GAO: NNSA lacks plan to ensure $850M investment in nuclear detection pays off

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Having spent $850 million on nuclear detection in overseas ports, the National Nuclear Security Administration needs a plan to make sure partner countries put that money to good use, the Government Accountability Office says.

The NNSA established its Megaports Initiative in 2003 to prevent the smuggling of nuclear or radiological materials through foreign ports. The agency pays to install detection equipment and to train foreign personnel to use it.

After it works with a partner country for 3 years, the NNSA transfers responsibility for the program to the country, but at the time of the GAO's investigation, it hadn't finalized a plan to make sure partner countries sustain the program. Without such a plan, the investment is more likely to go to waste, auditors say in a report (.pdf) released Nov. 28.

As of August, the NNSA had completed 42 of 100 planned Megaports projects in 31 countries. The agency plans to shift its focus from starting new projects to sustaining existing ones, and auditors say that's reflected in the president's proposed fiscal 2013 budget, which cuts the program by 85 percent.

But the NNSA does not systematically follow up with partner countries to ensure the program's success, say auditors, who found a number of countries where the program's sustainability was in question.

Bangladesh, Djibouti and Kenya will probably need ongoing support even after their 3-year transition periods end, for example. Sri Lanka and Colombia have already asked to extend their transition periods beyond 3 years, and NNSA officials expect Pakistan will need a longer transition period too, auditors say.

Officials in the Dominican Republic and Panama also voiced concern to auditors that the program wouldn't be adequately funded after they take over responsibility for the program in their ports.

Auditors also say the Megaports program should coordinate more with the Homeland Security Department's Container Security Initiative, which examines shipping containers for weapons of mass destruction.

Twenty-nine foreign seaports have both programs. DHS officials in two countries told auditors that they used personal radiation detectors on containers, which those detectors aren't designed for. The Megaports program had more suitable equipment that DHS officials could use, auditors say.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-13-37 (.pdf)

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