Subcommittees Examine NASA's Struggle to Protect Sensitive Information


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Washington, D.C. - The Subcommittees on Space and Oversight today held a joint hearing to review troubles NASA has encountered in managing access of its facilities and protecting sensitive information from foreign nationals. NASA relies on new and sophisticated technology to accomplish its mission. Many of these technologies are sensitive and are subject to U.S. export controls, which restrict the transfer of military and dual-use technologies. Several recent reports have scrutinized NASA's practices and procedures and made recommendations to improve how the agency protects information.

Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.): "Recent events have reminded us that protecting sensitive aerospace information is more than a matter of national pride; it is also a matter of national security. Yet, NASA continues to struggle with the protection of sensitive information, even as the agency is persistently targeted by our adversaries. These reports have shown that NASA's casual and negligent approach to foreign national access - and failure to control sensitive information - is allowing our nation's prized aerospace technology to be compromised. 

"These reports confirm our worst fears: that the incidents at Langley and Ames are not isolated incidences. Among conclusions from these reports we find: most centers continue to release Scientific and Technical Information that has not been reviewed for export control purposes. NASA lacks both clear export control policies and the oversight necessary to enforce them. The NASA network has indeed been compromised, and these vulnerabilities could have significant impacts on national security. And finally, a troubling trend we've seen across agencies in this Administration: the failure or the unwillingness to hold accountable those responsible for these errors."

Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun M.D. (R-Ga.): "In order to protect our leadership in technological innovations, we must ensure that there is adequate and consistent oversight and management of NASA's export control program. It is in our national interest. It must be done!"

Two high-profile events highlighted this tension. One incident involved a former NASA contractor who was investigated for potential export control violations. The individual pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor offense of violating agency security rules.  

In a separate case, federal law enforcement agencies received complaints dating back to 2009 that foreign nationals working as contractors at NASA's Ames Research Center were given improper access to facilities and sensitive information. These complaints led to a 4-year criminal investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the NASA Office of Inspector General, culminating in the forwarding of the case for prosecution to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California. The criminal matter was not pursued; however the NASA IG continued the investigation as an administrative matter.

The following witnesses testified today:

Mr. Richard Keegan, Associate Deputy Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration;

Ms. Belva Martin, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office;

Ms. Gail A. Robinson, Deputy Inspector General, National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and

Mr. Douglas Webster, Fellow, National Academy of Public Administration and Principal, Cambio Consulting Group.

For more information on today's hearing, including witness testimony, visit the Science, Space, and Technology Committee website.

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