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September 17, 2020

ICYMI: Inhofe at NNSA Budget Hearing: Nuclear Modernization 'Too Important' to Be Weakened by 'Political Manuevering'

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, gave opening remarks this morning at a committee hearing on budget matters relating to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Witnesses include: the Honorable Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration; the Honorable Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment; and Admiral Charles Richard, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command.

As Prepared For Delivery:

Good morning. The committee meets today to receive testimony on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request, and to address some concerning efforts to undermine NNSA’s relationship with the DOD.

I’d like to welcome our witnesses, including the first two women ever to head the Nation’s nuclear enterprise.  Our country is very fortunate to have your leadership in these challenging times: the Honorable Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration; the Honorable Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment and Chair of the Nuclear Weapons Council; and Admiral Charles Richard, Commander, United States Strategic Command. 

As this committee focuses on implementing the National Defense Strategy, nuclear modernization remains one of our top priorities.

When asked about his priorities for dealing with China and Russia, General Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “I think the very number-one [priority] for me and number-one [priority] stated for the Department of Defense is the modernization, recapitalization of the nation’s nuclear triad.” I couldn’t agree more.

Thanks to President Trump’s decisive leadership, we’re making great progress toward this goal. 

Unfortunately, we are here today to address a very real threat to our nuclear deterrent. But this threat isn’t from Russia or China – it’s one of our own making.

Coordination and transparency between DOD and NNSA is critical to modernizing the triad. But there are those who are trying to weaken that coordination, and I want to be clear – they are undermining our national security.  

Recently, I’ve learned that individuals from the Department of Energy have worked behind the scenes with House Democrats on ill-advised legislation that would: bury the Nuclear Weapons Council in unneeded bureaucracy and bring its decision-making process to a grinding halt; prohibit all cooperation between NNSA and the NWC for maintaining the safety and security of our nuclear weapons; destroy the NNSA’s congressionally-mandated independence and drag us back to the dysfunction of the Clinton years; and do lasting and possibly irreversible harm to the President’s efforts to preserve and improve our deterrent – an effort even former President Obama understood was necessary.

In fact, I have a letter from the Secretary of Defense objecting to these provisions, which I would like to enter into the record.

Secretary Esper writes, “After reviewing the recently House-passed FY 2021 Appropriations bill and National Defense Authorization bill, I would like to share with you my strong concerns with several interrelated aspects of these bills. If left unaddressed, provisions affecting DoD, DOE, and NNSA put modernization of the United States' nuclear deterrent at unacceptable risk.”

I also have a letter from the Chair of the NWC – who is here with us right now – that objects to these provisions. I would like to enter that into the record as well.

It’s not surprising that opponents of nuclear weapons support these efforts – it’s what you’d expect them to do. What bothers me is that people who should be doing all they can to support the critical work of the NNSA, are instead trying to undermine it. As chairman of this committee, I won’t stand idly by and allow this to happen. This work is too important.

I suppose we should have expected this sort of political maneuvering to continue after what happened earlier this year with the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request.

Because of what certain individuals at the Department of Energy did – cutting DOD out of the NNSA budget development process until the last minute – the budget coordination process broke down completely.

In the process, these bad actors actively misled the U.S. Congress. There was no misunderstanding. They lied to us, and later admitted it.

As a result, we had to go to the White House to save one of President Trump’s top priorities. When we took our case to the President, he agreed with us. He was frustrated and annoyed that simple coordination could go so wrong.

I applaud the President’s decisive action to resolve that issue. We all thought his clear direction would solve the near-term problem.

Then, to fix the longer-term problem, my friend Senator Reed and I drafted legislation to help DOD and NNSA improve their coordination efforts. These common-sense provisions passed easily out of committee with a bipartisan vote of 25-2.

These are simple measures to ensure DOD and NNSA officials have the necessary information required to do their jobs, keeping us safe and maximizing taxpayer dollars. These provisions were, and should remain, uncontroversial.

We know how this process should look. For example, DOD and the intelligence community work very closely to ensure intelligence programs meet military needs.

It’s a straightforward matter of good governance and effective civilian oversight. Our bill would do the same for the NNSA budget.

Keeping our nuclear modernization effort moving forward demands close cooperation between DOD and NNSA. The ability to see each other’s program and budget details is a fundamental requirement for realistic future planning. 

Without effective coordination, nuclear programs will face unnecessary cost overruns and schedule delays.

Dropping the ball on nuclear modernization means that we are disarming ourselves in slow motion, which puts us on a trajectory to fall farther behind our adversaries. 

That’s why Congress legislated coordination between DOD and DOE in the first place, all those years ago. That’s why the Nuclear Weapons Council exists.

All of you, and all of DOD and NNSA, want to work together more closely to ensure that nuclear modernization programs are correctly aligned and delivered on time, and we need the Department of Energy to join in this effort.

There has been much talk – a lot of it inaccurate – about this issue. So we have three members of the Nuclear Weapons Council here today to explain how we can improve DOD and NNSA coordination.

I want to commend the three of you for your work in modernizing the nation’s nuclear deterrent. Your efforts in the NWC have been some of the most productive I’ve seen. 

Our nuclear forces are absolutely critical to our nation’s security, and I would hate to see all your hard work undone by rogue actors who don’t support our shared efforts. We can’t let personal agendas distract us from this critical mission.

Thank you for appearing, and I look forward to your testimony.


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