagues voted to move the energy funding bill to the House floor. 

That vote, in a theatrical bit of quintessentially Washingtonian paradox, happened right around the same time that some of the highest-ranking people in the U.S. nuclear security enterprise had gathered just across the street and down the road to celebrate one of the programs the White House’s budget would have snipped: Nuclear Smuggling Detection and Deterrence.

That program, once called the Second Line of Defense, grew out of the sort of nonproliferation activities that predate the roughly 20 year-old NNSA bureaucracy: stopping Soviet-made nuclear technology and materials from spreading like dandelion seeds after the end of the Cold War.

Kaptur was scheduled to speak at that event, but had to skip it in order to approve a budget that recommended almost $160 million for Nuclear Smuggling Detection and Deterrence in 2020: around 10% more than the $140 million recommended by the White House. That would represent a roughly 8% year-over-year cut from about $150 million in 2019.