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June 2, 2022
GAO Faults U.S. Anti-Smuggling Efforts
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In May, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report criticizing U.S. efforts to reduce the likelihood of nuclear and radioactive material smuggling abroad.

U.S. programs in this area are “not effectively coordinated” and lack an “overall” government-wide plan for effective implementation. Despite minimal coordination efforts, the U.S. agencies’ different approaches have left “some border crossings more vulnerable to nuclear material smuggling than others,” the report said.

The report also contended that although U.S. foreign assistance generally helps other countries to combat nuclear and radioactive material smuggling, “serious problems with installing, using, and maintaining radiation detection equipment have undermined U.S. efforts.” The United States currently conducts such anti-smuggling efforts in about 30 countries, most of which are located throughout the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe, the report said.

The GAO, which is the investigative arm of Congress, recommended that the secretary of state lead an effort to develop an interagency plan to “help other countries develop an integrated approach to combat nuclear smuggling.” In addition, U.S. government agencies with “duplicative or overlapping” internal responsibilities should consolidate their efforts. For example, the Energy Department should move its radiation-detection equipment activities into one office, and the State Department should do the same for its border security and anti-smuggling efforts.

The GAO suggested that the secretary of energy should work with the secretaries of state and defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration chief to strengthen efforts to account for detection equipment currently deployed abroad and to ensure the equipment is properly installed. The energy secretary should also seek assurances from countries that receive U.S. equipment that they are sharing information on the detection of radioactive materials with U.S. agencies on a timely basis.

At a June 26 press briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that his department has already taken steps to implement some of the GAO’s recommendations and recognizes that “there’s always room for improvement.”