Export Control Regulations: Why You Need To Care

Monday, Feb 11, 2019
by Rebecca Johnston

If you’ve never heard of export controls, think the regulations don’t apply to your research, or worry they are just going to make your life difficult, the Office of Research and Project Administration is here to help.

Government regulations imposing limitations on the export of goods or data are nothing new; the regulations have existed in one form or another for decades and are intended to protect the United States’ national security and foreign policy interests, as well as economic security. The impact on academic research has become more significant in recent years because of perceived security risks presented by universities’ open campuses and the increasing amount of “sensitive” research being conducted by universities.

It’s easy to see how research with possible military applications, the development of new technologies such as artificial intelligence or nanotechnology, or the use of rare materials might attract interest. But it is important to remember that basic science, humanities and social-science activities can also come under scrutiny as export compliance at universities receives increasing amounts of attention.

Think beyond the fundamental-research exclusion

When John Jenkins, Princeton’s Assistant Director of Export Controls in the Office of Research and Project Administration, asks faculty and administrators to think about export controls, he frequently hears the regulations don’t apply because of the University’s fundamental research exclusion.

“Often this is true, but not always,” says Jenkins. “Export controls are complicated, and each situation may invoke a separate part of the regulations. As a result, it is practically impossible to provide a general answer to most export controls questions without understanding the particulars of the situation.”

For example, export controls regulations come into play when Princeton faculty and/or staff are:

  • shipping equipment and materials internationally, even if developed during the course of a fundamental research project;
  • transferring technical data to non-US citizens, including foreign students in their labs;
  • conducting activities (research, collaboration, etc.) with those subject to US government restrictions;
  • working with entities or individuals in sanctioned countries, including Iran, North Korea, Syria and Cuba; and even
  • traveling internationally with export-controlled data on electronic devices.

Export Control violations can have serious repercussions

It’s in the situations listed above where Jenkins works closely with faculty and administrators across campus to ensure that Princeton complies with the rules in this ever-changing regulatory area. Export controls are serious business and violations can result in civil penalties of up to $300,000. It’s worse if the violation is determined to be intentional: fines can be upwards of a million dollars and violations may even result in jail time.

Relieving the anxiety of export controls for faculty

Professor Jeremy Kasdin in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering has worked closely with Princeton’s Office of Research and Project Administration for several years to address export-controlled materials received from government agencies during the course of his research projects.

“If you do any sort of work that involves collaboration with NASA and other government scientific agencies,” says Kasdin, “you should check in with the export control office at the very beginning to understand if you will be required to handle export-controlled information or hardware and how best to manage that. Waiting until that information is in your hands is too late.”

Kasdin is quick to credit Jenkins and his office for help in navigating the complexities of export controls and relieving the anxiety associated with regulatory compliance.

“I now have a system of encryption and access that enables me to continue my work with NASA while not putting myself or my students at risk. Princeton’s export controls office was also of tremendous help during the final stages of construction of our instrument for the Subaru telescope where special shipping and export processes were needed.”

Administrators need to think about export controls too

It’s not just faculty that need to consider export controls. Central offices also rely on Jenkins to help them manage and mitigate export-control issues.

Jayne Sanders, Assistant Director, Accounts Payable, Procurement Services in the Office of the VP for Finance and Treasurer, says Jenkins provides support in many different ways, from providing advice and counsel in complex procurement situations, to reviewing procurement contract language, to helping Accounts Payable deal with banking transactions potentially impacted by Office of Foreign Asset Control (i.e., sanctions) regulations.

“The last thing any of us want to do is cause a problem or liability for the University, which is why having a resource like John is invaluable,” shares Sanders. “If anyone on my team has a question or concern, however small it might seem, they know to contact John. It’s never worth taking a risk, especially when you have access to a knowledgeable, responsive, and collaborative partner to help you navigate the complexities of export controls.”

Where to go for more information

The export controls office regularly hosts events and workshops to introduce people to the exciting world of export controls. Join John on February 14 for Coffee With ORPA: Recent Developments in Export Controls. For information about other events, including scheduling export-controls presentations at faculty and departmental meetings, visit the Export Controls training page.

You can reach Princeton’s export controls office  at 609.258.3819 or email exports@princeton.edu. You can also find more detailed information about export controls on this website.