Jeffrey LewisWhile England Slept

My blog post on Gordon England and nuclear weapons spending (DEPSECDEF Deeply Confused, March 29, 2008) made Al Kamen’s In the Loop in the Washington Post.

While England Slept

Usually, witnesses at congressional hearings enlighten lawmakers on the inner workings of their departments. But not always.

Take Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England’s appearance recently before the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, in which ranking Republican David L. Hobson (Ohio) asked about something that appears to have been bothering him for a while.

“Over a quarter of the Department of Energy’s budget is focused on nuclear weapons,” Hobson said. “Your department develops the strategy for using these weapons, for what [operations], how many are needed and that sort of thing.”

The problem, Hobson said, is that his 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. . . . Do you think this current arrangement makes sense?” he asked.

“Mr. Hobson, I guess I was not aware that we were not paying for these programs,” England replied.

“You’re not,” Hobson said.

“I guess that’s a surprise to me,” England said. “I mean, I always thought we were funding these development programs and funding the DOE labs to do this work for us. . . . We’ll look into that, sir.”

Jeffrey G. Lewis, who writes the blog and found this conversation, asks: “Shouldn’t the Deputy Secretary know whether or not his department is responsible for the lion’s share of nuclear weapons development costs?”

Well, maybe. Not essential, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.

To England’s credit, of course, he admitted he did not know rather than trying to make it up as he went along.