June 24, 2021
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today questioned witnesses about the deplorable state of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) facilities and how the proposed budget will support much-needed facility maintenance.
Witnesses included: Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy; and Dr. Charles Verdon, Acting Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and Acting Administrator, NNSA.
Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We're putting this exhibit up. I know you've both seen it, and you’re very familiar with it. We want to make sure it's in view of the camera, and make sure that everyone understands what we’re trying to say here. Last summer, the previous NNSA administrator testified that more than a third of the NNSA’s facilities are over 60 years old. We know that, and we've heard, and that that is a problem. Secretary Granholm, I’d first asked you, have you personally seen and witnessed and toured these facilities.
Granholm: No, I have not yet because of the COVID restrictions, but I look forward to doing so.
Inhofe: Yes, I knew that was your answer, and I know that's right, and you and I talked about this. So I would ask, on the record, will you personally do that?
Inhofe: That's good, that's good. When our adversaries are rapidly building up their nuclear arsenals, why would we be cutting the funding of our basic facility maintenance? Now, everybody knows that during the last administration, there was a problem, a relational problem, between your predecessor and me and some of the others up here. I want to make sure that we all want to do the same thing, and from our conversations, I believe that we do, and I'm looking forward to a great relationship, unlike the previous administration’s relationship with me.
Dr. Verdon, you're an expert. In the past years, NNSA officials stated that they need real, sustained growth every year to keep the nuclear modernization on track. How will flat or reduced budget affect the NNSA ability to meet the DOD requirements over time, should that be the case? Would you expand on that a little bit? What would be the effect if we fail to come up with the right approach to this?
Verdon: Yes, sir. So when we put the ‘22 request together, we took a hard look at all of the requirements as we understood them and were given to them by the Department of Defense and all we had to do to meet those requirements. We did the best risk balancing that we could across the complex. We ensured that warheads got the funding that they absolutely needed, that the major facility modernizations got the funding they absolutely needed. In the area of infrastructure operations, what we looked at there was — that was one of the areas during the COVID pandemic that we actually had to do some slowdowns, and so we recognize that we will have higher-than-usual carryovers in those areas. So that's why we reduced some of the requests that we…originally we're thinking about. We reduced them in recognition of the fact that we just couldn't put the number of people necessary within the square footage to get the work accomplished in a safe and effective manner. So that was what one of the reasons we lowered the request from some initial thoughts, was just the realization that COVID had a larger impact in that area. But again, we think we can accomplish — we’re working with the sites so we can accomplish all the work required to sustain the, you know — to keep the infrastructure moving forward. As I say, all the major facility modernizations are supported, and so that was, you know, a lot of the thinking. And then the other important area in the infrastructure modernization that looks like an artificial downturn is that the uranium processing facility is at its highest funding at fiscal year ‘21, and it's beginning its natural roll-off in FY ’22, so that almost accounts for $100 million or more of the reduction in FY ‘22 is just a natural roll-off that’s beginning at the uranium processing facility, but I think the important message is, we believe we can accomplish with the budget request is as presented, all the key things that we have to do in FY ’22.
Inhofe: Dr. Verdon, it's understandable some of the things that we had to go through during the pandemic. We do understand that, and we understand the response and the results of that. But now, we're out of that, and we're on our way, and the necessity for us to get back in the game?
Verdon: Yes, agree. I mean, your pictures are worth 1,000 words. We have a lot of infrastructure work to do, and as I say, we kept a major focus on the modernization because that, in some sense, is deferred maintenance, as well. Some of the buildings, it's the faster we can replace the better, the better off we are, instead of putting money to try to keep all buildings functioning.
Inhofe: In your background, have you ever seen more deplorable conditions that we’re witnessing here?
Verdon: Some of those buildings are, they’re eye-opening to go through them, and that is, you know — that’s some of the challenges we face is still trying to keep them functioning. The sites are commended for still accomplishing the work at some of those facilities.
Inhofe: I thank both of you, and thank you, Mr. Chairman.