Foreign researchers working on certain kinds of sensitive research under military contracts could face tough new limits on their activities under rules proposed by the Pentagon.
The rules cover military research contracts in sensitive areas and include requirements for several new measures for foreign nationals -- such as special badges and segregated work areas -- that worry many universities, who find these measures excessive and potentially offensive to the many foreign students who work in American university laboratories.
The Association of American Universities, in a memo urging its members to send the Pentagon objections to the proposal, said that the rules could easily spread beyond areas where there may be any security concern. "The proposal fails to reference the fundamental research exemption for universities, which exempts them from applying for export licenses for a majority of their research," the AAU memo said. (Export controls are one of the mechanisms by which federal agencies designate certain research as requiring higher levels of scrutiny.)
Further, the AAU noted that many universities are already experiencing "significant problems" with "troublesome clauses" in Pentagon research contracts. The association fears that, if the new rules are adopted, the Pentagon's program managers will include the "overly restrictive language" in many contracts not even covered by the proposed regulation.
The Pentagon proposal characterized the rules not as a dramatic change, but as "clarifications of existing responsibilities."
The proposed Pentagon policy comes shortly after a Commerce Department proposal to increase requirements for universities doing research with foreign nationals that is covered by export controls. Several academic groups have objected to those proposals, saying that they apply to far too much research that poses no security issues and that the proposals for foreign nationals go too far.
For instance, the American Association for the Advancement of Science asked why universities, under the proposal, would be required to determine foreign nationals' country of birth in addition to their citizenship. A letter from the AAAS to the department questioned whether that idea "would pass judicial scrutiny," and called it "overly burdensome and unnecessary."