Federally-Financed Research and Communication on Soviet Affairs:

Capabilities and Needs

ID-80-48: Published: Jul 2, 1980. Publicly Released: Jul 2, 1980.

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A Presidential study commission recently reported a serious deterioration in this country's capacity to use foreign languages and conduct research in international affairs. The gap between those needs and the United States ability to deal with other peoples in a changing world is growing wider. GAO examined the Government's capacity to analyze (through research) the behavior of potential adversaries and outlined a possible approach to the problem of assessing national needs in this field. GAO reported on the kinds of in-house and external research sponsored by those agencies, what problems exist, how the research is coordinated within the Government and between the Government and the private sector, and the language capabilities that the agencies currently apply to Soviet/East European research. Research on Soviet affairs conducted or sponsored by the Government agencies relates mainly to current issues as they affect National diplomatic and defense policy. Those agencies having essentially domestic responsibilities generally reported a limited internal capacity to study Soviet affairs, focusing on the specialized issue areas that fall within their operational responsibilities. They rely for much of their source material on reports and translations obtained from the intelligence community and the private sector. Most of the 13 agencies GAO queried said that their present Soviet research and language capacity was adequate to serve their specialized purposes. Generally, functional specialty is more important than the language and area specialty. GAO confirmed the finding of the President's Commission of the decline of language and area studies in American education and gaps in language and research capability. Perceptions of the need for Soviet research vary widely among experts and practitioners. An update of information about existing research resources is presently being created, but a quantitative study of how much research is necessary will be hard to develop. The President's Commission's recommended the establishment of a Federal Council on International Research and Training comprising representatives of Government and the private sector, to set policies for external Government-funded foreign affairs research awards, assess the needs and improve the effectiveness of international training and research, and help obtain the necessary funds. GAO believes that the principle underlying this proposal is sound but could be narrowed initially.

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