- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2010

The debate over New START has ushered in a new consensus on the need to modernize our nuclear deterrent and the resources required to get the job done. All that is left is for Congress to vote this month to finish the job by approving New START and the president’s investment in our nuclear security. In doing so, it will have reversed years of neglect and decline in our nuclear establishment, and made the American people safer in the process.

This is not just about New START. It is about the security of our nation and our allies.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, we have a broad national consensus on the role nuclear weapons play in our defense and what is required to maintain our deterrent. When President Obama released his Nuclear Posture Review earlier this year, he outlined the need to move toward a smaller stockpile and made a commitment to modernize the remaining arsenal and the complex that supports it.

Unfortunately, that enterprise was neglected in the past. From 2005 to 2010, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) - the part of the Department of Energy responsible for maintaining America’s nuclear enterprise and stockpile - lost 20 percent of its purchasing power.

As a result, some of our most important facilities and capabilities were stretched very nearly to the breaking point. As Vice President Joseph R. Biden noted in a speech earlier this year, while the nation relies on these capabilities for a full range of nuclear security missions, NNSA is performing critical work in facilities that date back to the days when the great powers were led by Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.

President Obama reversed the decline.

Over the next decade, the Obama administration has proposed investing more than $85 billion to modernize the nuclear stockpile, recapitalize the infrastructure that supports it and reinvigorate the science and technology at the core of our stockpile stewardship efforts.

Having worked on NNSA budget issues through the administrations of three presidents representing both parties, I can say with confidence that this is the most robust, sustained commitment to modernizing our nuclear deterrent since the end of the Cold War.

The resources Mr. Obama is seeking will allow us to complete life-extension programs for the warheads in our stockpile, replace aging facilities that process uranium and plutonium, and strengthen the surveillance programs that enable us to ensure that those weapons will work as designed, should that be required. Those same investments also support our other nuclear security missions, including preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, powering the nuclear Navy, and supporting our nation’s nuclear counterterrorism and emergency-response capabilities.

My predecessor, former NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks, put it best, saying he “would have killed” for budgets like this and for the top-level support we have gotten from the White House.

Our unprecedented investment has been matched by an unparalleled commitment to being open and transparent with Congress about what needs to be done, how much we plan to spend and how we plan to spend it.

For most of this year, we have worked with key senators from both parties to make sure they understand our plans and to respond to their concerns. Key senators and their senior staff members were given access to our scientists. Our lab directors testified before Congress and answered numerous questions for the record. Senators and their staffs were given access to our sites with no limitations. NNSA even detailed a laboratory staffer to work in the office of one leading senator.

There always will be some who question whether what we have proposed is enough. But no one can question this administration’s commitment.

The time has come to bring this debate to a close. Both the New START and modernization are in the national security interest. The Senate should approve both.

Thomas P. D’Agostino has served as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration since 2007. He was first appointed by President George W. Bush and was reappointed by President Obama in September 2009.