One of the knocks people had when the Russian government announced its nanotechnology initiative was that it would be rife with corruption. And sometimes it seems it has fulfilled that promise.
But it also appears as though the Russian government is really bearing down hard to combat any abuses. Science magazine’s Science Insider is reporting that the Russian Federation Accounts Chamber, a body which audits the federal budget, believes that a disbanded government agency for R&D misspent US$16 million in 2008-2009 on nanotechnology projects.
According to the auditors, the now-defunct agency, called Rosnauka, spent $6.5 million on an online national nanotechnology network that duplicated a digital scientific library and Russian citation index base.
It should be noted that if this criteria were used in auditing nanotechnology projects outside of Russia, there might be some organizations that would find themselves in a bit of hot water.
That said, it seems the nanotechnology project of Russia has always been a troubling one for the government. President Dmitry Medvedev in May 2009 singled out the State Nanotechnology Corporation Rusnano as an example of how it’s a mistake to create large, state-owned corporations.
"[Rusnano] is the kind of instrument that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't work at all," Medvedev said, calling the company a "large structure that has a lot of money and that still has to understand how to correctly spend it."
Also, Rusnano seems to be under no compunction to just go out and buy their nanotechnology innovations from outside of Russia, leaving the infrastructure for nanotechnology development to remain poorly developed.It’s great that Russia appears committed to running a tight ship when it comes to their nanotechnology initiative. However, one has to wonder what’s the point of an initiative that purports to be developing nanotechnology in Russia and just goes out and buys companies abroad. It would seem the economic benefit will spread only to a small number of financiers, but then again that is the way of things nowadays.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.