Congressional Watchdog Recommends Changes to Atomic Energy Act

Report says Executive Branch should provide regular briefings to Congress about negotiations on Saudi-US nuclear power sharing
May 5, 2020 Updated: May 5, 2020

A congressional watchdog released a report Monday in which it recommended that the U.S. Departments of State and Energy commit to briefing the relevant Congressional committees on negotiations with Saudi Arabia about nuclear power cooperation.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said Congress should consider modifying the 1954 Atomic Energy Act (AEA) to require regular briefings for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations about Trump Administration’s talks with Saudi Arabia on nuclear power-sharing.

The AEA of 1954 established the terms and outlined the process for nuclear cooperation between the United States and other countries.

The GOA report stated, “It is unclear whether the Departments of State and Energy kept Congress “fully and currently informed” of nuclear cooperation negotiations with Saudi Arabia, as required by the AEA. These negotiations are stalled over nonproliferation conditions”.

GAO also recommended that the Secretary of State in coordination with the Secretary of Energy be required to provide regular, “substantive” briefings to the relevant Congressional committees.

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations put out a joint statement about GOA’s findings.

“We thank the GAO for their efforts in putting together this important product. We requested this study because of concerns regarding how the United States has been engaging the Saudi government on nuclear cooperation, including why the Department of Energy, not the Department of State, took the lead in negotiations with the Saudi government,” said the Senators Monday.

A State Department Spokesperson told the Epoch Times that the Department cooperated fully with GAO’s investigation.

“The GAO requests related to an ongoing international negotiation; thus, our cooperation was consistent with our longstanding policy of protecting confidential and current diplomatic discussions with our international counterparts.”

The State Department also told ET that their first priority is to, “protect U.S. interests at stake in such an ongoing negotiation, and to achieve the best outcome possible for the United States and the American people, the Department did not reveal details related to ​the negotiation​, though it did make experts available to GAO who were briefed on the role and approach of the Department in such negotiations”.

The Senators originally made the request to GAO on March 15, 2019 to conduct the study on behalf of Congress, after reports that some of the Trump Administration’s civil nuclear cooperation negotiations with Saudi Arabia were conducted without adequate oversight.

The Statement Department added, “Additional requests by the GAO were related to internal deliberations within the Executive Branch, which the Department also does not disclose in order to protect our ability to debate issues and to provide full and frank input and recommendations to our leadership.”

Senator Menendez and Rubio said they are troubled at the lack of coordination between the different agencies and at the idea that this could lead to an “agreement without proper safeguards to prevent nuclear proliferation.” The senators urged the Administration to adhere to the Atomic Energy Act requirements and keep Congress abreast of all developments.

“As we explore legislative changes to address these challenges, it is clear Congress must reassert its critical role in reviewing nuclear cooperation agreements to ensure these agreements do not pose an unnecessary risk to the United States,” the Senators concluded.

The senators argue that the American public deserves greater transparency about these dealings.