The system for keeping U.S. science secrets safe is broken and needs to be revamped — and immigration controls need to be eased for qualified scientists from other countries, the National Research Council advised on Thursday.
A report from a panel appointed by the non-partisan advisory organization suggests that President-elect Barack Obama move quickly with an executive order to restructure the export and visa controls.
"Our visa controls have made it more difficult or less attractive for talented foreign professionals to come and learn what is great about this country, or to stay and help grow the American economy," the report reads.
"Our export controls retard both the U.S. and its allies from sharing access to military technology, and handicap American business from competing globally," it adds.
Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to former presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, and Stanford University President John Hennessy co-chaired the panel appointed by the National Research Council, one of the independent National Academies of Science that advise the federal government.
"The committee's findings confirm the urgent need for fundamental policy change to counteract the harm that is being done to national security and economic prosperity by national security controls adopted in the 1960s and 1970s that reflect Cold War-era policies," the report reads.
"The committee recommends the issuance of an Executive Order that implements the recommendations it has outlined as one of the first orders of business in January 2009," it adds.
The report said that while export controls are aimed at keeping U.S. technology out of the hands of enemies, it is difficult to identify these enemies, now that a well-defined Soviet Union and allies no longer exist.
"Our adversaries are diffuse; they range from sovereign states to small terrorist cells without state affiliation," the report reads.
"Many of the most important technologies for continued military superiority originate in the commercial sector rather than in the military sector. Furthermore, such technological capabilities increasingly arise from scientific and engineering research taking place around the world, not just in the United States."
For example, the United States no longer dominates fields such as semiconductor manufacturing, it said.
In controlling exports, openness should be the default, with restrictions needing a clear argument, the panel advised.
Visa applicants with scientific or technology qualifications should get an answer within 30 days, the panel suggested.
House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat, said the report represented a 'serious attempt" and said his committee would examine it closely over the coming months.