- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

As a House Appropriations Committee member, it is my responsibility to know about programs that need funding, their cost and, most important, why they are needed.

In recent months, there has been considerable debate on funding decisions regarding certain nuclear weapons initiatives funded through the fiscal 2005 omnibus appropriations bill. Since becoming chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee two years ago, I have worked hard to educate myself on the needs of the agencies and programs funded through my bill. This has included visits to Energy Department labs and weapons plants, and many Army Corps of Engineers projects across the country.

We made some news last November, when we cut funding for three nuclear weapons research programs, including the Modern Pit Facility, the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (also known as the “bunker buster”), and Enhanced Test Readiness. Some critics have wrongly assumed this was against the will of the majority of the House and Senate, which is simply inaccurate.

The reductions in the fiscal 2005 omnibus bill were included in the House bill that was passed overwhelmingly by the subcommittee and the full committee and finally passed the House of Representatives in a 370-16 vote. Unfortunately, my Senate colleagues were unable to pass an energy and water development bill last year, so neither the administration nor the public had any idea where Senate appropriators stood on these issues before conference negotiations.

In my position, I have a responsibility to the House and to American taxpayers for due diligence on all aspects of the administration’s budget request for energy and water development. No program, even those submitted under the umbrella of “national defense,” should get a free pass.

Consider the Modern Pit Facility. Contrary to the charges I refused to allow the United States to begin the 15-year process of building a new facility for pits, the bill includes $7 million for planning and conceptual design of the Modern Pit Facility. I support the eventual design and construction of a pit facility — a manufacturing plant for the so-called “nuclear triggers.” However, we won’t need to have such a facility operational for another 15 years (i.e., 2020). It is premature to site such a facility now until we know how large it must be.

The facility’s size is a function of two variables — the total size of our nuclear stockpile and the expected life of the plutonium pits in that stockpile. What the Energy Department proposed was a pit facility with a production capacity designed to support a Cold War-sized nuclear stockpile, rather than the much smaller stockpile reflecting reductions the president proposed last year.

Further, the plutonium aging experiments that will tell us how long the pits will last and (therefore how often they need to be re-manufactured) will not be complete for several more years.

There are compelling arguments why the budget requests for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator and Enhanced Test Readiness also did not withstand scrutiny. Not only are these initiatives an unwise and unnecessary use of limited resources, they also send the wrong signal to the rest of the world. When we want countries such as Iran and North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons development, it is hypocritical for the United States to embark on new weapons and testing initiatives.

The U.S. needs to lead by example. These new initiatives might actually risk rather than enhance our national security by encouraging other countries’ nuclear weapons initiatives.

Some people contend that, unless the policy outcomes in the fiscal 2005 bill are overturned, the United States will be condemned to an obsolete nuclear stockpile. That claim is simply inaccurate. None of these three initiatives deal directly with the Energy Department’s responsibility to certify the safety, security and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Our nuclear arsenal remains an important component of our overall national security program. And, let me make clear my support for maintaining our current stockpile.

However, there are many other pressing demands, including the cost of safeguarding existing weapons and materials in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union and providing armor for our troops overseas. Next to such pressing, immediate needs, the desires of Cold War fighters for new weapons and facilities pale.

David L. Hobson, Ohio Republican, is chariman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

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