The Energy and Defense Departments’ 10-year, $263-billion estimate for overhauling the nation’s nuclear weapons is likely too low and will cost taxpayers more money than originally estimated, a watchdog report says.
That’s because the estimate didn’t consider some steps that are needed to modernize the weapons, including improving intercontinental ballistic missiles or developing a new nuclear bomber, a report by the Government Accountability Office said.
The monetary estimates given by the agencies are likely “less than what will be needed to meet schedules reflected in the joint report,” said the GAO, Congress’ top watchdog.
Congress required the departments to prepare the estimate and 10-year plan on overhauling nuclear weapons programs. But investigators said that without more accurate monetary estimates and more choices on how to proceed, the documents aren’t as helpful as they should be.
“Unless the Secretary of Defense directs the Secretary of the Air Force and Secretary of the Navy to include in future reports at least a range of potential budget estimates for key modernization programs based on preliminary cost information, its estimates in subsequent annual joint reports will be incomplete and understated,” the GAO said.
The two agencies are planning on a number of overhauls to the weapons program, including refurbishing old missiles and launch systems, replacing outdated uranium and plutonium processing facilities and updating computer systems.
Air Force officials told the GAO it was risky at the moment to try to put a cost estimate on a new nuclear bomber. Acquisition of the plane is still in the very early stages, and military officials aren’t certain yet just how much it will likely cost.