Key Issues > Ensuring the Effective Protection of Technologies Critical to U.S. National Security Interests - High Risk Issue
defense icon, source: [West Covina, California] Progressive Management, 2008

Ensuring the Effective Protection of Technologies Critical to U.S. National Security Interests - High Risk Issue

The Department of Defense spends billions of dollars each year to develop and acquire sophisticated technologies that are critical to U.S. military superiority. As such, the U.S. government has a portfolio of programs designed to identify and protect technologies it deems critical to U.S. interests.

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As stated in the 2017 High Risk Update, technological superiority is critical to U.S. military strategy. The Department of Defense (DOD) spends billions of dollars each year to develop and acquire sophisticated technologies to provide an advantage for the warfighter during combat or other missions.

Many of these technologies are also sold or transferred to foreign partners to promote U.S. economic, foreign policy, and national security interests. These technologies can also be acquired through foreign investment in the U.S. companies that develop or manufacture them. In addition, they are targets for unauthorized transfer, such as theft, espionage, reverse engineering, and illegal export.

To identify and protect technologies critical to U.S. interests, the U.S. government has a portfolio of programs. These include export controls—those developed to regulate exports and ensure that items and information are transferred in a manner consistent with U.S. interests—as well as a number of non-export control programs, including:

  • the Foreign Military Sales program,
  • anti-tamper measures, and
  • the National Industrial Security Program, which oversees government contractors handling classified information, including that associated with critical technologies.

These programs and activities are administered by multiple federal agencies with various interests, including DOD and the Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice, State, and the Treasury. These programs, established decades ago, were ill-equipped to address the evolving challenges of balancing national security concerns and economic interests. While agencies are making progress in addressing challenges, additional leadership and coordination of programs and activities in the non-export control programs, among other things, is needed to identify strategic reforms that will help to advance U.S. interests.

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2015 Update to GAO's High Risk ListWednesday, February 11, 2015
  • portrait of Marie A. Mak
    • Marie A. Mak
    • Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management
    • makm@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-4841