infographic on export controls

Infographic by Angie Roberts. Download the PDF.


“Publish or perish” is not simply a catch phrase for faculty seeking tenure. It is a reality for science in general. The act of sharing research results in academic journals and at scientific conferences is a vital component of the pursuit and validation of research. This openness and transparency in research allows scientists from around the globe to work together and advance science faster and more efficiently than would ever be possible if scientists and researchers worked alone.

This inherent fact is exactly why the Reagan administration issued in September of 1985 the National Security Decision Directive 189 – National Policy on Transfer of Scientific, Technical and Engineering Information. With the NSDD 189, the federal government codified the definition of Fundamental Research[i], and confirmed the real need to ensure that the results of fundamental research be free and unfettered from dissemination controls. Decades later, in May 2010, the Department of Defense reaffirmed this decision, in a memorandum issued by then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter: “The Department of Defense (DoD) fully supports free scientific exchanges and dissemination of research results to the maximum extent possible.”

Besides limiting the ability to share, dissemination (publication) controls will often create the secondary consequence of limiting who can work on the affected funded projects. Due to the impact of the federal export control regulations[ii] and new cybersecurity regulations[iii], a publication approval clause in a contract might mean the principal investigator can only include on his or her project team U.S. persons[iv] or may require extensive and, in many cases expensive, cybersecurity controls. For today’s cost-conscience, research-intensive universities that do a tremendous amount of federally funded research and often have a robust and international workforce, achieving the delicate balance between preserving both national security and the necessary right to appropriately share their research can be difficult, but essential.

What are some steps that a researcher can take to ensure that this balance is accurately achieved? Keep in mind that in today’s federal regulations, the authority to confirm what is or is not fundamental research is often left to a federal contracting officer, who is probably not a subject matter expert on the proposed science. A researcher can, however, take some deliberate steps to assist that contracting officer in making an informed, nuanced decision. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. If you believe your proposed effort is fundamental research, say so clearly and succinctly in your proposal. To strengthen this argument, focus on the possible civilian or non-defense related implications of the proposed work.
  2. If the proposed project is worthy of a graduate student’s thesis, that is often a clear sign that the effort is fundamental research. Again, state this in the proposed statement of work. Since most federal program officers are also scientists, they recognize the scholarly requirements for a graduate level thesis. This adds further weight to the fundamental research determination.
  3. When citing previous research, look to open source and published works, rather than works that may be, themselves, subject to limited distribution rules.
  4. If the proposed effort, while at the onset fundamental research, might evolve and advance to a point where dissemination controls may become necessary, consider planning the research in phases. Clearly delineate phases within the proposal statement of work. Often, contracts can be structured in such a way that dissemination controls can be added when warranted, but only if the contracting officer can clearly delineate when one phase ends and another phase begins.
  5. Finally, recognize that in some cases, certain information, even information that results from research, needs to be withheld from the public and the general scientific community. While it might seem counterintuitive, acknowledging this point with our federal partners gives them confidence that the university and you, as the researcher recognize that some controls may, in fact be necessary. When beginning discussions on a project that may have national security implications, explore, with your federal program manager or industry partner what that information might be and be specific. Discuss the limits where open publication may become a concern, and include in your proposal or statement of work an explanation of how sensitive information will be avoided.

While taking these steps might not totally prevent the imposition of dissemination controls on the results of your research, they will strengthen the argument that the work should be free from such limitations.

Should your resulting award come with controls, the Export Control and Research Information Assurance Office within the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships will assist you in designing the plan necessary to meet those controls.  For additional information, you can contact us at, or by visiting our website.


[i] “Fundamental research means basic and applied research in science and engineering, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the scientific community, as distinguished from proprietary research and from Industrial development, design, production, and product utilization, the results of which ordinarily are restricted for proprietary or national security reason.” NSDD-189, September 21, 1985

[ii] Export Administration Regulations (15 CFR parts 730-774) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (22 CFR parts 120-130)

[iii] NIST Special Publication 800-171 rev.1, Safeguarding Federal Information in Non-Federal Systems.

[iv] U.S. person is Any individual who is a citizen of the United States, a permanent resident alien of the United States, or a protected individual as defined by 8 U.S.C. 1324b(a)(3); (15 CFR part 772)

Writer: Mary Millsaps, research information assurance officer,