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Highlights

Foreign students and scholars have made substantial contributions to U.S. research efforts and technology development. However, according to a federal government intelligence assessment, foreign access to sensitive U.S. technology has imposed a significant but unquantifiable cost to the United States. Given this risk, GAO was asked to (1) describe the nature of the research at universities and identify steps they take to comply with export controls and (2) assess efforts by the Departments of Commerce and State--the key export control agencies--to determine the risk of export violations in university research. GAO reviewed Commerce and State export control programs and met with officials from 13 universities, selected based on their foreign student populations, applications for export licenses, and federal grants and contracts.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce To improve the Department of Commerce's oversight of export-controlled information under its jurisdiction at universities, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of the Bureau of Industry and Security to strategically assess potential vulnerabilities in the conduct and publication of academic research by becoming more knowledgeable about research being conducted on university campuses and, in consultation with other agencies, make use of available information on technology development and foreign student populations at universities to assess the extent to which research at universities may be subject to export controls.
Closed - Implemented
To address this recommendation, Commerce cited the agency's 2007 strategic outreach plan that was serves as a roadmap for assessing vulnerabilities in the protection of export controlled information, as well as establishment of the Deemed Export Advisory Committee (DEAC) to gain additional expert advice on deemed export policy, including potential vulnerabilities. Agency officials also have provided documentation of agency activities that address this recommendation, including the implementation of DEAC recommendations to simplify the deemed export licensing process and to extend Commerce's educational outreach efforts to ensure familiarity by those subject to the deemed export rule. Commerce also completed a Deemed Export Strategic Outreach Plan which aided development of specific criteria for the selection of organizations, including universities, targeted for agency's outreach activities. In addition, Commerce has analyzed compliance data, which agency officials stated has enabled the agency to identify gaps--compliance errors and violations by exporters--in the protection of controlled information as well as to target educational outreach to exporters.
Department of Commerce To improve the Department of Commerce's oversight of export-controlled information under its jurisdiction at universities, the Secretary of Commerce should, on the basis of this assessment of university research and foreign student populations, direct the Administrator of the Bureau of Industry and Security to improve interagency coordination, conduct additional outreach, and improve guidance to ensure that universities understand when to apply export controls.
Closed - Implemented
Based on Commerce's Deemed Export Strategic Outreach Plan, Commerce officials stated that the agency has increased its outreach and training activities to both universities and industry, including updates to its guidance and teaching tools, increases in the number of seminars, and the introduction of webinars. Officials also noted the agency is implementing recommendations of Deemed Export Advisory Committee (DEAC) to clarify the transfer of export controlled information. Regarding interagency coordination, Commerce officials indicated that there have been increasing efforts to collaborate on export control enforcement efforts, including Commerce-provided training on export control enforcement for employees of other agencies and the creation of regional task forces, comprised of government law enforcement agencies, that utilize each agency's express expertise to address export control enforcement. Agency officials also noted expanded interagency coordination with the State Department and other agencies in Commerce seminars.
Department of State To improve the Department of State's oversight of export-controlled information under its jurisdiction at universities, the Secretary of State should direct the Director of the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls to strategically assess potential vulnerabilities in the conduct and publication of academic research by becoming more knowledgeable about research being conducted on university campuses and, in consultation with other agencies, make use of available information on technology development and foreign student populations at universities to assess the extent to which research at universities may be subject to export controls.
Closed - Not Implemented
According to Department of State letter dated July 19, 2007, the Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls does not have the resources to conduct the strategic analysis we recommended. Therefore we are closing this recommendation since State does not intend to implement it.
Department of State To improve the Department of State's oversight of export-controlled information under its jurisdiction at universities, the Secretary of State should direct the Director of the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, on the basis of this assessment of university research and foreign student populations, to improve interagency coordination, conduct additional outreach, and improve guidance to ensure that universities understand when to apply export controls.
Closed - Implemented
As of Sept. 29, 2010, State responded that the US Government has significantly improved the way it does business with universities. The Department of Defense through the Defense Supplement to the Federal Acquisition Regulations (DFARS) now requires that contracts with universities (& others) contain a clause notifying contractors of their requirement to comply with the ITAR and AECA where the research involves export controlled subject matter. Further guidance about contractor requirements for physical security and limitations on access to foreign students is contained in the National Industrial Security Policy Manual (NISPOM).

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