Subsidizing Russia's Nuclear Scientists

Article excerpt

Nearly six years ago, Congress and the Clinton administration launched a visionary scheme to help the scientists and engineers who had been part of making and designing the Soviet weapons of mass destruction to put their skills to civilian use. The goal was to prevent them from working for rogue regimes such as Iran, Iraq or North Korea. As this Department of Energy effort progressed, the administration assured Congress of success upon success.

Those assurances were ripped apart recently in a devastating new congressional study. In a yearlong investigation, the General Accounting Office, or GAO, found the $63 million emergency program to be directionless, wasteful and riddled with abuse. Even more, the GAO reported that the program, Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, or IPP, actually has paid the salaries of personnel working on Russia's nuclear-weapons modernization and development of its clandestine and illegal chemical and biological weapons.

The GAO has been warning about similar problems for years. What's new is that this time some in Congress are starting to pay attention (see waste & abuse, p. 45). Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms of North Carolina knew something was wrong but couldn't get straight answers from the administration, so he commissioned the GAO investigation. The GAO found:

* After five years, the IPP has not even developed "program goals and a strategic plan."

* Bureaucracy and administration costs on the U.S. side consumed nearly two-thirds of the funds intended for the former Soviet scientists. Russian taxes and overhead ate much of the rest.

* Despite such huge administrative and oversight costs, there is almost no accounting for the money sent to Russia: "Neither DOE [Department of Energy] nor its laboratories require any receipts or other explanation from the Russian institutes to show how the funds sent to Russia are allocated." Nobody can account for how much actually went to pay the scientists, as the IPP requires no payroll records.

* The DOE doesn't even know who it is paying in the former USSR. Some program officers told the GAO "that information on the backgrounds of the [former Soviet] scientists and engineers was not relevant to the project's business." In two instances, they said it was none of their business.

* "Some scientists currently working on Russia's weapons of mass destruction are receiving program funds." American tax dollars are paying Russian personnel as they modernize nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. And the GAO got some of this information from the Russians themselves.

* The DOE doesn't even know how many scientists it is funding. …