Export Controls

International Space Station Technology Transfers Gao ID: NSIAD-00-14 November 3, 1999

The international space station, with 16 nations involved, is one of the largest scientific collaborations attempted. Under international agreements, NASA, as the U.S. representative, is obligated to deliver, disclose, or transfer technology, data, and commodities needed to implement the program. Members of Congress have raised concerns about the extent of safeguards to protect technology and information exported in support of the space station. This report provides information on (1) the licenses granted to NASA to export space station-related technology and commodities and plans to export encryption technology and (2) the results of internal and external assessments of NASA's export control program and NASA's actions to implement audit recommendations. Encryption technology maintains the secrecy of information and is needed to provide secure transmission of command and control instructions between ground and space components of the space station.

GAO noted that: (1) since April 1995, the Department of Commerce has issued nine Individual Validated Licenses to export specific items and one special comprehensive license that allows NASA to export certain preapproved items without seeking Commerce's approval each time NASA needs to export them for the International Space Station Program; (2) although the special comprehensive license was intended to preclude the need for individual licenses, NASA has only used it once because it has not been updated and individual licenses are easier to obtain than updating the special comprehensive license; (3) as new export requirements have materialized, NASA has elected to apply for individual licenses rather than amend the special comprehensive license; (4) the Department of State has not issued any licenses to NASA to export technology or commodities for the International Space Station; (5) however, NASA erroneously authorized the export of radiation-hardened electronic parts to Russia in 1997 without first obtaining a license from State; (6) NASA expects to export encryption technology for use in the program but has not determined whether a license is needed; (7) NASA expects that such exports will be limited to its Japanese and European partners; (8) internal and external reviews of NASA's export control activities have identified weaknesses, including a need for greater management involvement in export-related decisions and additional training to educate employees involved with technology control about export laws, regulations, and procedures; (9) NASA has taken steps to correct these weaknesses, however, some additional actions are needed; (10) for example, annual internal audits have not provided sufficient information to assess the effectiveness of NASA's export controls for the International Space Station Program; and (11) resulting reports of audits that were issued in 1997 and 1998 provide little detail and analyses beyond completing a required audit checklist.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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