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U.S. Plans to Help Universities Protect Security of Research

June 29, 2022

The U.S. Department of Commerce on Tuesday announced a new effort aimed at working with universities to protect potentially sensitive research products from theft by foreign agents.

The so-called Academic Outreach Initiative was announced by the Commerce Department’s assistant secretary for export enforcement, Matthew S. Axelrod, in a speech at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Attorneys.

“The challenges of keeping our academic research environments thriving and our controlled information secure from improper foreign acquisition are significant,” Axelrod said in remarks prepared for delivery at the conference. “That’s why I’m announcing today a new Export Enforcement initiative to help academic research institutions protect themselves from these threats.”

By working more closely with universities that conduct research with potential national security implications, the federal government “will empower colleges and universities to prevent unauthorized exports, including releases of controlled technology, and to make informed judgments about their future and ongoing partnerships with foreign universities and companies,” Axelrod said in remarks prepared for delivery at the conference.

The initiative has four major elements:

  • Identifying the universities and research institutions perceived to be at the highest risk because they conduct research for the Department of Defense, have ties to restricted foreign universities or conduct research in sensitive technologies;
  • Assigning “outreach agents” for those institutions to help them prevent unauthorized export of sensitive information;
  • Offering briefings to American universities” foreign research partners to inform them of potential risks from working with risky entities; and
  • Providing training to prioritized research institutions on potential threats.

A Government Accountability Office report this month said the agencies charged with preventing the export of information about sensitive technologies would benefit from better information about which universities face the most risk of exposure.

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Doug Lederman

Doug Lederman is editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed. He helps lead the news organization's editorial operations, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Doug speaks widely about higher education, including on C-Span and National Public Radio and at meetings and on campuses around the country, and his work has appeared in The New York Times and USA Today, among other publications. Doug was managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education from 1999 to 2003. Before that, Doug had worked at The Chronicle since 1986 in a variety of roles, first as an athletics reporter and editor. He has won three National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association, including one in 2009 for a series of Inside Higher Ed articles he co-wrote on college rankings. He began his career as a news clerk at The New York Times. He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated in 1984 from Princeton University. Doug lives with his wife, Kate Scharff, in Bethesda, Md.

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