April 27, 2001

Tarter says FY2002 budget could hinder threat reduction work

A strongly supported Stockpile Stewardship Program is needed to ensure the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear arsenal over the long term, Director Bruce Tarter told the Senate Committee on Armed Services Wednesday. Likewise, strong and sustained support is needed in what Tarter called "the other side of the national security coin" — threat reduction activities such as nonproliferation, counterproliferation and counterterrorism.

Tarter appeared before the Senate committee to speak on behalf of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2002. His testimony provided an overview of the Lab’s stockpile stewardship accomplishments in 2000 as well as the challenges that lay ahead. These accomplishments include the certification of the refurbishment of the W87, continued computations advances via the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, "excellent technical progress" on the National Ignition Facility, the success of the Counterproliferation Analysis and Planning System, and continued U.S-Russia collaborations to secure at-risk Soviet-legacy nuclear materials.

Despite such notable achievements, a number of the national laboratories’ threat reduction programs are facing major funding cuts, Tarter said. "The future of some of these activities will depend on high-level reassessments currently under way by the Administration," Tarter said. "Others will depend on establishment of better understanding of their importance in the overall threat reduction strategy and our confidence in overcoming the sheer difficulty of the technical challenges they entail."

Of greatest concern, Tarter said, are the nonproliferation and verification research and development programs. These programs provide the science and technology base for the U.S. agencies with operational responsibility for characterizing foreign weapons programs and detecting proliferation-related activities, for detecting and mitigating the use of weapons of mass destruction against U.S. civilians, and for negotiating and monitoring compliance with arms-reduction and other agreements. "Because the threat is continually evolving, as adversaries employ more sophisticated denial and deception and as more detailed treaties are negotiated, we must continually push the technical state of the art to develop new capabilities," Tarter said.

"The importance of these programs has been recognized by the Congress in the last two years, when it markedly increased funding for these activities above the president’s request."

For FY2002, however, the budget line is slated for a 25 percent cut in operating funds, which will have a significant impact on delivery of the capabilities that are being developed by these programs, Tarter added.

The Stockpile Stewardship Program’s success has depended upon continued strong support from Congress and the dedicated efforts of the people working within the program, Tarter said. "The first real test of this program," as Adm. Richard Mies, U.S. STRATCOM commander in chief said of the formal certification of the W87, is the most recent proof of the need for continued congressional support, Tarter cited, "It is fair to say we passed, but the test was not easy," Tarter said of the W87 certification. "As weapons continue to age, the tests will get harder and our capabilities to answer questions need to improve. Acquisition of these capabilities is time urgent to meet existing requirements for weapons refurbishment and to deal with other weapon performance issues that might arise.

"Additional support in FY2002 would help relieve a number of stresses that are arising as the program continues to mature and face greater tests."

Tarter concluded by re-emphasizing the dependence on R&D to ensure continued success of U.S. threat reduction efforts. "With greater technical capabilities, the United States can better monitor compliance with arms-reduction and other agreements," Tarter explained. "Sustained support for cutting-edge research and development, at current funding levels at least, is essential to counter the wide range of WMD threats."