Bombs Mean Big Business for Big Business

Lobbies claim that thousands of companies benefit from nuclear weapons spending. But according to a new report from the Center for International Policy, those claims are far from reality. In truth, only a handful of companies stand to gain significantly, with a network of subcontractors behind them.

“There is too much at stake to let narrow special interests trump the national interest when it comes to making decisions on nuclear weapons spending and policy,” conclude Ploughshares Fund grantee William Hartung and Christine Anderson in the report, released this June.

With the cost of nuclear weapons-related activities expected reach hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade, the United States simply cannot afford to effectively subsidize a small number of companies at the expense of our financial and national security. But despite the clear financial benefit – even necessity – of downsizing, it is not easy, as there are powerful individuals and corporations that have a lot to gain from preventing cuts.

Many of the corporations involved in the nuclear industry tend to be heavily dependent on government contracts and working on several different aspects of the nuclear weapons complex at any one time. Lockheed Martin, for example, gets 82% of its revenue from government contracts; and Huntington Ingalls conducts “substantially all” of its business with the US government.

Perhaps that’s why these companies spend so much ensuring that none of the weapons programs they work on are allowed to suffer budget cuts.

The numbers are shocking. The top fourteen weapons contractors gave key Congress members $2.9 million in the 2012 election cycle alone, and $18.7 million to these same members of Congress over their full careers. More than half of this money went to important members of the key committees in Congress: the Energy and Water Subcommittees of the House and Senate and the Strategic Forces Subcommittees of the Armed Forces Committees of the House and Senate.

Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R – CA), the House Armed Services Committee Chair, was the biggest recipient in the House, receiving over a quarter of a million dollars in campaign donations in 2012. Besides being the HASC Chair, his district has facilities of all three of the companies competing to produce a new nuclear bomber. In the Senate, Diane Feinstein (D – CA) topped the list. Senator Feinstein is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and received $74,500 in campaign contributions for the 2012 election cycle. But Senator Feinstein is proof that efforts to influence members of Congress do not always succeed. She has sharply criticized the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Hartung and Anderson also express worries about revolving door lobbyists, public officials who have left service to work for the companies that they once regulated.

In the end, the authors recommend four steps that they claim would save $46 billon over the next two decades:

1. reduce the ballistic missile submarine force,
2. shelve plans for a new nuclear bomber,
3. cancel the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility,
4. and cancel building the Mixed Oxide (MOX) facility.

All of these projects have significant costs associated for very little additional national security benefit, and some of them are purely profit for defense contractors.

Hartung and Anderson are right: there is too much at stake to sacrifice national interests to special interests. They conclude, “the bottom line is that the level of nuclear weapons spending and the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be determined based on strategic decisions about how best to defend the country, not on pork barrel politics.”

Read the full report here.

Image credit: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr