Fund Arms Control

SOME of the federal government's smallest agencies do some of its most important work.

One of them is the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), a tiny, 250-person department that conducts negotiations to limit and reduce nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and verifies compliance with arms-control treaties.

ACDA has been whipsawed in the budget debate: First it got caught in Sen. Jesse Helms's misguided attempt to eliminate it and two other foreign-affairs agencies and hand their work over to the State Department. That effort was defeated in the Senate, which passed a State Department authorization bill that includes funding for the other agencies.

But the upper chamber and the House of Representatives have not yet reconciled conflicting versions of the bill. So ACDA got caught in a continuing resolution that provides it with only 70 percent of the funding it had last fiscal year, and only 47 percent of the funding the administration asked for this year.

The resolution expires March 15, and ACDA needs an additional $8.7 million - for a final budget of $44.4 million - to do its job. ACDA Director John Holum has taken extreme measures to make sure his agency stays within the continuing-resolution funding.

He has slapped on a hiring freeze, halted use of consultants, banned overtime, put a hold on promotions, and restricted travel. Most vacancies are being left unfilled. Maintenance on ACDA's phones is limited to emergency repairs.

These measures have allowed the agency to hang on and, so far, fulfill most of its missions. But if Congress doesn't appropriate additional funding for after March 15, several of those missions will be in danger:

The agency has had to withdraw a key expert who is helping the United Nations ensure that Iraq's Sadaam Hussein doesn't develop nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

ACDA may not have the expertise it needs to complete negotiations on the treaty to ban nuclear testing.

The agency won't have the personnel to work on ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It already doesn't have the money to send an expert to The Hague to work on inspection procedures that will be required when the accord kicks in.

It's not only silly, it's dangerous for Congress to appropriate money for B-2 bombers the Pentagon doesn't want and for an untested missile-defense program while at the same time starving the agency that ensures other countries abide by arms-control agreements. The extra money ACDA needs buys a lot of national security at a very low price. Congress should find the funds.

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