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Highlights

In 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine destroyed the reactor building and released massive amounts of radioactive contamination. A temporary shelter was built over the damaged reactor to prevent further contamination. The United States is a major donor to an international project to build a new shelter to replace the existing one, which is badly deteriorating. GAO was asked to (1) assess the progress toward completing the new shelter, (2) review the cost estimates to complete the project, and (3) assess the U.S. role in overseeing and funding the project. To carry out its work, GAO analyzed program documents, interviewed U.S. and international program officials, and visited the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State To help ensure that the United States has a clear and consistent strategy--as well as a sound basis for continuing to support the Chernobyl Shelter Project--the Secretary of State should, working in consultation with other contributors and EBRD, consider establishing specific performance benchmarks for the project that need to be met before additional pledges of funds are made in the future.
Closed - Implemented
According to a State official, when State recognized in 2010 another pledge conference would be needed to complete the Chernobyl shelter project, it decided that it needed to be better able to assess the project's performance because it was difficult for State to get benchmarks from the shelter contractor or any other source. Consequently, State made its April 2011 pledge of additional funds contingent on increased monitoring of the projects cost and schedule benchmarks to ensure they remain within agreed cost amounts and timeframes. Since the U.S. pledge would be paid in annual increments, State would require continuous benchmark monitoring and reporting as a condition of its annual payments. Although State did not establish its own performance benchmarks, its considerations and actions partially implement our recommendation; it made U.S. annual payments contingent on the project's performance against benchmarks being continuously transparent, which provides donors a better means to quickly identify and respond to any poor performance.
Department of State To help ensure that the United States has a clear and consistent strategy--as well as a sound basis for continuing to support the Chernobyl Shelter Project--the Secretary of State should, working in consultation with other contributors and EBRD, consider periodically reviewing and revising the benchmarks to ensure they are relevant and applicable to the project's performance goals and time frames.
Closed - Implemented
As required by the contingent placed on the U.S.'s April 2011 pledge of additional funds, a quality assurance officer would be based at the project site and continuously report directly to the donor nations, including the U.S. Unlike the set format of the current project reports provided to donors, the quality assurance officer could revise reporting information to donors as needed to explain emerging problems. State's action implements the intent of our recommendation, which is to ensure that donors get continuously relevant and applicable information on the project's performance goals and time frame.
Department of State To help ensure that the United States has a clear and consistent strategy--as well as a sound basis for continuing to support the Chernobyl Shelter Project--the Secretary of State should, working in consultation with other contributors and EBRD, consider obtaining an independent validation of major revisions to cost estimates.
Closed - Not Implemented
According to a State official, State has not sponsored, or advocated for, any independent validations of the project's cost estimates.
Department of State To help ensure that the United States has a clear and consistent strategy--as well as a sound basis for continuing to support the Chernobyl Shelter Project--the Secretary of State should, working in consultation with other contributors and EBRD, consider developing a contingency strategy for obtaining the additional funding that may be needed to complete the project. The strategy should include encouraging other major donor countries and the European Commission to also contribute additional funding.
Closed - Implemented
In GAO's 2007 report, we reported difficulties with continued funding of the Chernobyl project from the FREEDOM Support Act (FSA) account, which had dwindling funds used for many other purposes. In State's 2007 letter responding to our recommendations, State said the department fully concurred with GAO's related recommendation, is anticipating future funding needs in its budget planning, and continues to press for equitable burden-sharing among our international partners. However, in 2011 a State official told us that the U.S. had been able to find sufficient funding in the same account for the current round of additional funding, which is expected to be the U.S.'s final pledge, and therefore had not needed to plan a contingency funding strategy. As a result, alternative actions were taken to meet the objective of the recommendation.
Department of State Furthermore, to increase the State Department's accountability and transparency for funding the project, the Secretary of State should provide a detailed annual report to Congress about the status of the project, including project costs, project milestones, and estimated completion dates.
Closed - Not Implemented
As of May 2011, State has not provided annual reports to Congress to provide more detailed information about the project.

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