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August 4, 2015

Ten-Year, $264 Billion Nuclear Weapons Spending Estimate Leaves Out Some Things

Over the next decade, maintaining and modernizing nuclear weapon capabilities will cost $263.8 billion, according to a joint estimate by the departments of Defense and Energy. But a new report suggests that figure might fall far short of what the United States will actually spend.

The Government Accountability Office noted that the estimate doesn’t include the Air Force’s plans to develop a new bomber, or modernize intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“Consequently, DOD may be significantly underreporting its 10-year estimate, depending on the magnitude of the costs resulting from upcoming decisions about how to modernize these delivery systems,” a GAO report released Tuesday concluded.

“Air Force officials told us that it would be premature to include potential budget estimates for development programs in their early stages because their long-term costs are uncertain,” the report states, and added that the Air Force considered a specific bomber estimate too sensitive to include in the joint report with the DOE, produced annually for Congress.

But the GAO said the Pentagon should’ve supplied at least a range of possible estimates for the new bomber and ICBM modernization, rather than an assumption of no cost at all: “Without a range of potential estimates and fully documented assumptions and limitations, the report is an incomplete tool for congressional oversight.”

The “fully documented assumptions” part is a criticism of how DOD came up with its $40.8 billion estimate for nuclear command, control and communications, or NC3; the report states that the department didn’t do a good job of explaining how it arrived at the figure.

On the DOE side, the estimate doesn’t include enough funding for planned nuclear weapon life extensions and construction of key facilities, the GAO determined.

“To improve the completeness and transparency of subsequent joint reports, GAO recommends that the Secretary of Defense direct DOD components to (1) include at least a range of potential 10-year budget estimates for projects and programs, based on preliminary cost information (this is consistent with a December 2013 recommendation GAO made to DOE); and (2) document assumptions and limitations affecting its NC3 funding estimates,” the report stats. “DOD agreed with these recommendations.”

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