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The Department of Commerce requires companies to get special export licenses if a foreign worker will have access to certain types of technology, in order to prevent foreign governments or terrorists from acquiring cutting-edge civilian technology to upgrade military capabilities. A review by the Government Accountability Office reveals Commerce has no way to ensure companies comply with the security requirements.

The export licenses are only necessary for foreign workers from countries deemed “high-risk”, those with governments that support terrorists, are embargoed, or have poor relations with the United States. According to intelligence reports, some countries have organized programs to obtain controlled technology through citizens living, working, or studying in the United States.

In 2002, GAO cited weaknesses in Commerce’s control of the export license program, but the Department has failed to address vulnerabilities. Commerce has levied fines on companies that released controlled technologies to employees without licenses, but does not monitor companies with licenses to ensure they are complying with security restrictions.

Commerce also dramatically decreased its screening of visa applications. The number of visa applications screened by Commerce dropped from 54,000 to 150 over a nine-year period due to a change in strategy focused on intelligence leads. GAO also cited a lack of coordination between Commerce and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, resulting in duplication of efforts and ineffective information sharing.

The shortage of U.S.-born engineers and scientists is aggravating the issue, as companies must look abroad for qualified workers, especially in high-tech industries.

“Commerce and other agencies have not implemented key recommended changes. As a result, U.S. agencies acknowledge the continued risk of releasing controlled technologies to foreign nationals in the U.S.”, the GAO report said.

FAST FACT: While not every foreign worker requires an export license, about 1 million foreign nationals from high-risk countries work in the U.S. with specialty visas while Commerce only approved 3,200 export licenses for foreigners from the same countries.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities.


  • In 2001, 53 percent of rental real estate owners misreported an estimated $12.4 billion of income. The Internal Revenue Service could save $27.3 million over five years if it increased examination of tax returns claiming rental real estate losses. (Treasury Inspector General)
  • Variations in state taxes on tobacco products is encouraging illicit cigarette sales. A case of cigarettes purchased in Virginia would cost $3,330 less than a case purchased in New York City. Law enforcement officials lack exact figures on the total amount of illegal trade across state lines, but transport and distribution is simple since it’ s already established in the legal tobacco market. (GAO)

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