Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 42

The Clinton administration last week was accused of squandering American taxpayer money in mismanaging two government aid programs aimed at stopping the proliferation of Russian military technologies and know-how. The U.S. Congress’s General Accounting Office (GAO) said in a study released on February 22 that two Department of Energy (DOE) programs–the Initiative for Proliferation Prevention and the Closed Cities Initiative–had wasted a considerable portion of some US$63 million spent between 1994 and mid-1998 in an effort to employ Russian nuclear scientists. The GAO charged that more than 60 percent of that total went, not to the Russian scientists targeted, but to DOE laboratories involved in the program. Moreover, of the funding which did reach Russia, a considerable portion went to meet overhead costs at the institutes involved or was taken out in taxes.

The GAO report also said that the U.S. aid program may have funneled money to scientists who continue to work on Russian chemical, biological or nuclear weapons development programs. Funding may also have gone to Russian scientists or institutes which have provided expertise to third countries, the report said. The GAO also complained that the aid programs had failed to create commercially viable ventures which might ultimately let participating Russian scientists and institutions operate without further U.S. assistance. The GAO recommended that DOE make administrative changes to ensure far greater oversight of the distribution of U.S. aid funds under the Initiative for Proliferation Prevention program. It also called on DOE to delay plans which would expand the Closed Cities Initiative from three Russian cities to ten over the next five years (New York Times, February 22; Washington Post, AP, Reuters, February 23).

U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who commissioned the study, said on February 22 that the conclusions reached by the GAO were disturbing. They also, he said, put the five-year-old aid programs in jeopardy (AP, February 23).

Those involved in the Department of Energy efforts accepted some of the GAO’s recommendations. But they disputed the GAO’s conclusions, and argued that the study had in fact reflected the degree to which the two programs had met broad U.S. goals. In an interview on February 24, Rose Gottemoeller, an assistant DOE secretary, underscored what she said was the “baseline conclusion” of the GAO report. “That is,” she said, “that this program has been extraordinarily valuable in ensuring that weapons scientists stay at home and work in their institutes and are not running off to countries that are proliferation concerns” (Reuters, February 24). Leonard Spector, a top DOE arms control official, spoke similarly. He denied the implicit criticism of the GAO study that the U.S. aid programs were somehow “subsidizing Russian weapon-of-mass-destruction activities.” Spector said that the programs’ administrators had been particularly sensitive to possible conflicts and problems in this area (AP, February 23).

The DOE programs investigated by the GAO are part of a broader effort by the Clinton administration to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Many of the other programs are run by the Pentagon or the State Department and have generally not been subjected to the criticisms leveled at the DOE programs. During a speech on February 26 that was devoted to U.S. foreign policy concerns, President Bill Clinton identified weapons proliferation as among the most important potential threats to U.S. national security. Clinton said that the United States must confront the risks posed by a weakened Russian government, one which is unable to control “the flow of its money, weapons and technology across its borders” (International agencies, February 26).