Defense Technologies:

DOD's Critical Technologies Lists Rarely Inform Export Control and Other Policy Decisions

GAO-06-793: Published: Jul 28, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 28, 2006.

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Major acquisitions in the Department of Defense's (DOD) force transformation rely on maintaining technological superiority to ensure U.S. military dominance. Failure to identify and protect critical technologies makes U.S. military assets vulnerable to cloning, neutralization, or other action that degrades current and anticipated capabilities. To help minimize these risks, DOD's Militarily Critical Technologies Program developed and periodically updates two lists of technologies--the Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL) and the Developing Science and Technologies List (DSTL). While the lists are primarily intended to inform U.S. export control decisions, they can also inform counterintelligence activities, research plans, and technology protection programs, making MCTL and DSTL fundamental resources for security decisions. To ensure these lists are informative, GAO assessed the Militarily Critical Technologies Program's process for updating the MCTL and DSTL and determined how the lists are used to inform export control and DOD policy decisions.

The Militarily Critical Technologies Program's process for updating the MCTL and DSTL has generated lists that are of questionable value. To update the lists, working groups of experts from government, industry, and academia identify militarily critical technologies. However, participation in the working groups is voluntary, and some experts choose not to participate or do not participate fully. Validation of the updates--a critical check to ensure the lists are complete and accurate--also provides little assurance that the lists are of value. More than one-third of the reviewers acknowledged they do not have the technical expertise necessary to validate the updates, and one-quarter did not review the lists. The lists are also out of date. Although a stated program goal calls for all 20 sections of the lists to be completely updated at least every 4 years, about half of the sections on the MCTL--including technologies related to weapons, communications, and biological warfare--have not been updated for 10 years. The DSTL is also out of date; almost half of the sections have not been updated in the past 5 years. With the limited value of the MCTL and DSTL, agencies tend to rely on other information sources to inform export control and DOD policy decisions. According to DOD and Department of Commerce export control officials, the MCTL is too broad, difficult to use, and out of date to inform export control proposals or export licensing decisions. Concerned about the MCTL's accuracy and reliability, the Air Force instructed its personnel not to use the MCTL. The DSTL is also seldom used--in part because some DOD components were not aware of the list. For those components that were aware of the DSTL, some found it only marginally useful because it too is out of date. Several DOD components have developed their own efforts to track global technologies. For example, the Army established international technology centers dedicated to identifying international cooperative opportunities as well as to maintain knowledge of foreign research efforts to avoid technological surprises for the warfighter.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DUSD (ITS)indicated that the International Technology Security (ITS) office has expanded to include 3 to 4 full time staff that will provide oversight, program guidance, and management to the Institute for Defense Analyses. With the October 2008 issuance of DOD Instruction 3020.46, the Directorate for Defense Research and Engineering is responsible for establishing Technology Working Groups, providing oversight and managing the Militarily Critical Technologies List update process.

    Recommendation: To ensure that users' requirements are met, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director for Defense Research and Engineering, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, to establish an oversight mechanism to ensure that user needs are met.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD instruction 3020.46 for the militarily critical technologies program was issued in October 2008 which assigns responsibilities and prescribes procedures for developing and maintaining the Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL).

    Recommendation: To ensure that users' requirements are met, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director for Defense Research and Engineering, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, to develop an implementation plan for the approach, including timelines for execution and implementing guidance or directives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According the DOD officials, in conducting outreach to users and devising the approach to the Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL), no duplicative efforts were identified. The MCTL budget has doubled, from approximately $2 million annually to $4 million. According to DOD officials, the budget is sufficient to update and maintain the MCTL in accordance with DOD Instruction 3020.46.

    Recommendation: To ensure that users' requirements are met, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director for Defense Research and Engineering, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, to on the basis of the new approach, identify duplicative efforts, if any; ensure the efficient use of resources; and determine what level of funding is appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD officials, over 2008, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for International Technology Security completed an effort that identified and evaluated alternative means to improve the process used to develop the MCTL. This effort included options to better harness experts that the Institute for Defense Analyses has assembled to provide list input. Further, the electronic Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL) content has been coupled with a powerful search and analysis engine to allow users to more easily access the MCTL information and tailor the output to their specific requirements. Moreover, an October 2008 DOD Instruction 3020.46 was issued which provides an approach to periodically gather user needs and update the MCTL in a timely manner.

    Recommendation: To ensure that users' requirements are met, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director for Defense Research and Engineering, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, to using these best practices, develop an approach that best meets user requirements in a timely manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD sought out best practices for tracking, analyzing, and disseminating information on technologies by evaluating other defense programs that catalog technologies. As part of this effort, the DUSD (ITS) reviewed DOD acquisition security databases and revised the Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL) into a more dynamic database that is searchable and contains information that is constantly updated. Additionally, DOD is currently updating all MCTL sections on a 24 month cycle.

    Recommendation: To ensure that users' requirements are met, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director for Defense Research and Engineering, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, to examine existing efforts within the department to catalog critical technologies and determine best practices for identifying technologies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD indicated that the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for International Technology Security engaged counterparts in both the Department of Commerce and Department of State to better understand user requirements for the Militarily Critical Technologies List. The Department of Commerce has outlined desired improvements that are being incorporated into DOD's plan of action for improving the list. In addition outreach was conducted with military services and other groups such as the Defense Technology Security Administration which provided views that were incorporated to improve the Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL). Through this process, the MCTL's purpose was reassessed and determined to facilitate export control decisions. In October 2008, DOD issued an instruction on the MCTL which defines its purpose.

    Recommendation: Given the need of numerous programs to know what is militarily critical, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director for Defense Research and Engineering to determine users' requirements and on the basis of those requirements, reassess and clearly define the MCTL's purpose. If the purpose deviates from its original intent to inform export control decisions, DOD should seek necessary legislative relief.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has considered the utility of continuing the Developing Science and Technologies List (DSTL) and has determined that the list will be gradually phased out over the next several years. DOD plans to migrate relevant DSTL identified emerging technologies to the Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL) as technology sections of the MCTL are updated.

    Recommendation: Given the more expansive existing efforts in DOD to track global science and technology efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director for Defense Research and Engineering to determine the utility of continuing to maintain the DSTL.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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