AAAS: "Deemed Export" Proposal Would Hurt U.S. Economy, Research
Albert H. Teich
AAAS is urging the Department of Commerce to reconsider a proposal to regulate more strictly the access of foreign nationals to certain technologies at U.S. research universities, saying the move would have a broad negative impact.
The department's Bureau of Industry and Security is considering proposed changes to its "deemed export" rules intended to restrict the export of knowledge about sensitive technology to nationals of certain countries. The rules would require universities to assess their research equipment to determine whether federal licenses for foreign nationals are required before those researchers could work on sensitive equipment so that the government could more closely control the export of technological knowledge.
But in a letter to the bureau, AAAS Science and Policy Director Albert H. Teich cautioned that the impact on universities-and on American research-would be substantial and that the costs imposed by the new rules would outweigh any benefits.
"While AAAS understands Commerce's interest in protecting the commercial transfer of technologies to certain nations," Teich wrote, "the Association believes that the [proposed rules] will further restrict the conduct of fundamental research and diminish our national security rather than increase it."
The Association of American Universities and the Council on Government Relations are among others who also have delivered letters that strongly question the need for the proposed changes. If enacted, critics say, the rules could lead universities into a bureaucratic quagmire that could cost millions of dollars every year while slowing research and undermining the open exchange of knowledge among researchers.
The Bureau of Industry and Security proposal was based on a March 2004 study done by the Inspectors General of the Departments of Commerce and Defense which concluded that foreign nationals' access to sensitive technology posed a potential threat to U.S. security. In March 2005, the bureau solicited public comment on its notice of proposed rulemaking.
In the AAAS letter, Teich said that neither the report by the Inspectors General nor the Bureau's notice provided sufficient evidence to justify the rule changes. Existing rules for classifying the results of research, the current visa system and other restrictions on access to certain technologies currently protect national security and economic interests without placing undue burdens on U.S. universities, he said.
"Foreign nationals who apply for student visas already must submit to an extensive examination by State Department consular offices and to Visas Mantis screening," Teich wrote in the 27 June letter. "Requiring an additional layer of scrutiny by institutions is overly burdensome and unnecessary."
In conclusion, he wrote: "The impact of the proposed revisions on scientific research and our nation's economic competitiveness would be substantial, while expected improvements to national security have not been persuasively presented by the Department of Commerce. To the extent that the proposed changes lead to delays or unnecessary denials of licenses for foreign nationals seeking to work on fundamental research in the U.S., they have the potential to set back research, alienate foreign scholars and students, and exacerbate the declining enrollment of foreign nationals in U.S. science and engineering graduate school."
Read the full AAAS letter here.
Edward W. Lempinen
6 July 2005