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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 41, November 1999

Struggle Continues over DOE Reform

In October President Clinton signed legislation (the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, S. 1059) requiring the establishment of a new, semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to oversee the US Energy Department's nuclear weapons laboratories and programmes. The President, however, expressed serious reservations about the powers of the new body, and coupled his acceptance of its establishment with a number of key qualifications designed to ensure that the role and responsibility of the Energy Secretary is not unduly diminished.

On 19 October, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson addressed a joint hearing on the NNSA convened by the Senate committees on Energy & Natural Resources and Governmental Affairs setting out DOE reactions to the new legislation, and recommendations for implementing the law:

"I demonstrated my intention to follow the law by agreeing to the Senate bill - which you passed 96 to 1. That was a solid, bipartisan proposal to manage the nation's nuclear weapons portfolio - an agency accountable to the Secretary of Energy, who is in turn accountable to the Congress and the President. ... And while the bill emerging from conference [finalising the terms of the legislation] just three weeks later was a very different bill - and though the President signed it - I believe we need to make some simple modifications to ensure that the best possible solution is reached. ...

The President has directed me to administer the Act under a series of guidelines. The President has given me responsibility for the NNSA for the time being... The President is exercising his Chief Executive authority to tell the Energy Secretary what he needs to do. We should look at the President's actions as intended to make this machinery work as efficiently as possible. ...

What surfaced [from conference] was a bill that offered much-needed pay raises to the military... But the bill also abandoned key provisions in the Senate-passed reorganization plan. ... [T]his wasn't what we agreed to. And while the President did sign the Act - to get the raises for our men and women in uniform, among other worthy goals - he believes there are still fundamental problems with much of the language. I agree. Here are my remaining concerns.

This Act's language creates a National Nuclear Security Administration isolated from outside direction. This segregation will limit my - and other Energy Secretary's - ability to manage the activities and personnel of the NNSA... [The NNSA] would impair effective health and safety oversight and program direction of the Department's nuclear defense complex. 46 State Attorneys General wrote to the House leadership on September 3, expressing their concern that the Act dilutes the Department's environmental compliance duties.

I have been talking to many members to try and remedy the issues presented by this new law. I'm not talking about redrafting the law - I'm talking about a few simple modifications. We have suffered from instability at the Department of Energy, due to the year-long morass of an espionage case; due to last week's showdown on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We need to move on, and strive for stability."

Senator Pete Domenici (Republican - New Mexico) described the President's provisos as "an absolute frontal attack on Congress." He later abruptly left the hearing, telling Richardson: "I don't want any comments from you. I'm fed up."

Reports: GOP, Clinton battle over nukes, Associated Press, October 19; Prepared testimony of Secretary Bill Richardson before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources/Senate Committee on Government Affairs, October 19 1999.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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