For years, the U.S. government has imposed tight controls on the export of high technology and sophisticated weaponry to friends and allies, fearing it might fall into the hands competitors or enemies.
The restrictions are a legacy of the Cold War, when the U.S. sought to maintain its dominance in science and technology and the Soviet Union sought to acquire technology breakthroughs – not just through its own limited R&D programs, but by bribery, espionage and theft.
Now a new report by the National Academies’ National Research Council is urging President-elect Barack Obama to streamline the process – saying current restrictions on exporting high technology and admitting foreign scientists and scholars into the country is hurting the U.S. economically – and not really protecting national security or the industrial base.
The report, by a blue-ribbon panel of scientists, academics and former government officials, says the controls were created to maintain America’s scientific and technology dominance during the Cold War.
“The systems of export controls and visa applications for the U.S. are broken,” says former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. “They were crafted for a world that has disappeared,” he added during a briefing at the National Academies.
So the 109-page report recommends the next president make changes through executive action -- including the creation of a new administrative coordinating center for export controls to assist those seeking export licenses.
The basic idea, says Scowcroft, a retired Air Force general, is to turn thinking about the export control process on its head. Instead of government officials looking at what technologies should be banned from export, the report calls for them to explain every 12 months why they shouldn’t be free for export.
The report also calls for easing restrictions on scientists, engineers and student who are foreign nationals who want to work on or study high tech projects in the U.S. Groups like the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics have complained that such restrictions hamper the cross-pollination of ideas so important to scientific research – making the U.S. less competitive in an increasingly global market.
AIAA and the Aerospace Industries Association note that some technologies – such as commercial satellite components – that are banned for overseas sales are available from foreign competitors, putting U.S. companies at an economic disadvantage.
The panel suggested basing the coordinating center and an appeals panel within the National Security Council structure.