Congress drops bid to loosen supervision of nuclear agency


Congress is abandoning an effort to loosen Cabinet control over an agency responsible for securing the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

A provision in a defense policy bill would have removed the National Nuclear Security Administration from direct control of the Energy Department, where it's been housed since its creation in 2000.

The provision was dropped as House and Senate lawmakers negotiated a compromise defense bill, aides said Monday. The defense bill could come up for a vote in the House this week.

The Trump administration and senior lawmakers from both parties opposed the nuclear provision, but it was included in a defense bill passed by the Senate in June.

The measure would have empowered the NNSA to act nearly on its own, freed from what a report by the Senate Armed Services Committee calls a "flawed DOE organizational process" that has led to "weak accountability, ... insufficient program and budget expertise and poor contract management."

That report cites a series of delays and cost overruns at the agency, including a contentious project to reprocess weapons-grade plutonium and uranium into fuel for commercial reactors at a site in South Carolina.

The White House and Energy Secretary Rick Perry oppose the reorganization, saying it would usurp Perry's authority to set policy in crucial areas. The bill also would make the nuclear agency's general counsel independent of the Energy Department's legal division.

Shaylyn Hynes, a Perry spokeswoman, called the plan "misguided" and said it would "weaken national security efforts by limiting DOE's critical role in managing America's nuclear weapons capabilities."

"It is in the best interest of the safety and security of all Americans to remove this provision from the bill and continue NNSA to be represented by a Cabinet-level official, allowing DOE and NNSA's complementary relationship to remain strong," Hynes said in a statement before the provision was dropped from the defense bill.

The NNSA also opposed the change, saying it could "lead to unnecessary duplication of effort at NNSA for work already being carried out by DOE."

Criticism of the nuclear agency isn't new.

A congressional commission led by a former Army undersecretary and retired Navy admiral concluded in 2014 that it had failed in its mission and relied too heavily on private contractors that had turned it into a massive jobs program with duplicative functions and a "dysfunctional management and operations relationship."

The commission, however, did support the current oversight arrangement.

Perry told Congress this year that there have been "historically questionable expenditures of dollars" by the NNSA, including at the South Carolina nuclear project, but he said officials were working to ensure taxpayers "are getting a good return on our investment."

Perry has moved to cancel the South Carolina project, known as the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, but it remains open — at a cost of $1.2 million a day — amid a legal challenge by the state. The project's cost has ballooned from $1.4 billion in 2004 to more than $17 billion, and completion is decades away.

___

Follow Matthew Daly: https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in

Flash flood kills 5 children, 4 adults at Arizona swim hole
Flash flood kills 5 children, 4 adults at Arizona swim hole

TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, Ariz. (AP) - Adults, teens and children as young as 2 were enjoying a summer afternoon by cooling off in an Arizona creek when the gentle waters turned deadly. The group from the Phoenix and Flagstaff areas had met Saturday for a day trip along a popular swimming hole near Payson, about 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) northeast...
Human remains found in search for missing men, 1 victim identified
Human remains found in search for missing men, 1 victim identified

NEW HOPE, Pa. (AP) - Investigators found the body of one of four missing young men along with other human remains buried on a Pennsylvania farm, and vowed to "bring each and every one of these lost boys home to their families." Cadaver dogs led them to the spot on the 90-acre (36-hectare) farm in Solebury Township where they discovered human...
North Korea claims it tested first intercontinental missile
North Korea claims it tested first intercontinental missile

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea claimed to have tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile in a launch Tuesday, a potential game-changing development in its push to militarily challenge Washington - but a declaration that conflicts with earlier South Korean and U.S. assessments that it had an intermediate range. The North has previously...
The ESPYS on Channel 2: Michael Phelps, Simone Biles among finalists
The ESPYS on Channel 2: Michael Phelps, Simone Biles among finalists

Multiple stars from last summer's Rio Olympics highlight this year's nominees for best male and female athletes for The ESPYS. Swimmer Michael Phelps, who won five gold medals in Rio, joins National League MVP Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook as the four nominees...
Tropical Storm Cindy makes landfall in Louisiana
Tropical Storm Cindy makes landfall in Louisiana

Gulf Coast states were in for a third day of rough weather as Tropical Storm Cindy sloshed ashore early Thursday in southwestern Louisiana. Already blamed for one death in Alabama, Cindy was expected to keep churning seas and spin off bands of severe weather from eastern Texas to northwestern Florida. The storm's maximum sustained winds had decreased...
More Stories