U.S. Audit Says Aid for Scientists Misspent

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. economic aid program to keep Russian scientists from selling weapons information to terrorists apparently funneled much of the money to researchers who never claimed to have a background in nuclear, chemical or biological programs, a congressional report said Friday.

The auditors also found that in many cases help went to scientists who were too young to have participated in the Soviet-era weapons programs. Thus, instead of doing what the law was meant to do, some of the grants helped Russia and Ukraine train new scientists.

The report by the Government Accountability Office urged the Energy Department to overhaul the nuclear nonproliferation program and come up with a way to end it. Some Russian officials told auditors the program was no longer needed, given economic improvements in Russia in recent years.

The department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the program, said in a letter attached to the GAO report that the agency viewed the program as justified and will continue to support it.

A National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman had no additional comment, citing the letter.

Created after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, the program -- known as the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, or IPP -- was designed to provide economic assistance and find jobs for Russian scientists involved in nuclear, chemical and biological weapons research. With many of these scientists losing their jobs, the concern was that they might use their knowledge to sell information or their services to terrorists.

As of last October, there were 929 IPP projects either completed or at some state of activity involving about 200 facilities in Russia and other former Soviet bloc countries, the GAO report said.

But the report said the Energy Department has overstated the success of the program both in terms of the number of targeted scientists that have been helped financially and the number of private-sector jobs that have been created.

The auditors found that of 6,450 scientists in a sample of projects, more than half the scientists paid by the program never claimed to have experience in dealing with weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, chemical, biological -- or had the ability to conduct the kind of knowledge transfer the program was aimed at preventing.

While the Energy Department has said that through April 2007, the assistance program had created 2,790 long-term private sector jobs, the auditors found in their review of 48 projects they "were unable to substantiate the existence of many of these jobs."

Also, the auditors found that many of the scientists who received aid were born in 1970 or later, "making them too young to have contributed to Soviet-era WMD efforts," the report said.

Instead of reducing the risk of critical information being sold to terrorists, the auditors were told by officials at 10 biological and nuclear institutes in Russia and Ukraine that the U.S. program simply helped them attract, recruit and retain younger scientists who might otherwise emigrate to the United States or other Western countries.