Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget

Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget
© Greg Nash

The Senate on Thursday nixed a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have limited the Department of Energy’s (DOE) control over a nuclear security agency's budget. 

The upper chamber had proposed including in the must-pass legislation a stipulation that would have given the Nuclear Weapons Council, which includes personnel from both the Defense and Energy departments, review power over the Energy secretary’s proposed budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). 

However, the chamber unanimously adopted an amendment from Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHouse-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse Coronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding MORE (D-WVa.) and Senators Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mike Roman says 3M on track to deliver 2 billion respirators globally and 1 billion in US by end of year; US, Pfizer agree to 100M doses of COVID-19 vaccine that will be free to Americans Overnight Energy: Supreme Court reinstates fast-track pipeline permit except for Keystone XL | Judge declines to reverse Dakota Access Pipeline shutdown OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget MORE (D-Wash.) that gives the DOE final say. 

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“We’re so glad that we were able to stop efforts to usurp civilian control of nuclear weapons spending and protect the Department of Energy’s funding for critical nuclear waste cleanup programs," Cantwell said in a statement. 

Previously, the amendment had met opposition from both the Trump administration and a group of bipartisan senators. 

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette wrote to lawmakers this week to argue that the provision risks underfunding the NNSA. 

“Granting the Department of Defense (DoD) the role of final arbiter of DOE’s annual budget violates DOE’s position as a distinct and equal Cabinet-level agency,” Brouillette wrote. 

“Such authority, providing DoD broad control over the NNSA’s budget, restricts the President’s capacity in exercising his responsibility to set budget levels, and subjects the priorities of NNSA to DoD’s discretion, potentially causing setbacks and underfunding of other critically important missions of the NNSA,” he added. 

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Similarly, Cantwell and Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderChamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection Pelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive Senate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag MORE (R-Tenn.) led a bipartisan group in penning opposition to the measure. 

“As currently written, the Senate NDAA bill would strip the Secretary of Energy of the ability to manage some of the most sensitive national security programs that account for almost half of the Department’s budget,” the nine senators wrote. 

“Such changes could impede accountability and Congressional oversight, as well as imperil future funding for other critical DOE responsibilities such as promoting scientific and technological innovation, managing our National Laboratories, sponsoring basic research in the physical sciences, and ensuring cleanup of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex,” they added.

Senate Armed Services Committee spokeswoman Marta Hernandez defended the provision in an email to The Hill. 

“What the NDAA does is clarify and strengthen existing law that requires coordination between the Department of Defense and the NNSA on its budget development,” Hernandez said. 

“The existing mechanisms have not been effective, and in recent years, DOD has functionally not even seen the NNSA budget until after it is finalized and ready to transmit to Congress,” she added. “The Senate NDAA tries to address those problems by clarifying the process for the future — making it more specific on how the interagency coordinates and approves the NNSA budget.” 

Currently, the Energy Department oversees the NNSA budgeting process. 

The NNSA is an agency within the Energy Department that uses nuclear science for military purposes. It is charged with maintaining the nuclear weapons stockpile and responding to nuclear emergencies, among other duties.

Updated 5:43 p.m.