“Washington Monument” Gambit Fails on Non-Proliferation Funding

A familiar Washington technique to secure adequate funding is sometimes called the Washington Monument syndrome. That is, in a tight budget environment, the federal government deliberately cuts a popular program, such as funds to keep the Washington Monument and national parks open or firefighters at the local level, expecting that legislative bodies will restore the funds

That gambit failed miserably for nuclear nonproliferation programs last year, leaving them in a weakened state.

Last year, there were suggestions that the Obama Administration’s budget for fiscal year 2015 underfunded its request for non-proliferation programs, anticipating that the totals would be increased by congressional advocates favoring a robust program. In the budget squeeze of the last days of the 113th Congress, these hopes for congressional help proved wrong, drastically wrong.

There is a clear implication of this failure: the Obama administration should put forward a healthy increase in the non-proliferation budget for FY 2016. It is already very late in the process, but for non-proliferation programs to be adequately funded in fiscal year 2016, the initiative has to come from the Executive Branch.

The examples from last year abound. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative, a key non-proliferation program, received $442 million in Fiscal Year 2014–but the request for FY 2015 was only $333 million. There were attempts in Congress to increase funding, but the final total in the omnibus appropriations bill was only $326 million, less even than the Administration requested. The competition for funds in the omnibus was fierce.

Another key program, International Material Protection and Cooperation, was funded at $420 million in FY 2014; the budget request was $305 million and the final total in the bill passed at the end of the year was $271 million.

Certainly there are new challenges to these programs, including Russia’s hostility to working with the U.S. on nuclear security and President Putin’s aggressive actions in Europe. But there are numerous other sources of dangerous nuclear materials outside of Russia that need to be addressed.

One of President Obama’s highest priorities enunciated in his 2009 Prague speech and numerous times since is the need to secure, safeguard and destroy nuclear materials and weapons that can fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against the United States or its allies.

We will see in the coming weeks whether the FY 2016 budget demonstrates a renewed commitment to nuclear security programs.