Defense Rules Would Pinch Foreign-Born Scientists

Reposted from Science Magazine, 22 July 2005

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has proposed a rule that would make it harder for universities to involve foreign nationals in unclassified research projects funded by the agency. The additional security arrangements required by the rule are at odds with traditional practices, say university administrators. The result, they warn, will be fewer opportunities for many researchers born abroad.

The rule, published in the 12 July Federal Register (, is intended to beef up DOD's compliance with export-control regulations aimed at restricting the transfer of certain technologies to countries viewed as threats to national security. The Commerce Department earlier this year proposed modifying those regulations so that universities must obtain a license before engaging nationals from a list of countries that includes China, India, and Russia ( Science, 13 May, p. 938). Universities have traditionally considered themselves exempt from this requirement under what is known as the fundamental research exemption.

By not mentioning the fundamental research exemption, the DOD rule would apply to all DOD-sponsored research. To comply, universities and companies working on defense projects would not only need licenses to enable foreign nationals to participate in the research but would also need to protect export-controlled information through an "access control plan" that includes "unique badging requirements for foreign nationals" and "segregated work areas." The requirements are in line with recommendations last year from DOD's Inspector General, who concluded that the agency did not have "adequate processes to identify unclassified export-controlled technology and to prevent unauthorized disclosure to foreign nationals" ( Science, 23 April 2004, p. 500).

University officials foresee "draconian clauses" in research contracts that would make it more difficult for them to involve foreign nationals in projects, says Toby Smith, senior federal relations officer for the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C. Many universities would have to turn down such contracts either because of the cost of additional security or to avoid violating their own nondiscrimination policies, Smith says. "Walling off labs, making foreign graduate students wear badges--it's just not what we do at a university," says Paul Powell, assistant director of the Office of Sponsored Programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

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