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U.S. Radiation Detection Initiative to Halt Expansion

The Obama administration has halted expansion of an initiative to deploy radiation sensors at foreign seaports as it pushes to cut the program's budget by 85 percent in fiscal 2013, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in an assessment made public on Wednesday.

Maintaining equipment deployed at 42 ports in 31 nations is now the Megaports Initiative's primary objective, according to a summary of the report's findings. Work to place detectors in five nations has been suspended, as have talks with other governments on the program, auditors said.

Meanwhile, the National Nuclear Security Administration "has not finalized a long-term plan for ensuring the sustainability of Megaports operations after NNSA transfers radiation detection equipment to partner countries," the report says. The semiautonomous Energy Department atomic office cannot guarantee the continued effectiveness of its "$850 million investment" in the Megaports Initiative in the absence of "a long-term plan for ensuring countries’ ability" to continue their end of the effort, the document warns.

Separately, procedures for evaluating the program's achievements "do not provide sufficient information for decision-making because they do not evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the initiative," the assessment's authors wrote. "GAO has previously reported that agencies successfully assess performance when they use measures that demonstrate results, cover multiple program priorities and provide useful information for decision-making."

The congressional investigators said Megaports Initiative operators have failed to cooperate adequately with administrators of the Container Security Initiative, a separate Homeland Security Department effort to check for unconventional weapons in cargo heading to the United States.

"The two initiatives are co-located at 29 foreign seaports," the GAO report states. "In two countries, DHS officials told GAO that they were using personal radiation detectors -- a type of equipment intended for personal safety but not appropriate for scanning containers -- to inspect containers if their radiation detection equipment is broken. However, in both countries, the Megaports Initiative had more suitable equipment that DHS officials could have used."

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