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GAO Finds Funding, Resources Concerns at International Nuclear Agency

U.S. efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism include working with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an autonomous international agency affiliated with the United Nations. IAEA’s nuclear security program aims to assist countries in enhancing the physical protection, control, and accounting of their nuclear and radiological material and nuclear facilities.

A July 29 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says IAEA does not have the necessary guidelines to ensure it is appropriately prioritizing its work and targeting its resources. GAO also found the international agency relies heavily on voluntary contributions and hasn’t analyzed ways to stabilize its funding.

IAEA officials said they respond to member states’ requests as they arrive and to the extent resources are available. GAO says that by developing guidelines for prioritizing its nuclear security activities, IAEA could help ensure that it is allocating its resources to the areas of greatest need. While IAEA has developed performance measures for its nuclear security program, these measures do not have baselines or targets, limiting its ability to demonstrate the results of its nuclear security program.

The GAO review found that IAEA member states disagree over the agency’s role in nuclear security, and according to U.S. and other member-state officials and experts, these disagreements create challenges for the agency, such as funding its nuclear security efforts.

Officials added that states that do not support the agency’s nuclear security role resist efforts to substantially raise the agency’s regular budget for nuclear security, contributing to the program’s heavy reliance on voluntary, or extra-budgetary, contributions from member states. Experts and U.S. agency officials have suggested options to stabilize nuclear security program funding, but IAEA has not analyzed such options.

As a result of its review, GAO is making five recommendations to the Department of State (State), which coordinates the United States’ policy with and financial contributions to IAEA. GAO wants State to work with IAEA and its member states through the Board of Governors to:

  • develop detailed guidelines for prioritizing nuclear security activities;
  • improve the nuclear security program’s performance measures by developing baselines and measurable targets;
  • improve how DNS reports to member states by consistently including the results of performance measures in at least one of the reports;
  • analyze options to stabilize DNS’s funding within current fiscal and political constraints to enhance the sustainability of IAEA’s nuclear security program; and
  • strengthen the agency’s central coordinating role by following key practices for collaboration.

State agrees with all five recommendations.

GAO’s report comes as IAEA faces a change of leadership. As a consequence of the recent passing away of Director General Yukiya Amano on July 18, the Board of Governors decided on July 25 to designate Mr Cornel Feruta as acting Director General, until a Director General assumes office.

Read the complete report at GAO

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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