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Highlights

Countries posing national security concerns to the U.S. could upgrade their military forces with certain technologies having civilian and military (dual-use) applications. The Department of Commerce (Commerce) may require employers to obtain a "deemed export" license before they can transfer these technologies to foreign nationals in the U.S. The State Department also requires foreign nationals to obtain specialty occupation visas to work in the U.S. in occupations such as engineering, computers, and biotechnology. GAO was asked to examine the risk that foreign nationals in the U.S. may gain unauthorized access to controlled technologies, and the extent to which Commerce and other agencies implemented recommended changes to the deemed export licensing process and enforcement system. GAO analyzed licensing and visa data from Commerce and Homeland Security, respectively; reviewed reports; and met with law enforcement agencies, companies, and universities in Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce To better direct its efforts to detect possible unauthorized deemed exports and conduct outreach, in consultation with the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Commerce should assess the extent to which foreign nationals from countries of concern who were issued specialty occupation visas also should have been covered by deemed export license applications. This assessment, using all available data from the three agencies, might involve reviewing a sample of H-1B specialty visas for employment in particular technologies, such as computers, electronics, or biotechnology, to determine whether employers of the applicants should have applied for deemed export licenses. The Secretary should use the results of this assessment to identify the vulnerabilities in the deemed export control system; plan to better target and inform companies, universities, and agencies about deemed export licensing requirements; and develop and implement procedures for incorporating DHS immigration data into its enforcement screening activities.
Closed - Not Implemented
Commerce has not conducted the assessment we recommended, nor has it attempted to identify any vulnerabilities in the deemed export control system. Commerce has taken action to target and inform companies, universities, and agencies about deemed export licensing requirements. Commerce has also taken action to implement procedures for incorporating DHS immigration data into its enforcement screening activities. However, these actions are not informed by any assessment of risk. As a result, Commerce may not be targeting and informing all of the right companies, universities, and agencies about deemed export licensing requirements. Commerce may also not be incorporating all of the right DHS immigration data into its enforcement screening activities.
Department of Commerce To ensure that Commerce takes actions to more fully address the deficiencies identified in this and prior reports as part of any export control reform effort, the Secretary of Commerce should report to Congress the specific steps being taken to implement past GAO and Commerce IG recommendations in the context of the current Export Control Reform Initiative. These recommendations relate to (1) improving outreach; (2) implementing a program to monitor compliance with deemed export license security conditions; (3) screening foreign nationals who change their immigration status in the United States for deemed export requirements; and (4) improving coordination among the law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing deemed export license regulations.
Closed - Not Implemented
Commerce has taken action to (1) improve outreach, (2) implement a program to monitor compliance with deemed export license security conditions, and (3) screen foreign nationals who change their immigration status in the United States for deemed export requirements. Also, as part of the Export Control Reform Initiative, Commerce is now part of an Export Enforcement Coordination Center that works to coordinate the activities of the various agencies with export control enforcement responsibilities. The Center was founded in November 2010. However, Commerce has not reported to Congress on the steps it has taken to implement past GAO and Commerce IG recommendations.

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