The press is calling the budget released by the Trump Administration the “skinny budget” because it only has top line numbers, without a lot of detail. It also puts much of the government on a diet, with significant cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and other agencies the Trump Administration considers superfluous when it comes to making America great.
It ain’t no skinny budget when it comes to the military, though. Despite a January 2015 report by the Defense Business Board that stated: “We can see a clear path to saving over $125 billion in the next five years”, President Trump believes the Department of Defense needs a $54 billion raise. The report of the Board showed these savings would not inhibit profits of the private sector—they would still show a 7% gain over the five years, and money would even be set aside to modernize the military and fund “warfighter needs.” The Washington Post reported a year later on how deeply this report was buried.
The Pentagon increase is getting the lion’s share of press, and rightly so. But here’s a little-noticed (or little-reported) fact. The Trump budget increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration—the nuclear weapons people—is, percentage-wise, greater than the raise the DoD is getting! The Pentagon gets a 10% raise; NNSA gets an 11.3% raise, to $13.9 billion. Other energy programs are cut by 18%, bringing them down to $14.1 billion. In other words, we’ll spend as much on nuclear weapons as we will on all other energy programs put together.
Where will the money in the NNSA’s larded “fat budget” go? The Trump budget doesn’t offer a lot of details, but these tidbits give you the picture—the budget allows for shifting money around to accelerate warhead Life Extension Programs by eliminating defense sequestration for the NNSA. It also allows the NNSA to address its critical infrastructure maintenance backlog—money that could easily be directed to the construction of the new UPF bomb plant in Oak Ridge instead of cleaning up the excess high-risk facilities that dot the weapons complex (the three worst, according to the DOE Inspector General, are in Oak Ridge).
Or perhaps they’ll just take the money out of the cleanup budget, since the Environmental Management side of the budget includes permission to support “modernization of the nuclear security enterprise.”
How the Trump budget fares in Congress remains to be seen, but it’s a fair guess that the relevant Republican controlled committees in the House and Senate, whose leadership is positioned to direct funds to weapons programs and communities, will be happy to adopt this spending plan. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, for instance, chairs the Senate Appropriations Water and Energy Development Subcommittee, the subcommittee funds the UPF and other NNSA construction projects.
As Congress begins to discuss the budget, you can be sure they will hear from the contractors who will profit from this budget—Bechtel, Lockheed Martin and others. The only chance of stopping this influx of money to the NNSA is for citizens to make themselves heard as well.