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GAO Critical of Program Aimed At Jobs for Russian Scientists

By Walter Pincus
The Washington Post

The General Accounting Office criticized a four-year-old U.S. program aimed at developing nonmilitary jobs for Russian weapons scientists at home so they do not leave to work for Iran, Iraq or other countries unfriendly to the United States.

The GAO said Monday in a report that Russian scientists received only 37 percent of the $63.5 million spent through June 1998 on the program, which is run by the Department of Energy. About 51 percent of the money went to DOE national laboratories, whose personnel administered and oversaw the individual projects.

In addition, GAO investigators said some program funds in the 79 projects they specifically reviewed went to Russian scientists still working on Moscow's weapons programs and other support went to nine so-called "dual-use" projects which "could unintentionally provide useful defense-related benefits to Russian and other (former Soviet republic) scientists."

But the GAO report said officials at Russian institutes they visited reported they were "not aware of any scientists emigrating to countries of concern to provide weapons-related services" and DOE officials said the program was considered a success because it has temporarily employed "thousands of scientists at about 170 institutes and organizations throughout Russia and other Newly Independent States."

Overall, however, the GAO concluded, "Although in general the program is employing (Russian) weapons scientists on a part-time basis, it has not achieved its broader nonproliferation goal of long-term employment through the commercialization of projects."

The report recommended that DOE review the roles played by the national laboratories, require more accurate data on the Russian scientists being supported and hold off expanding a new program to support nuclear scientists living in the so-called nuclear cities where Russian warheads are designed and produced.

The report drew quick support from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who had originally requested the review. Helms said in a prepared statement that failure of DOE to undertake the suggested reforms will "jeopardize continued support" of the program and "cast doubt" on Clinton administration plans to put a further $4.5 billion into expanded nonproliferation programs.