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Program started to address Export Control regulations

The Office of Research Compliance at Central Michigan University described efforts to establish an export compliance program. The program would work to ensure research and sensitive information potentially shared with countries the government lists as a “risk” to the U.S. adheres to federal export control policy.

Robert Bienkowski, research compliance director, discussed the program at the Academic Senate meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21. He explained most researchers are unaware of federal export control regulations, and other institutions have faced significant fines — with faculty sometimes charged with jail-time — because the regulations “are not widely understood.”

While emphasizing the export compliance program will not add extra burden for most faculty, specific types of research, travel practices and shared information may require a federal license, which the program would help regulate.

Bienkowski said export control regulations help the government regulate the flow of sensitive information and technology to certain countries, people, and institutions who are on Export Control lists. Affected faculty are those who want to share information or send things, such as military technology or dangerous bacteria, to certain countries, persons or institutions that have been identified as risks to America.

Export control regulations may affect traveling faculty and students and visiting researchers from the countries and institutions identified as a risk.

Bienkowski said faculty who travel abroad and spend money might unknowingly pay institutions on the Export Control list, and do so illegally because they didn’t apply for a license.

“For instance, if I wanted to travel to Iran to study archaeological sites, I would have to spend money to hire assistants and transportation, so spending money there would require a license,” he said.

Bienkowski also said issues may arise for visiting researchers from countries considered a risk, depending on the type of research they’re involved with and seminars they attend, especially if the subject is not considered “fundamental.”

Foreign graduate students from countries on the Export Control list also have the same restrictions as visiting researchers.

The list includes people, entire countries, companies and institutions. Some countries included are Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Somalia and Sudan.

The risk lists are governed by three sets of regulations: Export administration regulations issued by the Department of Commerce; international trafficking and arms regulations issued by the Department of State, and Office of Foreign Asset Control sanctions issued by the Department of Treasury.

“The purpose of the regulations is to protect the interest of the U.S. by controlling proliferation of military technology and non-military technology that have dual-use,” Bienkowski said. “(Regulations) enforce state opposition to flow of money to embargoed countries, entities and persons.”

Most university research is excused from the regulations due to the fundamental research exemption, Bienkowski said, and almost all research at CMU qualifies as fundamental research.

Fundamental Research, he explained, is basic and applied studies that are normally published and shared with the broad scientific community.

Faculty and students should be cautious to avoid violating the regulations when their research is not considered fundamental, Bienkowski said. He described the practice of “deemed exports” as a “minefield” that has gotten American researchers penalized in the past.

Deemed exports occur when sensitive information or technology is shared with foreign persons in the U.S. that could be considered an export to that person’s home country.

However, CMU is not a major research school and the labs on campus do not work with sensitive items on these lists, he said.

Sen. Maureen Eke expressed concern with the compliance program to the regulations, stating it would affect those who are “transnational.”

“I live in two regions, I am trans-cultural and do a lot of transnational work,” said Eke, a professor of English language and literature. “I hope the university takes into consideration that a number of us were not born in this country. We work overseas. Please think about a policy that is not hostile to the kind of work we do.”

Bienkowski said violations of these regulations are rare — CMU has no violations and there have only been seven university violations nationwide during the past 13 years.

However, penalties are “severe” and “embarrassing,” Bienkowski said, citing reports of universities being fined $100,000 and researchers being imprisoned up to four years for violations.

Sen. Carolyn Dunn said she supports the idea of CMU coming up with a policy addressing Export Control regulations.

“We need a policy because we want to protect our academic freedom, but at the same time we need to make sure our faculty are traveling safely,” said Dunn, associate vice president for institutional diversity, equity & inclusion.