BY DAWN LEVY
Due in part to security concerns at some government laboratories, federal jurisdiction for satellite research recently has been moved from the Commerce Department's export regulations to the State Department's International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR). This change creates concerns that participation in some aspects of satellite-based research projects could be limited to U.S. citizens, setting up a direct conflict with the openness in research policies of most universities, including Stanford.
The impact of this change will be discussed at the annual public meeting of the Academic Council Committee on Research Friday, May 12, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Room B-12 of the Gates Computer Science Building.
Several satellite-based research projects effectively remain on hold as Stanford and other universities try to figure out how to respond to restrictions that researchers say are intolerable in environments where students and faculty come from all over the globe and where international collaborations are the norm, not the exception.
The committee will discuss the effect of these new regulations on university research projects now and in the future. It also will address what universities can do to maintain an open research environment. The committee is required to present the university's "Secrecy in Research" policy at this public meeting for review and endorsement. The policy, which expresses Stanford's commitment to openness in research, is available on the Web at http://www-portfolio.stanford.edu/100884.
ITAR restrictions could affect several current or pending satellite projects at Stanford, ranging from the small satellites that are built by aeronautics and astronautics Consulting Professor Bob Twiggs and his students to Gravity Probe B, a multimillion-dollar research project spanning several decades.
"We do no classified or weapons research at Stanford," says Ann George, assistant dean of research. "We conduct fundamental research, and are committed to sharing what we learn as widely as possible." Stanford University's "Secrecy in Research" policy is based on the principle of freedom of access by all interested persons to the underlying data, to the processes and to the final results of research. It states that this principle is of "overriding importance."
NASA spent more than $1 billion on research grants and contracts at universities in the 1999 fiscal year, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education, with 43 percent of the money going to 10 institutions. Stanford was number three, receiving about $58 million.
Stanford is "working aggressively" with the Association of American Universities, George says, to communicate the position of academia to both the State Department and to NASA.
Universities are not the only institutions that have a lot at stake. Lockheed Martin Corp., a contractor for basic research projects at Stanford and elsewhere, has recently been charged with ITAR violations, George says.
"In a very risk-averse political environment, some contractors may seek to limit access to the satellite-based research being done here to U.S. citizens," George says. "One of the absurd outcomes could be a situation where a piece of technology developed by an overseas contributor could then be restricted such that the scientist who created it would then not be allowed to see it."
Stanford aeronautics and
astronautics Professor Brad Parkinson will speak at the Friday
meeting. As a Gravity Probe B scientific leader and last year's
chair of the NASA Advisory Council, Parkinson helped organize an
effort with other universities to communicate the impact of these
regulations on academic research. Debra Zumwalt, Stanford's acting
general counsel, will speak about legal aspects of the issue.