Nuclear Nonproliferation:

DOE's Program to Assist Weapons Scientists in Russia and Other Countries Needs to Be Reassessed

GAO-08-189: Published: Dec 12, 2007. Publicly Released: Jan 11, 2008.

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To address concerns about unemployed or underemployed Soviet-era weapons scientists in Russia and other countries, the Department of Energy (DOE) established the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program in 1994 to engage former Soviet weapons scientists in nonmilitary work in the short term and create private sector jobs for these scientists in the long term. GAO assessed (1) DOE's reported accomplishments for the IPP program, (2) DOE's exit strategy for the program, and (3) the extent to which the program has experienced annual carryovers of unspent funds and the reasons for any such carryovers. To address these issues, GAO analyzed DOE policies, plans, and budgets and interviewed key program officials and representatives from 22 Russian and Ukrainian institutes.

DOE has overstated accomplishments for the 2 critical measures it uses to assess the IPP program's progress and performance--the number of scientists receiving DOE support and the number of long-term, private sector jobs created. First, although DOE claims to have engaged over 16,770 scientists in Russia and other countries, this total includes both scientists with and without weapons-related experience. GAO's analysis of 97 IPP projects involving about 6,450 scientists showed that more than half did not claim to possess any weapons-related experience. Furthermore, officials from 10 Russian and Ukrainian institutes told GAO that the IPP program helps them attract, recruit, and retain younger scientists who might otherwise emigrate to the United States or other western countries and contributes to the continued operation of their facilities. This is contrary to the original intent of the program, which was to reduce the proliferation risk posed by Soviet-era weapons scientists. Second, although DOE asserts that the IPP program helped create 2,790 long-term, private sector jobs for former weapons scientists, the credibility of this number is uncertain because DOE relies on "good-faith" reporting from U.S. industry partners and foreign institutes on the number of jobs created and does not independently verify the number of jobs reported to have been created. DOE has not developed an exit strategy for the IPP program, even though officials from the Russian government, Russian and Ukrainian institutes, and U.S. companies raised questions about the continuing need for the program. Importantly, a senior Russian Atomic Energy Agency official told GAO that the IPP program is no longer relevant because Russia's economy is strong and its scientists no longer pose a proliferation risk. DOE has not developed criteria to determine when scientists, institutes, or countries should "graduate" from the program. In contrast, the Department of State (State), which supports a similar program to assist Soviet-era weapons scientists, has assessed participating institutes and developed a strategy to graduate certain institutes from its program. Instead of finding ways to phase out the IPP program, DOE has recently expanded the program to include new countries and areas. Specifically, in 2004, DOE began providing assistance to scientists in Iraq and Libya. In addition, the IPP program is working with DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy to develop projects that support the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership--a DOE-led international effort to expand the use of civilian nuclear power. In every fiscal year since 1998, DOE carried over unspent funds in excess of the amount that the Congress provided for the program. For example, as of September 2007, DOE carried over about $30 million in unspent funds--$2 million more than the $28 million that the Congress had appropriated for the IPP program in fiscal year 2007. Two main factors have contributed to this recurring problem--lengthy review and approval processes for paying former Soviet weapons scientists and delays in implementing some IPP projects.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although DOE initially did not concur with this recommendation, the department did undertake an internal review of the program following the release of and a congressional hearing on our report. On October 2, 2008, the Secretary of Energy wrote to the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce that NNSA had assessed the program based on GAO's recommendation and concluded that the program's continued engagement of former weapons scientists in Russia and other countries served U.S. nonproliferation interests. According to NNSA, a thorough review of all Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (GIPP) project payments since the program inception in 1994 was conducted. This review identified at least one institute of possible concern and, as a result, two projects at that institute were promptly canceled. In addition, NNSA's review of the program resulted in a reprioritization of the institutes that the program will emphasize for future engagement. Specifically, beginning in fiscal year 2008, NNSA has phased-out or will phase-out by 2010, more than 50 projects at institutes that it has identified as lower priority. In addition, NNSA plans to reevaluate the continuing need for the GIPP program by the end of fiscal year 2010. At that time, GAO will reassess whether to close this recommendation based on DOE/NNSA actions. In September 2011, DOE informed us that a reassessment had taken place based on our recommendation. DOE/NNSA commissioned a threat-based assessment of expertise proliferation risk, including an intelligence component. The assessment was informed by two external panels that included representatives from the interagency, business and NGO communities and was briefed out to the Hill in 2010/2011. Different options for program scope, direction and range of activities are being reviewed and analyzed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should reassess the IPP program to justify to the Congress the continued need for the program. Such a reassessment should, at a minimum, include a thorough analysis of the proliferation risk posed by weapons scientists in Russia and other countries; a well-defined strategy to more effectively target the scientists and institutes of highest proliferation concern; more accurate reporting of program accomplishments; and a clear exit strategy for the IPP program, including specific criteria to determine when specific countries, institutes, and individuals are ready to graduate from participation in the IPP program. This reassessment should be done in concert with, and include input from, other federal agencies, such as State; the U.S. intelligence community; officials in host governments where IPP projects are being implemented; the U.S. business community; and independent U.S. nongovernmental organizations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On September 30, 2008, NNSA reported that IPP projects had received $2 million in cost-sharing from Russian sources in fiscal year 2007. On October 2, 2008, the Secretary of Energy wrote that the GIPP program will pursue cost-sharing for all new projects in Russia and other countries, as appropriate. NNSA has informed Russian officials of this new requirement.

    Recommendation: If DOE determines that the program is still needed, despite the increased economic prosperity in Russia and in light of the general trend toward cost-sharing in U.S. nonproliferation programs in that country, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should seek a commitment for cost-sharing from the Russian government for future IPP projects at Russian institutes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Energy's (DOE) Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (GIPP) program (formerly known as the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program) was created in 1994 to reduce the risk that former weapons of mass destruction scientists in Russia and other countries could sell their expertise to terrorist organizations or countries of proliferation concern. The program is implemented by DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) through a series of projects between scientists at institutes in the former Soviet Union, U.S. national laboratories, and U.S. partner companies, with the goal of engaging the former Soviet weapons scientists in nonmilitary research activities in the short-term, and transitioning them to sustainable, private sector jobs over the long-term. In December 2007, GAO concluded that DOE paid many foreign scientists who claimed no WMD experience, which undermined the credibility of the IPP program. GAO recommended that the Secretary of Energy, working with the NNSA Administrator, establish a more rigorous process for verifying the WMD background and experiences of foreign scientists participating in the IPP program. In October 2008, the Secretary of Energy stated that the GIPP program would continue to make progress in documenting the experience of former weapons scientists engaged in GIPP-funded projects. Specifically, in November 2008, DOE officials told GAO that DOE's Office of Intelligence now reviews the lists of foreign participants involved in all IPP projects to verify their WMD backgrounds and identify other potential concerns.

    Recommendation: To address a number of management issues that need to be resolved so that the IPP program operates more effectively, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should immediately establish a more rigorous, objective, and well-documented process for verifying the Weapons of Mass Destruction backgrounds and experiences of participating foreign scientists.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE initially concurred with this recommendation and wrote that "a new business metric that better reflects program accomplishments will be included in our budget documents." However, DOE has not provided GAO with information about this new metric, and we observed that DOE's Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Justification does not include a new performance metric for the Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (GIPP) program. Instead the budget request eliminates the previous metrics on the number of scientists reemployed into private sector jobs and on the overall number of former weapons scientists engaged by the program. The only program performance measure in the budget document for the GIPP program is a measure identifying the cumulative percentage of non-U.S. government funding contributions to the program relative to the cumulative U.S. government funding provided to GIPP. We will continue to monitor the implementation of this recommendation. In September 2011 DOE informed us that the program has worked with the U.S. Industry Coalition to improve the collection of commercialization data. The program has also improved collection of other data, including the number of WMD experts engaged. As a result of various internal reviews, DOE has determined that commercialization is no longer a leading program metric; it is a secondary benefit of the program as it is not the main nonproliferation objective of the program. Therefore there is no published commercialization objective. However, DOE continues to collect the data for internal purposes. Non-U.S. government cost sharing is the only current program performance measure.

    Recommendation: To address a number of management issues that need to be resolved so that the IPP program operates more effectively, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should immediately develop more reliable data on the commercialization results of IPP projects, such as the number of jobs created.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On April 15, 2009, NNSA provided GAO with a copy of the revised Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (GIPP) program guidance. Specifically, for the purposes of the GIPP Program, commercialization is defined as the realization, from a GIPP project, of a product, process or service which generates revenue, or the conclusion, from a GIPP project and as a follow-on to that project, of a contractual relationship for research and development services by and between a U.S. industry partner on that GIPP project and one or more institutes or other entities involved in that project. From the standpoint of development economics, the formation of the follow-on R&D relationship means that a result has been achieved independent of DOE funding; one which offers promise of creation of a revenue-generating product, process or service.

    Recommendation: To address a number of management issues that need to be resolved so that the IPP program operates more effectively, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should immediately amend IPP program guidance to include a clear definition of what constitutes a commercially successful IPP project.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its formal response to our draft report on November 21, 2007, DOE/NNSA agreed with our recommendation and undertook consultations with congressional staff of the program's authorizing and appropriations committees. Those consultations revealed that the current authorization is sufficient and confirmed that the Congress had been notified in the course of the federal budget process for fiscal year 2008.

    Recommendation: To address a number of management issues that need to be resolved so that the IPP program operates more effectively, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should immediately seek explicit congressional authorization to expand IPP efforts outside of the former Soviet Union.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE/NNSA did not concur with this recommendation and in their responses to GAO concerning this issue, DOE officials noted that the department believes that the program's current approach to GIPP projects in Libya is compliant with the statutory restriction.

    Recommendation: To address a number of management issues that need to be resolved so that the IPP program operates more effectively, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should immediately for IPP efforts in Libya, ensure compliance with the statutory restriction on the percentage of IPP program funds spent on oversight activities at the DOE national laboratories to no more than 35 percent.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE/NNSA concurred with this recommendation and, on June 13, 2008, informed GAO that NNSA agrees that it is prudent to have clear guidance when the results of one program support the goals of another. However, NNSA subsequently terminated all GNEP-related GIPP projects that dealt with advanced nuclear energy and fuel cycle issues. In addition, two other projects involving nuclear safeguards development were shifted to another unit in NNSA's Office of Nonproliferation and International Security. As a result, there does not appear to be a continued need to develop additional program guidance for GIPP projects intended to support GNEP.

    Recommendation: To address a number of management issues that need to be resolved so that the IPP program operates more effectively, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should immediately develop clear and specific guidance for IPP projects that are intended to support Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On June 13, 2008, DOE/NNSA informed GAO that it is working with DOE's financial element to develop a streamlined payment process for the GIPP program. Actions taken include the reduction of steps needed to validate invoices for work performed by foreign scientists and the implementation of a new web-based invoice approval and payment arrangement system. In addition, NNSA has simplified the GIPP payment process by reducing paper transactions, removing unnecessary levels of review and eliminating procedural bottlenecks. In response to a follow-up question in April 2009 regarding possible financial savings associated with streamlining the payment process, NNSA officials said that these savings, if they exist, are not determinable.

    Recommendation: To address a number of management issues that need to be resolved so that the IPP program operates more effectively, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should immediately streamline the process through which foreign scientists receive IPP funds by eliminating unnecessary layers of review.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2005, we reported on problems with internal controls over nonproliferation programs within the Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). In particular, we found problems with internal controls on contracts we reviewed in DOE's Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program, which assists former weapons of mass destruction scientists in Russia and other countries by re-employing them in peaceful commercial activities. In our August 2005 report, we recommended that NNSA's program managers maintain quick access to key contract records, such as deliverables and invoices that relate to management controls, regardless of whether the records are located at a national laboratory or headquarters. During the course of our review of the IPP program in 2007, DOE officials told us that, as part of the department's effort to address our recommendation to improve internal controls, they initiated an extensive review of IPP financial and procurement procedures at participating national laboratories and worked with each laboratory's financial department to reduce unspent program funds. As a result, DOE officials told us they redirected about $15 million in unspent program funds in 2006 for use on existing IPP projects. DOE concurred with our recommendation and noted that it has set ambitious targets for reducing the IPP program's uncosted balances in the future.

    Recommendation: To address a number of management issues that need to be resolved so that the IPP program operates more effectively, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should immediately seek to reduce the large balances of unspent funds associated with the IPP program and adjust future budget requests accordingly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Energy's (DOE) Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (GIPP) program (formerly known as the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program) was created in 1994 to reduce the risk that former weapons of mass destruction scientists in Russia and other countries could sell their expertise to terrorist organizations or countries of proliferation concern. The program is implemented by DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) through a series of projects between scientists at institutes in the former Soviet Union, U.S. national laboratories, and U.S. partner companies, with the goal of engaging the former Soviet weapons scientists in peaceful research activities in the short-term, and transitioning them to sustainable, private sector jobs over the long-term. In December 2007, GAO reported that the absence of a joint plan between DOE's IPP program and the International Science and Technology Center's (ISTC) Commercialization Support Program, which is funded by State, raised questions about the lack of coordination between these two U.S. government programs that share similar goals of finding peaceful commercial opportunities for foreign weapons of mass destruction scientists. As a result, we recommended that the Secretaries of Energy and State, working with the Administrator of NNSA, develop a joint plan to better coordinate the efforts of DOE's IPP program and ISTC's Commercialization Support Program, which is funded by State. On June 13, 2008, NNSA informed GAO that both NNSA and State concurred with this recommendation and have initiated a joint project through the ISTC Commercialization Support Program involving specialists from the Russian nuclear city of Seversk. This project will serve as the basis for creating a joint plan to better coordinate these efforts.

    Recommendation: Finally, the Secretaries of Energy and State, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, should develop a joint plan to better coordinate the efforts of DOE's IPP program and International Science and Technology Center's Commercialization Support Program, which is funded by the Department of State.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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