Congress, NASA

NASA IG finds no evidence of intentional export control violations at Ames

Officials at NASA’s Ames Research Center did not intentionally violate export control laws but “exercised poor judgment” in sharing ITAR-restricted information with foreign nationals at the center, NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded in a report summary published Wednesday.

The investigation stemmed from complaints that foreign nationals working at Ames had access to information that should have been restricted under export control regulations. The OIG’s investigation continued after the US Attorney’s office closed its criminal investigation a year ago without filing any charges. The OIG’s investigation wrapped up earlier this month with a full report (not publicly released “because it contains information protected by the Privacy Act of 1974,” the summary notes) to the NASA administrator.

The OIG, like the earlier criminal probe, found no evidence of intentional wrongdoing by any Ames officials, but did identify some carelessness in how they treated access to ITAR-restricted information. “In sum, we did not find intentional misconduct by any Ames civil servants,” the OIG summary states, “but believe some Ames managers exercised poor judgment in their dealings with foreign nationals who worked on Center.”

The report summary adds that there was “significant disagreement between scientists and engineers at Ames and export control personnel at the Center and NASA Headquarters as to whether the work the foreign nationals were performing at Ames involved ITAR-controlled technology,” which contributed to the issue. “We concluded that these incidents resulted more from carelessness and a genuine disagreement about whether the information qualified for ITAR protection than an intentional effort to bypass ITAR restrictions.”

In a letter, NASA administrator Charles Bolden accepted the OIG’s report. “I take these findings seriously and have asked Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot to assess your findings and recommend any potential corrective actions to address the concerns raised in your report,” Bolden wrote.

The OIG report comes two weeks after the completion of an independent report on “NASA’s Foreign National Access Management,” triggered by the Ames incidents as well as the arrest of a Chinese national working at NASA Langley who was originally believed to have tried to transfer restricted information. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) claimed that report indicated a “persistent organizational culture” that failed to hold NASA employees responsible for security violations.

While the OIG report found no evidence of intentional efforts at Ames to subvert export control regulations, one key member of Congress still expressed concern about the agency’s security practices. “The casual treatment of foreign national access, ITAR, and export controls at Ames Research Center is simply another example of NASA’s negligence,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, in a statement provided by the committee. “Several such incidents and reports portray an agency struggling to manage sensitive technical information. I hope that the administration will take these reports seriously and implement the recommended changes to ensure that NASA is not leaking our nation’s prized aerospace technology.”

9 comments to NASA IG finds no evidence of intentional export control violations at Ames

  • They could have saved a lot of money by issuing a one-sentence report:

    “Frank Wolf is a nutcase.”

  • amightywind

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Make some examples and the problem goes away.

    I hope that the administration will take these reports seriously and implement the recommended changes to ensure that NASA is not leaking our nation’s prized aerospace technology.

    The administration takes nothing concerning national security seriously.

  • common sense

    This is just competition… As the work winds down at JSC it will wind up at Ames and the other research centers as NASA (slowly?) transition into NACA like work.

    C’est la vie.

  • Dave Huntsman

    Commonsense, I don’t know where you get that. I wish it were true that NASA was transitioning to being more of a NACA for space – but just the opposite is happening. The first decimation of the space technology budget – the NACA-like part – came under the Bush Administration; the second decimation happened in the FY11 budget, when the large increase in the space technology budget requested by the Obama Administration was instead transferred whole-hog to create and support SLS. And this latest appropriations agreement cuts space technology even more, leaving only one of the 9 Gazarik space technology areas in any way fully funded.

    NASA at the end of 2010 was even less a NACA-like organization than it was 8 years before; and in 2014 it is even less so than it was even in 2010. Unfortunately. This goes to show that it’s not how much money NASA gets in total that matters anywhere near as much as what it is actually spent on, and how it is spent. And for the last 12 years or so we’re going backwards.

  • marklade

    This is amazing – a collection of best pictures ever of Earth more 20 best pictures ever of Earth
    From site:

  • Don

    Of course, NASA OIG isn’t going to find themselves guilty! Why don’t you ask NAPA and/or the Wolf, Grassley, or Smith Congrl committees?

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