Jeffrey LewisDEPSECDEF Deeply Confused

I was reading some recent RRW testimony, when I noticed that Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England was not aware that nuclear weapons programs were largely funded out of the Department of Energy budget.

I often mistake esoteric facts for common knowledge — call it the curse of the wonk. But, shouldn’t the Deputy Secretary know whether or not his department is responsible for the lions share of nuclear weapons development costs?

REP. HOBSON: Well, you will find a lot of differences within Congress in the manner in which both NNSA and the Defense Department approached RRW, and that’s why there’s pushback on RRW, as you see it today.

But let me ask another question, too, because this — RRW is really not probably something you’ve worked on, but it’s something that really needs to be looked at, and what we do with the stockpile in the future and how we handle it.

Over a quarter of the Department of Energy’s budget is focused on nuclear weapons activities or dismantling them, monitoring them and extending their lives. I’ve often wondered if this arrangement made sense. And what I mean by that is, your department develops the strategy for using these weapons, for what their operational requirements are, how many are needed and that sort of thing.

Yet the Energy and Water Subcommittee is left in the position of having to come up with the money to pay for them, often taking funding away from energy programs or funding for levees. And I heard some complaints that Defense asks for the pie in the sky sometimes because they don’t have to pay for it; it doesn’t come out of your budget, so ask for everything.

Is this arrangement — do you think this current arrangement makes sense, or what, if anything, will be lost by requiring the Defense Department to actually pay for what they’re requiring? Will we get more bang — kind of a bad word, but more bang for our buck if we looked at it that way rather than having Energy and — you guys just say, “Oh, we want this,” and the guys over at [N]NSA just kind of bow and scrape and say, “Yeah,” because it doesn’t come out of your budget, it comes out of their budget, which comes through Energy and Water?

MR. ENGLAND: So Mr. Hobson, I guess I was not aware that we were not paying for these programs —

REP. HOBSON: You’re not.

MR. ENGLAND: — with Department of Energy, because — okay, I guess that’s a surprise to me. I mean, I always thought we were funding those development programs and funding the DOE labs to do work for us. So I though there was a money transfer to DOD (sic) to do this. I guess I’m surprised —

REP. HOBSON: There may be some minor monies, but the majority of the money comes out of Energy and Water accounts.


REP. HOBSON: You provide — you build the delivery systems. The weapons and the weapons development is funded by Energy and Water. And those labs are basically funded out of Energy and Water.

REP. CRAMER: If the gentleman would yield, it’s a Defense function, but Energy picks up the tab.

MR. ENGLAND: So Mr. Hobson, we’ll look into that, sir. I wasn’t aware of that.


  1. bob (History)

    It’s an OPSEC issue…neither confirm nor deny, or is is confirm and deny. Oh to heck with it, just act DUMB 🙂

  2. Joseph Logan (History)

    That’s not particularly esoteric—it’s an astonishing lack of familiarity with the budgets that enable one to do one’s job. Call’s to mind Bob’s question in Office Space:

    “What would you say it is you actually… do… here?”

  3. anon (History)

    In all fairness, DOD did not establish a requirement for RRW when it was created. It was a figment of DOE/NNSA and Hobson’s immagination, and the first year of funding, at $9 million, came from the cancelled line item for Advanced Concepts. And Advanced Concepts certainly was not a DOD requirement placed on DOE, it was a DOE created to make work for the labs. The DOD “requirement” for an RRW really came later (and I’m not sure there is a formal requirement, anyway). I do have a problem with the DOD/DOE relationship, but I’m less bothered by DOD creating unfunded requirements for DOE than DOE creating unneeded weapons programs for DOD. They often forget that they have a client….

  4. Doug Shaw (History)

    Mr. England gives us one more great reason to think critically about the slippery slope toward military control of nuclear weapons production that was wildly accelerated by the creation of NNSA.

  5. Ryan Donahue (History)

    While grammar and sentence structure in these sorts of exchanges can get a little confusing, I took the term “these programs” to be referring to “pie in the sky” programs rather than the entire weapons complex. If this inference is correct, then I can see Gordon’s point; often, DoD does shell out money through an IACRO to the labs for work. There are other vehicles of course, but the primary point is that whenever DoD asks something of the labs, money is normally – if not always – changing hands.

    Oh, and just because I’ve got a soapbox, overhead rates at the labs are incredible, their IPAs act more like beltway bandits than subject matter experts, and their project management is a joke.

  6. EarthenBerm (History)

    No wonder they keep losing stuff— they ain’t paying for them….. no cost, no sense of ownership….

  7. Dave (History)

    Trust me on this… Everybody at the Department of Energy knows that they get funding for nuclear weapons. DOE program management (even for fossil energy) revolves around nukes. It’s DOE’s identity.

  8. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    You know, I read it differently because Representative Hobson has been making this point for a while — that if DOD sets the requirements, they should bear the costs.

    But your soapboxing — overhead rates at the labs are incredible, their IPAs act more like beltway bandits than subject matter experts, and their project management is a joke — seem to me to get to a real issue.

    The labs are important national assets that are in pretty tough shape, partly of their own doing and partly because of policy choices.

    See, for example, poor Joe Martz getting assailed at <a href= “>LANL the Rest of the Story</a> for suggesting that Congress authorize DOE to charge on a cost-plus basis for so-called “Work for Others”, rather than the full cost recovery model.