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.
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.
GAO-15-288: Published: Feb 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Feb 10, 2015.
The agencies responsible for eight programs designed to protect critical technologies have implemented several initiatives since 2007, but face some implementation challenges. Agencies have made progress addressing previously identified weaknesses in response to changes in law, GAO recommendations, or agencies' own internal identification of them. For instance, the area of export controls has seen...
GAO-14-315: Published: Apr 15, 2014. Publicly Released: May 15, 2014.
Weaknesses in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) export control policy and implementation of foreign national access procedures at some centers increase the risk of unauthorized access to export-controlled technologies. NASA policies provide Center Directors wide latitude in implementing export controls at their centers. Federal internal control standards call for clearly def...
GAO-13-157: Published: Jan 23, 2013. Publicly Released: Jan 23, 2013.
While the Department of Defense (DOD) took steps to address previously identified weaknesses in updating and maintaining the Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL), the list remains outdated and updates have ceased. For example, DOD has solicited users' requirements and feedback on the MCTL, and added a search engine capability to improve navigation of the list and updated each technology se...
GAO-13-84: Published: Nov 16, 2012. Publicly Released: Nov 16, 2012.
Security cooperation officials report three major types of challenges--training and workforce structure, defining partner country requirements, and obtaining acquisition and delivery status information--in conducting assistance programs. Ongoing Department of Defense (DOD) reforms address challenges that DOD security cooperation officials reported in meeting staff training needs and achieving the...
GAO-12-246: Published: Mar 27, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 27, 2012.
Agencies use a risk-based approach, including workload and threat assessment data, to allocate resources, but most do not fully track those used for export control enforcement activities. As their missions are broader than export controls, agencies can use staff resources for other activities based on need, making tracking resources used solely for export control enforcement difficult. Only Commer...