At UGA, we have been strategically laying the groundwork to become much more active in research collaborations with the Department of Defense and other U.S. “mission” agencies. Mission agencies are federal agencies that support research geared toward goals such as securing national defense, addressing national energy challenges, and ensuring a robust transportation system. This is in contrast to basic science-directed agencies such as the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health.
Mission agencies include, but are not limited to, Department of Defense units, Department of Energy (DOE) units, Department of Transportation Office of Research, Development and Technology, and the U.S. intelligence community. The awarding in early 2021 of the Savannah River National Lab management contract (SRNL, a DOE laboratory) to a consortium that includes UGA served as our mission agency catalyst and, since then, we have taken several steps to enhance our competitiveness in this research space.
Over the past decade, the level of scrutiny applied to mission agency work has increased significantly, driven by multiple civil enforcement and even criminal cases involving academic researchers and undue influence from foreign governments. You’ve probably heard of some of these instances.
Let’s explore what our institutional commitment to mission-agency work means—both for the Office of Research and for you, the individual investigators who will lead such research projects.
First, some background. In 2014, UGA first established its export control program, which was an important step in preparation for future mission-agency work. “Export control” refers to the U.S. laws and regulations that govern the transfer of “controlled” items or information to foreign nationals, countries and other entities. “Controlled” generally refers to items and services with military applications or items that significantly affect our national interests. Most UGA research is not export controlled, but our newly developing compliance program helps identify those activities that are.
Today, compliance reviews for export control are built into multiple Office of Research processes, including sponsored project submission, requests for material transfer and non-disclosure agreements, international travel registrations, and visiting researcher and scholar questionnaires and visa sponsorship.
Recently Dan Runge, who oversees our export control program, was named director of research security and export control. In his new role, Dan is managing the creation of a formal Research Security Program that is required for all federally funded research as per National Security Presidential Memorandum 33 (NSPM-33), issued in January 2021.
This Presidential Memorandum will likely result in significant changes for many of us. Over the next several months, federal funding agencies will develop compliance requirements for NSPM-33, which may include things such as new research security and export control training, additions to the university’s international travel registration process, and basic cybersecurity safeguarding. Once these requirements are spelled out by the federal agencies, UGA will have one year to develop its Research Security Program.
Where are we going with all this? Again, UGA’s strategic research goal—which of course includes continuing to conduct amazing basic, applied and freely publishable research—is to significantly increase the amount of work we do with U.S. mission agencies, specifically the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. To be competitive, we will develop not only the mandated Research Security Program but also other heightened safeguarding tools for more restricted research projects that may involve controlled unclassified information (information that federal agencies routinely generate, use, store and share that is not classified as national security or atomic energy information but which requires some level of protection from unauthorized access and release) or even classified information.
One of Dan’s first priorities will be the identification of additional UGA activities that are subject to export control requirements, such as international sales and service activities, international shipments of non-public information or tangible items or materials, and international research collaborations—particularly those that fall outside the sponsored projects process. He is currently reaching out to leaders of UGA’s core facilities and other sales and service centers about these activities. If you are aware of activities in your research program that may be subject to export control, I encourage you to reach out to Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org; he is here to help us navigate this complicated area!
This is new territory for many of us at UGA. The Research Security Program alone will bring increased requirements for anyone doing federally funded research, plus additional requirements for those involved in controlled unclassified or classified work. The benefits to the institution and to all of us will be significant, opening up entirely new portfolios of potential research activity and contracts.
We are committed to engaging with the international research community and maintaining an open atmosphere for research and scholarship. I’m excited about the possibilities this activity will bring us, and I look forward to working both with our dedicated Office of Research professionals and with you, our researchers, to move forward with minimal disruption to our established research practices.
You might call it our mission!
Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research